CEEC’s Mount Isa workshop top 15 insights - site change success, bottlenecks to drive value, targeting “energy wasters”, technology “game-changers”, and overcoming innovation roadblocks

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Operational experience, emerging technologies and successful improvements were shared at CEEC’s mineral processing and innovation workshop in November at Mount Isa, the heart of one of Australia’s premier mining regions.

Almost 45 mining and METS representatives and industry researchers participated in the first regional workshop to be rolled out under the CEEC Advanced Energy Curves Project, funded through a partnership between the Queensland Government; METS Ignited, an Australian Government Industry Growth Centre; and CEEC.

Workshop participants rated the workshop as “excellent”, with outstanding and diverse speakers, a strong panel session, and new energy curves tools applied to real operational data. All were actively involved in group activities, applying energy curves to operational data, and sharing their site learnings and global insights. They took back to work practical tools and energy improvement ideas from a series of international case studies. Speakers and panellists shared their experiences of what companies are doing now, the latest installations and new advances being applied, and exciting emerging opportunities. 

Participants acknowledged the high-calibre and diversity of speakers and panellists, the operational focus, open discussion about the mineral processing challenges and opportunities facing sites, and the excellent networking and sharing of ideas between participants.

CEEC Director and PETRA Data Science Technical Director Dr Zeljka Pokrajcic said the workshop attracted participants from local mines, such as Mount Isa, Capricorn Copper and Ernest Henry, and from Brisbane, interstate and global locations.

“A highlight for me was the group discussion resulting from the workshop activities run by CEEC energy curves mastermind Dr Grant Ballantyne. There was interesting discussion on the reasons for, and implications of, the efficiency advancements in grinding circuit operation,” she said.

CEEC Director and Ausenco Chief Technology Officer Greg Lane said the workshop was an excellent forum for a wide cross-section of the minerals processing community in Queensland.

“It developed from current issues to what may be possible and made us think further about the direct relationships between operating costs and operating efficiency but, more specifically, about optimising throughput and efficiency,” he said.

Mining Equipment, Technology and Services (METS) companies, including Ausenco, FLSmidth, Incitec Pivot, Magotteaux, MIPAC, Multotec, Nippon Eirich, PETRA Data Science, Siemens and Weir, accounted for around half the workshop participants.

CEEC sponsors who actively participated in and supported the workshop included Ausenco, FLSmidth, Glencore Technology, PETRA Data Science and Weir, and the project funders, METS Ignited and the Queensland Government, also participated.

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The program included a session on “NOW”, focusing on what companies are doing now to make processing plants more efficient and productive. Presenters included Dan Brooks (Glencore Copper Processing Technical Services Manager) and Marvin Muller (Capricorn Copper Concentrator Manager).

Session 2 focused on “NEAR”, with information shared on recent installations and new advances being applied at sites. Presenters included Bill Malone (FLSmidth Global Product Director – Crushing) and Dr Sam Palaniandy (CEEC Medal winning author 2018 and Nippon Eirich Process Manager).

Session 3 then moved to what’s NEXT, with some exciting emerging opportunities. Presenters included Matt Pyle (Ausenco Director Technical Solutions), Mike Hourn (Glencore Technology General Manager), and Zeljka Polkrajcic (PETRA Data Science Technical Director).

The first three sessions also included presentations on the latest enhancements to the comminution energy curves by Dr Grant Ballantyne, who demonstrated their application by sharing case studies from around the world. Small teams then worked together to apply learnings using the latest energy curves options to operational data, and presented their insights and ideas to the audience, helping participants return to their organisations with new options to benchmark and drive improvements.

The final session brought an expert panel together which focused on comminution efficiency, including driving step-change, and overcoming challenges. Led by Greg Lane (Ausenco Chief Technical Officer), panel contributors included Dan Brooks, Matt Pyle, Dr Wayne Stange (Dyno Nobel/Incitec Pivot) and Marvin Muller.

Useful discussion followed, providing practical feedback between miners and METS about their business needs. Through this discussion, participants identified business development and improvement opportunities for follow-up.

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Insights from Presentations

Fifteen key highlights from presenters, panellists and audience participants were:

  1. Energy context and value: The importance of energy efficiency “in context”, noting that energy should be applied in a manner that generates the highest project NPV at an acceptable level of risk.
  2. Constraint and energy management approach: The importance of identifying and addressing the site constraint, then focusing on managing energy; in particular, energy application to optimise revenue and energy efficiency to reduce cost.
  3. Energy wasters and KPIs: Identifying the biggest “energy wasters” on site, implementing an energy wastage KPI (monitored daily), and tackling improvements in this context, helping to reflect and focus on optimal SAG operation and media filling.
  4. Tackling challenged sites: Dealing with non-optimal production situations, with good sharing of grinding circuit challenges and opportunities to focus on getting more metal out of the concentrator and increase its efficiency.
  5. Identifying performance potential: Opportunities to improve performance in the grinding circuit (such as SAG mill, ball mill and HIG mill) in relation to throughput, grade cost and grind size.
  6. Significant crushing technology advances: New designs in gyratory machines worldwide, with significant safety and downtime improvements, including crushers fully serviceable from the top eliminating the hazard of time under suspended loads
  7. People are key to success – Karara mine CEEC Medal win: Having internal champions from the METS company Nippon Eirich as well as the mining metallurgy and mechanical maintenance teams on site was the critical success factor for this improvement project. Process improvements were installed in just over 12 months, leading to efficiency gains of 30% to 35% compared with conventional technology, as well as improved concentrate and water recovery, and reduced costs. The team identified key issues in the fine grinding circuit, distilled recommendations for improvement (this involved several changes) and planned and implemented the process improvements at site, which included simulations, team work and careful planning.
  8. Driving successful change on live operations: Tips from the CEEC Medal winning process improvement success were shared: positively engage and educate the stakeholders, focus on low total cost of ownership, develop and support strategic partnerships, and demonstrate unique solutions.
  9. Bottlenecks and optimised plant of the future: What an optimised plant of the future might look like and why the industry should head there, in terms of technologies and optimisation approaches. Focusing on ensuring the plant is bottlenecked by high capital cost equipment (such as mills, solvent extraction/electrowinning, tailings filtration), rather than low capital equipment (mining fleets, trucks, pumps, hoppers and concentrate handling).
  10. Emerging technologies in mineral processing and comminution: Examples shared included coarse particle flotation, high-intensity blasting, staged flotation reactors, dry processing and dry stacking, modelling/twinning and the establishment of remote operations centres.
  11. Exciting, game-changing technologies: Dramatic shifts occurring in energy efficient crushing, grinding and smelter energy demand, plus coarse flotation advances such as HydroFloat and Nova Cell. These game-changing technologies have the potential to move recovery towards much coarser grains in the next 10 years, which is expected to fundamentally improve energy and water use in comminution and mining.
  12. Artificial intelligence, machine learning and twinning: The value and nature of this fast-moving space was explained, and two case studies were shared, where challenges were addressed quickly by innovative machine learning algorithms on mine sites. One algorithm was developed that successfully predicted flotation tail grade prediction, contributing to a 2% increase in gold recovery. A second algorithm was developed that successfully predicted AG mill tonnes per hour based on data in the geological block model.  
  13. Panel scenario – overcoming innovation roadblocks. Greg Lane presented a scenario in which an innovative technology improvement was being implemented. He invited the panel and audience to address how to overcome the roadblocks from different perspectives, including the needs of the mine manager, metallurgist, maintenance and plant team, METS vendors, METS business managers and investors.
  14. Niche future skills focus: The audience identified the critical need for industry to attract the people needed to drive change, which involves a vital strategic focus to create people capacity – especially in METS – through careful, considered investment in employees.
  15. METS messages to boost miner success: Trust the people who support the teams on site – get involved and work with them; they have excellent experience to contribute, and be cognisant of METS’ low margins.

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Feedback from participants included that the workshop provided “improvement and $ value”, “many opportunities/metrics which could be applicable”, “both blue sky and quick wins”, “improved understanding of different needs of miners and METS”, “useful insights into other operators”, and excellent “tools and networking”. Participants also found it was a good professional development and business development opportunity.

CEEC thanks the funders, sponsors, and all who attended and contributed experiences and insights to the successful workshop, helping drive practical site improvements now, and collaboration and stronger technology uptake for more energy efficient mining in new and future installations.

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