Efficiency projects benefit process manufacturers across many industries. This is particularly true in the mining industry as Emerson’s Douglas Morris describes in today’s post.
It’s well known that the mining industry has hit a small rough patch; the lowering demand for commodities has caused the delay or postponement of most Greenfield projects and junior miners find it increasingly difficult to secure capital. Other major headwinds are that ore body grades are declining and the industry is beginning to see its talent retire. All of these factors contribute to the squeezing of margins for producers and requires a renewed focus on the efficient deployment of capital.
Mining productivity, by many accounts, has been decreasing for more than a decade but has been masked by the explosive growth of commodities. Now that commodities are cooling off, productivity will define which miners get a bigger share of the market.
There are only so many levers to pull when you look at improving efficiencies. One path is to invest in newer capital equipment which processes more such as larger mills or in technologies that process better such as staged flotation reactors. These things will certainly improve tonnage and recovery, but the cost is high. Another approach is to invest more heavily in plant automation…these technologies typically represent only about one percent of the total plant investment but touch virtually all of the operation. When looking to automation, the first step to improving efficiencies is instrumentation and controls. Emerson’s alliance partner, Portage Technologies, likes to say that technology is the facilitator—it’s a tool for operations and they can only manage what is measured and can only optimize what is controlled.
Once you have these technologies installed, you can address productivity by using advanced process control (APC). APC is critical for a number of reasons, but let’s just consider one for this example: grade. An ore body is continually changing in grade as it is fed into the mineral processing plant and depending on the grade, different parts of the concentration plant will be your limiting factor. The best operators can usually make adjustments on the fly, but unfortunately, not all operators are the best operators. APC helps ensure that the plant can readily adapt to process and ore variability.
So where are the quick opportunities to improve using APC? The biggest returns are often found by addressing SAG mills and flotation circuits.
The results speak for themselves. Those plants willing to make the investment commonly see a significant reduction in variability along with better recovery (in the range of 2 percent) and increased throughput (in the range of 5 to 10 percent). Progressive miners are seeing that a relatively small investment in technology can offer very large returns.
You can connect and interact with Doug and other mining professionals in the Metals and Mining track of the Emerson Exchange 365 community.