Step change- a staircase rather than a giant leap


In looking to the future of mineral processing the focus is typically on improved processing units. Basically it is a search for an elusive wonder machine that could revolutionise the economy of mining: the sorter that strips 50% of the ore with only a few % loss of value; the comminution device that uses 5% of the energy while producing fully liberated particles; or the recovery device capable of producing a 99% recovery at 99% grade. These aspirations are propounded against a reality backdrop of sorters rusting in back yards, mill throughputs below design and varying by 30%, cyclones flaring and cut-sizes fluctuating, mediocre recoveries and soaring processing costs.

This disconnect between aspiration and reality appears, to these authors at least, to be a mighty chasm. Moreover, it remains one over which we are expected to magically leap rather than methodically bridge. Indeed one may be forgiven for thinking that should such a wonder machine come along, taking advantage of it would be highly improbable. Questions would inevitably emerge on how to feed the correct material, how to cope with the wide variability of feeds, how to control such advanced equipment and how to handle the new product from such a machine. It is likely these questions might lie unanswered, or more regrettably, unasked.

It is generally accepted that as an industry we are exceedingly unlikely to teleport from the current status quo to an entirely new reality in a single flash. It is our thesis that the probability of these magical machines materialising is remote, and even if they miraculously appeared, we simply wouldn’t know what to do with them. Rather, it is our contention, that a step change will only arise through a staircase rather than from a single giant leap. We should focus on building those steps and linking them together into a firm structure – a workable mineral processing circuit.

This paper addresses the alternative of a coherent set of modest but significant improvements, integrated to produce the step change we desire: essentially, a reduction of processing energy to below 40%, which we believe is achievable without recourse to any mystical machines. A key underlying capability to designing these dramatically improved processes, is the weaving of independent process models into a coherent circuit simulation, in order to design the new generation of mineral processing circuits.