The open-pit gold-silver mine project by the South African mining company Gold Fields is located in the Atacama Desert among the highest peaks of the Andes mountain range. It is over 800 miles from the Chilean capital Santiago and has elevations between 13,000 and 16,000 feet. Equipment in this remote region of northern Chile needs to be dependable, and global technology leader ABB will provide six electrical rooms plus an integrated digital system solution based on ABB Ability™ 800xA distributed control system (DCS) to Gold Fields’ Salares Norte mining project to meet their needs.


ABB will deliver a common platform for process and power control using ABB Ability System 800xA, Power and Process Control Library, and Camera Connect (the ABB video system embedded in the control platform for optimized process monitoring). ABB Ability Knowledge Manager will be used to manage information production through Plant Information Management System (PIMS), alongside ABB Ability Asset Vista Condition Monitoring (integrated with SAP), an Extended Operator Workplace (EOW) as an integrated control room at the site, a collaboration table, and 800xA Smart Client stations to enable read-only access to displays via a web browser.

As a common platform for the moni toring of productive, operation, and support areas, ABB’s system will reduce technical risks and the number of interfaces to enable Gold Fields to unify processes at the highest level. The electrical system is fully integrated via the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) standard 61850, which ensures total control and visibility for the plant operations. ABB is also providing engineering and project management.

“The digital aspect is critical to this project due to its remote location—the nearest town being Diego de Almagro, over 100 miles away, the altitude of the project, and adverse weather conditions that make site access and fieldwork difficult especially during the winter,” says Max Combes, project director of Gold Fields. “Gold Fields has developed digital infrastructure through initiatives at operations around the world. ABB’s complete solution, integrated engineering, and remote operations technology will enable us to build on this digital capability and overcome the particular challenges at Salares Norte.”


The scope also includes a dynamic process simulator to allow checks on all control logics and for operator training purposes.

“The simulator will allow for shorter and more efficient start-ups on site,” says Iván Villegas, solutions manager at ABB in Chile. “It will also support the training requirements, meaning Gold Fields will have several accredited operators with the right skills for high-quality operations.”

“Together with Gold Fields we can demonstrate over the long-term that ABB’s control systems connect and perform their functions in totally isolated areas, within satellite range, and with minimal latency,” says Cristian Gallegos, mining account manager for ABB in Chile. 

• ABB digital solution overcome
   remote location and climatic   
   instability challenges at the
   $834 million Salares Norte
   mining project in the
   Atacama Desert.
• Suite of process and power
   controls, all under ABB Ability
   System 800xA, modernize
   mining and showcase the
   benefits of digital
• Dynamic process simulator
   enables realistic operator

“It is an opportunity to modernize mining and showcase the benefits that digital transformation brings by controlling and supporting the mining plant and equipment at Salares Norte from over 800 miles away.”


In parallel to this project ABB proposed and was part of an initiative together with Gold Fields to successfully connect different ABB technologies between Santiago and the Salares Norte project. Using satellite telematics they carried out remote control and monitoring of smart electric motors and a simulation of telemedicine care between the two locations. The tests were carried out in isolated areas, but within reach of the satellite and through a connection controlled by ABB Ability System 800xA and conventional mobile equipment with minimal latency. Through mixed reality lenses, both virtual reality and augmented reality, two authorities of the Ministry of Mining in Chile (the minister and the regional secretary) each at one end, were witnesses and protagonists of the successful test, where the two held a conversation that flowed in real time, each “seeing” the avatar of the other, as if they were together in a physical environment. 

Salares Norte is expected to produce 3.7 million ounces of gold over an initial mine life of eleven years and is estimated to be a $834 million expenditure project. The operation involves drilling, blasting, loading, and hauling methods for ore extraction. It has a production capacity of two million tons per annum and the life-of-mine average recovery of gold and silver will be 92.7 percent and 67.5 percent, respectively.  


ABB’s Process Automation business is a leader in automation, electrification, and digitalization for the process and hybrid industries—serving customers with a broad portfolio of products, systems, and end-to-end solutions, including a top distributed control system, software, and lifecycle services, industry-specific products as well as measurement and analytics, marine, and turbocharging offerings. As a global leader in the market, ABB builds on its deep domain expertise, diverse team, and global footprint and is dedicated to helping customers increase competitiveness, improve their return on investment, and run safe, smart, and sustainable operations. For more information, visit

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