Where to next for minerals processing?

Mark Clifford argues that, to paraphrase Mark Twain, reports the mineral processing industry is in decline “have been greatly exaggerated”.

“As with any industry there are highs and lows but in Australia the mineral processing sector is strong and viable,” Clifford said.

Clifford’s comments are worth noting.  As the local head of the world’s leading mineral processing specialists, his knowledge of the sector is directly influenced by local feedback and regular communication with his peers in the company’s more than 50 offices in mineral processing regions around the world.

He agrees it’s no secret that the industry-wide drive has been for improved output and almost a ‘doing more with less’ scenario but says suppliers have listened to the market and responded accordingly.

Additionally, the growing incidence of variable inputs – including ore quality and water availability and quality – impacting on processing circuits as processors strive to extract as much saleable product as possible have increased demands for better technology and equipment.

Clifford said to meet these demands his company initiated a worldwide productivity improvement philosophy, and through a dynamic combination of technology and personnel works closely with clients to drive success through sustainable productivity enhancement.

According to Clifford, companies supplying the sector “do technology well.” He said that breakthrough processing technology introduced by FLSmidth, including a 600m3 float cell and a revolutionary high-efficiency rotor-stator, was changing the productivity calculation.

In addition, research into ROL technology, which looks at maximising clean copper production from hard-to-process and arsenic-heavy concentrates, and research agreements the company has with the University of Newcastle will further advance the technology and ultimately recovery rates.

“These are practical examples of what is available now and in the pipeline to improve productivity but the researching and development of mineral processing technology is just part of the story,” he said.

He argues that, in Australia, clients are now looking more closely at what he considers the ‘technology and service’ equation where a total product and support program is formulated, unique to a site. The goal is to keep the technology doing what it is meant to be doing.

To Clifford this means an integrated and comprehensive customer support network increasing the emphasis on specialist products and services on offer and expanded training opportunities for frontline personnel and clients.  He believes some aspects have been in place for some time and some are relatively recent.

Along with a program to upgrade its warehouse and manufacturing facilities and the introduction of a component service exchange program, the company has embarked on a regional workshop program, essentially taking its local product specialists and workshops to regional mining centres.

“Kalgoorlie, the Pilbara, Mt Isa, Emerald and the Hunter Valley are on this year’s schedule,” Clifford said.

“These are workshops where we put our product specialists in front of mine-based operators with the aim of giving clients the skills to maximise the potential of their processing equipment – which will improve overall productivity.”

Clifford is and remains optimistic, saying even with potential changes in demand for some ore types, the company would continue to explore opportunities to improve output.

“Essentially the answer to the question is easy – improved productivity,” he said. “Defining the question – how do we achieve improved productivity – is also relatively easy.  The skill is in finding and implementing the best method to reach the desired result.  That’s what we do well.”