Minerals processing plants have entered a new frontier of data- and automation-based capabilities, while also improving their capabilities for delivering a reliable supply of refined resources.
The evolution of technology in the minerals processing sector is projecting upwards towards a safer and more productive environment.
It is often objected that smart devices make us lazy in our personal lives, however, they are improving the effectiveness of minerals processing operations, making them virtually bulletproof to staff limitations and travel bans.
As a pioneer in the minerals processing space, Glencore Technology is one of several companies pushing for innovative solutions to day-to-day tasks.
Based in Brisbane, the company supplies solutions developed in Australia for the minerals processing, metals smelting and refining industries to Glencore’s global mining operations.
While the company generally focusses on flowsheet improvements, Glencore Technology has adopted some Industry 4.0 technologies that have become vital for a post-COVID environment where remote working has become the norm.
“Glencore Technology has incorporated new robotics in our cathode stripping machines,” a Glencore Technology spokesperson tells Australian Mining.
“We’ve also evolved the IsaMill maintenance system, IMIS, to be online and mobile phone-driven, giving greater access to data and continuous improvement in mill performance.
“And we’ve created online calculators and 3D models to provide the market with scenario-testing and to help specify what they might need for a given feed and demand.”
IsaMill uses horizontal milling, which prevents short circuits and was initially created to produce zinc at Glencore’s McArthur River mine in the Northern Territory and George Fisher mine in Queensland.
“IsaMill was a key enabler for our McArthur River mine and George Fisher mines, in order to achieve the required grind size to liberate the zinc,” the spokesperson says. “These are in fact why the IsaMill was developed.”
Glencore Technology is planning to install a froth pump at the Mt Owen coal operation in New South Wales, which removes air from a slurry feed.
“This is about to be installed at the Mt Owen operation and we expect it’ll be highly sought after right around the world,” the spokesperson says.
The company has also created a new plant that uses a Jameson Cell at Newcrest Mining’s Cadia gold operation in New South Wales.
The Jameson Cell is a high-intensity froth flotation cell that creates more value out of lower grade ore and sulphides, with Glencore Technology believing it could assist the gold industry in particular.
“In a world progressively moving toward lower grades and sulphides, this could be a game changer,” the spokesperson says.
“We’ve created a new Z8500 Jameson Cell for the Cadia operation. It doubles throughput capacity by using a larger downcomer and it delivers incredible results, making it ideal for large rougher applications.”
Glencore Technology plans to focus on using its ISASMELT technology to recycle electronic waste, reduce its carbon footprint and help operations make more significant recoveries from lower grade orebodies.
A sense of innovation
CDE has a proven reputation as experts in modular plant and equipment solutions.
The company’s regional manager of Australasia, Daniel Webber, says CDE has continued to advance its smart technology suite for minerals processing applications.
Webber believes the CDE Core suite is the next leap in sensor technology.
“Over the last five years, we’ve been developing our suite of smart technologies to give customers greater control of their plant and for data-driven insights in terms of diagnostics and product development,” Webber says.
“The new fourth industrial revolution technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, autonomous vehicles, the Internet of Things creates the opportunity for quarrying and mining companies to fundamentally change the business model, unlocking much-improved customer service and customisation, reducing costs in the value chain, improving safety and creating opportunities.”
The CDE Core suite uses sensors to continuously monitor processing equipment for predictive maintenance, increased uptime and remote access and monitoring.
“Think of a monitoring system for your own personal fitness, but adapted and upscaled to monitor the health of the plant,” Webber explains.
“It offers owners and plant managers real-time data about the status of the plant, from hours of operation to throughput, output and more. The ability to understand what is happening with the plant anywhere and at any time offers real comfort for the customer.”
Webber says CDE is developing what it refers to as WorkFlow as part of its Core technology suite.
“WorkFlow uses the PLC in the plant to do procedural tasks such as the start-up process and scheduled maintenance,” Webber says.
CDE Core also offers digital twinning capabilities, with the ability to design a plant in a digital 3D environment, allowing for more robust predictive maintenance analysis.
This is enhanced by the suite’s WorkFlow element, which provides data on plant process flows and maintenance records.
“WorkFlow provides a framework for scheduling routine maintenance,” Webber says.
“Using the streamlined application, plant managers can direct operators to inspect, grease or replace components all on an agreed schedule.
“It can also be used to instruct the operator to take photos, measurements and readings, which are automatically uploaded and available for the customer and our CustomCare team to access.
“If the plant is not optimally performing, we can use this data to diagnose the symptom and take action before it becomes a problem.”
CDE Core’s SmartTech software also provides real-time health tracking of the mineral processing plant to enable more robust monitoring.
Webber says the connectivity of the plant enables CDE to have a lot of power with spare parts, operating costs and allows it to look for trends.
He adds that CDE Core can improve a plant’s uptime, leading to a knock-on effect of productivity and efficiency gains.
“Data is powerful. At CDE, we are constantly striving to maximise output and data is key to this,” Webber says.
“The predictive nature of the applications means the plant owner can maximise their investment and minimise unexpected downtime.”
CDE’s customer-driven focus has enabled its sensor technologies to evolve further.
For a mining company, CDE provided a 3D model of a processing plant, which was intended for maintenance services. However, the customer found further uses for the technology.
“Our clients have been using the technology for pre-starts, safety inductions and as a planning tool prior to a shutdown,” Webber says.
“It’s a good example of when technology is designed for a specific purpose and once it’s put in the hands of the user – they find a completely different use.”
The importance of sensor technology in minerals processing continues to grow, Webber continues.
He says being in control of the density and pump volume in wet processing is absolutely critical.
“We can control the feed with sensors, a PLC and programming between us and client,” Webber says. “We can also monitor the equipment to schedule maintenance to ensure optimal productivity.
“Sensor technology is coming like a freight train and mineral processing is only getting more ever-present.”
Under CDE’s mantra, the modular approach provides moveable plant and equipment for minerals processing applications at a mine compared with a traditional stick build.
The company helped SIMEC build two wet processing plants at the Iron Knob and Iron Barren projects in South Australia to beneficiate low-grade iron ore.
“The rapid deployment, the de-risking through the modular approach, particularly through junior miners is really important to make their return on investment stack up and operate a viable project,” Webber says.
Unlocking plant synergy
The combination of sensor technology and IoT data processing has long been acknowledged for giving minerals processing plants their own ‘crystal ball’ to look into the future condition of assets through predictive maintenance.
Weir Minerals’ Synertrex platform has unique abilities compared with conventional condition monitoring systems; now it also offers solutions reaping the benefits of big data processing beyond the typical asset health solutions.
Weir has seen several global customers already signing up for this unique and high-performing digital platform.
The head of engineering operations at Weir Minerals, Stephen Marshall, says the Synertrex smart analytics platform optimises plant performance by delving into real-time details about each machine, allowing for not only predictive analytics but also advanced process optimisation.
One example of benefits derived from advanced processing of large amounts of data is the latest process optimisation solutions, enabling automatic adjustment of closed loop control of hydrocyclones to maintain peak operating conditions without manual intervention by operators.
According to Marshall, Synertrex looks at both the machine health directly, along with the assets connected to it.
“For example, thinking of the slurry pump, you’re looking at the bearing housing, drive motor and gland water supply system,” Marshall says.
“Compared to a conventional condition monitoring system, it’s a more comprehensive view of the entire installation rather than just focussing on one individual component.”
It is a similar story for vibrating screens, where the Synertrex technology can process data to provide more comprehensive insights into machine health, process throughput and separation efficiency.
“The data that we gather is used for data analytics, predictive analytics and big data analysis to provide a direction towards getting more insight over standard monitoring,” Marshall continues.
“We can get more insights into the equipment health predictability in and around maintenance cycles. Just the simple fact of knowing the runtime details of a piece of equipment is valuable information for operators.”
At its core, Synertrex pushes the highest level of performance out of a plant and equipment, which is achieved in part by mapping out when maintenance is actually needed.
This reduces downtime and allows for smoother operations around plant shutdowns.
“It provides the level of capability to run the equipment for longer before it requires maintenance and also allows better scheduling around the flexibilities of a plant shutdown, and that’s been key,” Marshall says.
Synertrex platform also enables remote monitoring of processing plants for mine sites – this became vital in 2020, due to COVID-related travel restrictions and limited site personnel.
“COVID has really brought sensor technology to light – it’s provided a catalyst in the drive towards automation, sensor technology, remote operation and more process control rather than less,” Marshall explains.
Weir also offers services to monitor equipment on behalf of customers. Data analytics are key to the future of minerals processing technology.
Marshall says Weir works with customers to provide further process optimisation and machine insights through the combination of sensor technology and IoT data processing technology.
“To have the sensors is one thing but what you do with the data is the key, and I think that we are only at the beginning of the journey in that regard,” Marshall says.
“We have undertaken some evaluation of AI capability and we can see that there’s enormous potential there.
“We’re actively pursuing the data analytics piece and we’re providing intelligence and insights based on that. It’s early days but it’s very much a case of watch this space for what we’re looking for in that area.”
This article also appears in the April issue of Australian Mining.