Innovation and Technology

Unlocking Value with Automation

Unlocking Value with Automation

Innovation in train loading technology at Fording River Operations realized through the Ideas at Work Fund.

When he joined Teck, Roger Cote, Automation Specialist and Project Manager, Fording River Operations (FRO), saw an opportunity to employ innovation and technology to make mining processes more cost-effective and efficient. He drew on his experience implementing automated controls in previous roles in the automotive and pharmaceutical industries and tapped into the Ideas at Work Fund to bring those ideas to life.

While observing railcars being loaded at FRO, Roger noticed that the manually operated process required multiple operators to load a single train, which often led to delays. In addition, data showed there was potential to increase output – in 2018, railcars were under loaded by approximately 140,000 metric tonnes of clean coal, or the equivalent of nearly 10 trains per year.

Enter the idea and motivation behind Roger’s automated train loading project. He began work designing a new system that would load railcars safely, efficiently and accurately, while increasing the speed of train loading and maximizing the available capacity of railcars.

“I started off by creating a road map to modernize the controls, integrating train scales, conveyor systems and sprays, introducing a new control platform, and changing out all the field instruments and devices,” says Roger. “Once the foundation was completed, I moved on to the next step, which was to optimize the loading of trains and improve systems through automation.”

Using a complex system of radar sensors, the system identifies the type of railcar entering the loading silo and uses this information to automatically determine how to operate the chutes to maximize loading of the railcar.

“I worked on the idea for the system for some time. However, there were challenges automating the chutes due to the technology available at the time and, because of economic conditions, risk appetite was low,” explains Roger. “However, when the Ideas at Work program was introduced, I submitted my project and secured funding to move ahead with a pilot phase.”

With support from the Operating Excellence and RACE21 teams, planning for and implementation of the new system went full steam ahead, and the first automated load chute went into operation on May 25, 2020. In the month that followed, under loading was reduced by half and FRO shipped an additional 11,266 metric tonnes of clean coal (MTCC).

Train loading efficiency also increased by 1.5% to 99.21% – it now takes only about 40 seconds to load a railcar, or two-and-a-half hours per train, which is a 41.5% increase in train loading speed. This also provides a buffer to address any unexpected train issues or crew changes.

A second chute is expected to be automated by the end of the year. Once the automated train loading system is fully implemented, additional opportunities exist to integrate with rail controls to achieve fully automated train loading.

“Our operators are doing an amazing job,” shares Roger. “I give kudos to them for accepting change and telling us what’s right, what’s wrong and what needs to be improved to make this project succeed.”

Roger also credits FRO’s General Manager Richard Whittington and Operating Excellence Specialist Stephanie Cote with helping advance the Ideas at Work submission.

Now, through the work of the team at RACE21™, the concept is being evaluated for potential expansion and application to train loading facilities at our other steelmaking coal operations.

“RACE21™ provides a great opportunity to help continue this journey,” adds Roger. “We can now move to improve the efficiency of train loading to maintain and deliver more value.”

Ideas at Work Fund

“This project started with Ideas at Work. It’s a prime example of how amazing technology can be.”

Have an idea for consideration? Discuss it with your supervisor or submit it through the Ideas at Work process in place at your site or office. Eligible ideas will be shared with general managers and corporate department vice presidents, who can then help take them forward for further consideration.

For further assistance with developing idea submissions, the Technology and Innovation group is available to help. For more information, contact Keith Mayhew, Manager, Technology and Innovation, or Daniel Parker, Manager, Technology and Innovation.