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MEI Online: Control and Instrumentation: Conference Reports: 10th IFAC


10th IFAC Symposium on Automation in Mining, Mineral and Metal Processing (MMM2001)
Tokyo, Japan, 4-6 September, 2001

The International Federation of Automatic Control (IFAC) was established in 1957 with the purpose of promoting the science and technology of control in the broadest sense in all systems. Its membership is held by national member organisations representing different countries. IFAC also has different working groups, of which the group responsible for automation in mining, mineral and metal processing is one of the most active. It is mainly this working group that is organising the IFAC series on automation in mining, mineral and metal processing (MMM) every 3 years. In 2001 it was the Division of Instrumentation, Control and System Engineering of the Iron and Steel Institute of Japan that organised the symposium held at Waseda University in Tokyo. The organisers claimed that 129 delegates were registered, but there were only a maximum of 65 delegates who attended sessions at any time.

This low number of delegates, especially in a country like Japan with a traditionally strong metallurgical industry, is perhaps indicative of the downturn in the resource industries, especially in the Japanese steel industry. Like many other learned societies within the metal and material processing world, the automation community is close knit and has the need to meet technically and socially on a regular basis. However, in times of an economic slowdown, the viability of many of these specialist symposia has to be questioned.

Slightly more than 70 papers were presented in two parallel sessions. The topics covered included:

1. Ironmaking
2. Steelmaking
3. Casting
4. Hot rolling
5. Froth flotation
6. Process modelling
7. Measurement and instrumentation
8. Metal processing
9. Fault diagnosis
10. Identification and estimation
11. Scheduling and optimisation
12. Environment and recycling

The 3 plenary papers were:

1. “Development of current control technologies in steel rolling from viewpoint of a rolling engineering”, by Professor Ikuo Yarita
2. “Future trends in automation in mineral and metal processing”, by Professor Sirkka-Liisa Jämsä-Jounela3. “Recycling: The role of automation in the resource cycle”, by Professor Wijnand L. Dalmijn

The paper by Professor Sirkka-Liisa Jämsä-Jounela presented some interesting statistics on the industrial implementation of new control methods, with Japan holding first position, Finland second, and South Africa third. Other countries that feature well in automation within the field of mining, mineral and metal processing automation are China, Canada, Germany, and the United Kingdom. This paper also made the point that academic researchers seem to apply their methods more frequently now in industry than has been the case in the past.

Unfortunately, many of the papers presented by academic researchers did not reflect this practical use of their results. Many papers still deal with theoretical simulation models as a basis for generating data to be controlled by increasingly more complex control strategies. Even if one should encourage this type of academic research and systems modelling, it should be pointed out that there is an increasing discrepancy developing between the world of the automation and control theorist and the world of the practical process control engineer who has to deal with difficulties such as lack of instrumentation, unreliability of process data, and management resistance to unproven new technology. Having said that, the Tokyo Symposium contained some high quality papers with innovative theory that have been applied to practical problems and have been accepted in industrial practice.

Many advanced control systems that are designed at great expense, lose their performance in due course. The reason is often that such systems are not sufficiently maintained or designed to respond to changes in plant operations. A panel discussion entitled “How to keep control systems effective?" was held to discuss this topic. Questions and comments from the audience invoked a lively debate between the proponents of theoretical research and control theory, which has become part of the IFAC culture on the one hand, and proponents of a more practical approach that encourages control engineers to quantify their systems in terms of the added value and the economic benefit to companies. Unless this discrepancy in vision and strategy within the automatic control community could be resolved, it is possible that the industrial implementation of modern control theory and instrumentation could suffer. It is hoped that leaders within IFAC, as well as within the mineral and metal processing communities, would address this issue to the benefit of industry, and ultimately to the benefit of the research community.

Prof. J.S.J. van Deventer, University of Melbourne, Australia. Email: jannie@unimelb.edu.au




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