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May 23, 2008

Industrial sector shows increased interest in PLC training

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Increased interest in the programmable logic controller training courses that are held by diversified electrical company Möeller Electric has prompted the company to increase the frequency of the courses being affected.

South Africa is experiencing an accelerating need for PLC skills as a result of technological development and advances in machine automation and process control systems. The company held two such courses towards the end of 2007, with more courses planned for 2008.

Initial requests by Western Cape manufacturing companies and students for access to PLC training have led to a partnership between Northlink College and Möeller Electric.

The two organisations have combined local vision and teaching skills with popular German products and components, to make Northlink's first formal courses in PLC technology and its applications available.

In the Western Cape, Northlink College head of electrical engineering Pat Lawrence identified and approached Möeller Electric as a partner to help the college meet part of the requirement for technical knowledge. Möeller Electric has proven capabilities in equipment supply and support, and the capacity to formulate and deliver high-quality training programmes.

Suitable space at the college was identified and allocated at Belhar campus, one of eight campuses at Northlink, allowing Möeller Electric engineers to design the new facility and equip it using funding provided by a Department of Education recapitalisation grant.

Belhar campus is the centre of Northlink's training in electrical engineering.

Northlink's electrical heavy current programme manager, Ivan Robertson, provided guidance and assistance while the new facility was fitted with the latest Möeller PS4-200 PLCs, and model DV5, DV6 and MFD-Titan variable speed drives.

The completion of Northlink's new facility paved the way for Möeller Electric's director of training and technology, Gert Jonker, to begin courses for lecturing staff.

The students for the college's first course of part-time study in basic PLC programming took their seats in May 2007.

Students enrol at the college either as an alternative matriculation to high school grades 10 - 12, or post-matriculation to follow NQF-level skills courses, National Certificate courses or National/International Diploma courses at one of the eight campuses located in Cape Town's northern suburbs.

Cape Town-based Northlink College is a government-owned and nationally registered Further Education and Training (FET) institution falling under the Western Cape education department. A team appointed by the department manages the college and its assets.

Courses at Northlink are orientated towards engineering and building related occupations, business, utility and social services. All courses emphasise hands-on training to equip students with the knowledge, skills and practical experience that ensure employment in the labour market.

The second PLC training course at Northlink College took place in November 2007.

Meanwhile, control panels based on electrical engineering company Möeller technology have been installed in dredge mining plants at Richards Bay Minerals (RBM).

The control panels will form a key part of RBM's expansion towards a target of two-million tons of minerals output per year.

The panels were designed at Moeller Electric's Johannesburg engineering department, and assembled in Richards Bay by authorised panel builder Magnol Electrical.

They comprise Möeller moulded case circuit breakers, contactors and overload protection devices housed in Moeller polycarbonate enclosures to provide flameproof protection to IP65 standard.

Ranked today as the largest single producer of titanium products in the world, RBM began operations in 1977 with one dredge mining plant and two furnaces, producing 400 000 t/y of titanium slag.

There are now four dredge mining plants and four furnaces producing one-million tons of titanium slag and 550 000 t of pig iron a year.

RBM uses a dredge mining technique pioneered in Holland and Australia to extract the heavy minerals ilmenite, rutile and zircon from the sand.

Dune sand is bulldozed to create very large artificial freshwater ponds some 200 m in diameter, on each of which floats a dredger and concentrator plant.

Burrowing into the mining faces of the dunes, the dredgers advance at a rate of two to three m/d, undermining the sand faces to collapse them into the ponds and form a slurry which is then sucked up and pumped to the floating concentrator.

Then, the heavy minerals are separated from the sand using a gravity process and stockpiled as heavy mineral concentrate for transportation to the smelter site.

Möeller components have been used in RBM control panels from the start, traversing the continuous and often rapid advances in technology and protocols over three decades.

Möeller Electric's branch manager in Durban, Bradley Whitaker, says that control and automation panel design for the dredge mining plants is now moving towards the American protocol deviceNet, with which Möeller Electric products are fully compatible.

"Our components are mainly used for the controlling and protection functions, with the bulk of our supply comprising switchgear; that is contactors, motor protective breakers and timers for start-up and shut down," Whitaker explains.

"All these products are deviceNet compatible, allowing complete automation of the dredge mining plant and the monitoring of operations from a single control desk," he says.

"Each dredger is controlled by third-party automation devices which include touch panels for entering and programming the position data, scanning the operating hours and monitoring service intervals.

"Dredger pumps are also controlled by Möeller's switchgear to ensure reliable running of the plant throughout the year," Whitaker adds.

Higher level automation is used to control the dredger's position and speed, and to monitor the rate of material flow through the pumps.

Whitaker say that Magnol Electrical was currently working on new panels comprising cubic motor control centres incorporating Möeller switchgear, and refurbishment of various panels on the minerals separation plant.

When the dredger upgrades are completed, further work is planned for the tailings.


Edited by: Laura Tyrer

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