30 Years of METS Sector Transformation: Minerals Processing
There have been significant changes in mineral processing over the last 30 years.
As higher grade and easier to extract deposits have been mined, the industry faces the challenge of processing lower grade and more complex deposits.
Australian Mining Equipment, Technology and Services (METS) companies have responded to this challenge with new innovations and technology that has increased efficiency and productivity.
In order to properly see how far we have progressed in minerals processing, Austmine gathered insights from industry leaders Hatch, Mipac, Eriez and Ausenco.
Minerals Processing: Progressing Through the Decades
Challenges associated with cost, energy, water supplies and deposit complexity have caused the industry to look for more innovative technologies and solutions.
Kristy Duffy, Process Consultant – Mining and Minerals Processing at Hatch provides her view on the need for change.
Duffy notes, “In past boom times, operations could be profitable by taking advantage of economies of scale; bigger trucks, bigger mills, bigger flotation cells, processing everything. However, this has proved inefficient.”
“We need to develop smarter, more selective practices, tailored to suit each operation to improve efficiency and reduce power and water consumption.”
“Significant improvements in efficiency and productivity have been achieved through mine to mill optimization, which has improved the profitability of numerous operations globally. Mine to mill involves looking at the complete operation, including the mine and processing plant, rather than optimising each in isolation,” says Duffy.
Whilst reflecting over the decades Dominic Stoll, Digital Solutions Manager at Mipac pointed out industry changes which have had a positive effect, including around automation and better work practices across the board.
“Advancements in instrumentation and control systems has allowed a vastly more sophisticated level of automation. Automation allows variability to be reduced to achieve stability and make a step change in performance to the upper operating limit of a process or system,” says Stoll.
Ahead of the Curve with Partnerships, Innovations and Technologies
Staying ahead of the curve can be a challenge in Australia’s competitive and world-leading METS sector and there is no one size fits all technique.
Dominic Stoll highlights Mipac’s successful long-term partnerships with clients and vendor peers as key to remaining a leader in the industry, as well as integrating digital and automation portfolios for a more comprehensive solution.
“We can provide technology agnostic solutions to problems that had previously been thought impossible,” says Stoll.
“The secret to our success has been seamlessly integrating our evolving digital solutions portfolio with our industrial automation portfolio to offer our clients an end-to-end solution, from enabling infrastructure through monitoring and intervention systems and to recommendation deployment.”
Developing, testing and commercialising minerals processing equipment that improves on conventional equipment in radical, non-incremental ways has helped Eriez stay at the top of the game according to Eric Wasmund, Eriez Flotation Division.
“Our HydroFloat™, commissioned at Newcrest’s Cadia for copper/gold recently, allows mining companies to significantly reduce the requirement for fine tails impoundments, energy, and water consumption. Since Cadia, we have seen uptake of this concept with many other mining and engineering companies,” says Wasmund.
From the outset Ausenco has been an early adopter of new technology, enabling their industry leadership in process development and smart engineering design. Greg Lane, Ausenco’s Chief Technical Officer, notes that their ability to quickly adopt and adapt new technology in a cost effective manner has been a focus for their clients. The Cadia Hydrofloat™ circuit, designed and built by Ausenco, is a case in point.
“We have also taken cost effective principles used in small plant design and adapted that thinking to deliver large copper concentrators. This has allowed Ausenco to provide more cost-effective designs for larger projects than those typically offered by the larger engineering and project delivery businesses,” says Lane.
Our Biggest Challenges
As we step into 2020 some of the biggest challenges facing minerals processing are personnel shortage, unlocking value from digital technology and processing more complex deposits.
Dominic Stoll from Mipac notes, “Changing societal expectations and a recurring commodity cycle means that experienced personnel are harder to attract and retain at remote mining operations. Furthermore, the supply of mining professionals from Australian mining universities are at their lowest levels in decades just as we head towards the peak of the current commodity cycle.”
However, human resourcing challenges are likely symptomatic of a single greater challenge; improving the social perception of mining and minerals processing. Matt Pyle, Director of Technical Solutions, Ausenco points out “As an industry we need to continue to innovate, adopt paradigm shifts, work collaboratively and broadcast our successes to the world. We have a unique opportunity to ‘find a better way’ to design, build and operate mines and minerals processing plants that support the growth of society whilst significantly reducing energy, water and waste. This is a good news story that can be supported by real outcomes and help us attract the brightest minds, skills and capabilities for tomorrow’s biggest challenges.”
Future of Minerals Processing
A plethora of innovations have helped shape the industry in the past thirty years and the METS leaders agreed that fast computing power, smart instrumentation and specialised equipment have all had their part to play.
Kristy Duffy at Hatch sees innovations which increase production rates, minimise energy consumption, minimise environmental impact as what will next disrupt the industry. Duffy offered pre-concentration technologies; more energy efficient comminution circuits and alternative comminution technologies; and dry stack and filtered tailings as examples.
“In the face of lower grade deposits, which require mining and processing of much larger tonnages, pre-concentration offers hope. There are several technologies that can be used for pre-concentration including pre-screening, sorting, gravity and coarse flotation. However, the economic viability of pre-concentration and sorting is very case specific, depending on the ore characteristics and in-situ ore variability as well as mine design, transport and downstream processing requirements and cost,” says Duffy.
Eriez is focusing their efforts on products that assist in reducing energy and improving the efficiency of the extractive processes.
Eric Wasmund, Eriez Flotation Division says, “As we go forward, it is our mission to work with our partners at mining companies and engineering houses to make the mining enterprise more sustainable for the future.”