Tag Archives: base metals

ColdBlock and Nucomat partner to automate mineral sampling prep process

Two technology companies that take laboratory efficiency and workplace safety to a new level have pooled their expertise to help automate one of the more labour intensive and risky elements involved in the mineral sampling process.

The combination of the ColdBlock Digestion 3rd Generation Product Line and Nucomat’s Compact Sample Preparation Unit will enable an automated process of “raw sample in, analysis-ready sample out at unprecedented speed and level of operator safety” for labs dealing with mineral samples, according to Nick Kuryluk, CEO of ColdBlock Technologies.

Ahead of a CEMI-hosted webinar to discuss the combination, IM put some questions to Kuryluk and Michael Van de Steene, Software Team Lead at Nucomat.

IM: Since unveiling the ColdBlock Digestion solution back in 2015 at the annual PDAC Convention, what has happened to the technology in terms of speeding up the sampling process for mining companies? I think back then, you were claiming the technology delivered fast digestion rates of between 10 and 15 minutes. Have you managed to speed this up even more?

NK: Since 2015 when we unveiled the technology at PDAC, we have focused on developing a solid evidence generation package that validated the performance of the technology in both the academic setting and the real-world setting through mining organisations and commercial laboratories.

The performance parameters that were validated include 1) high return on investment (ROI), 2) elevated workplace safety, and 3) high analytical accuracy and precision.

  • 1) The Amira Global P1196 project included SGS, Freeport McMoRan, New Gold, Centerra Gold and Newcrest. This project demonstrated that ColdBlock delivers similar analytical measurements to fire assay for gold determination and similar analytical measurements to hotblock for base metal determination (ie copper and iron determination). However, it was further validated that the ColdBlock process can be performed in minutes compared to hours and the cost savings were substantial (average of 50% cost savings vs fire assay for gold application);
  • 2) In regard to workplace safety, we eliminated the use of lead for gold determination (commonly used in fire assay) and, thus, eliminated potential lead contamination for workers and lead waste. For base metal applications, we reduced the use of hydrofluoric acid and perchloric acid in the digestion process, both of which are harmful reagents; and
  • 3) We have now published several papers. The body of work consistently demonstrates the high accuracy and precision in the recovery of elements in both mining and environmental samples. In 2019, the Geological Survey of Canada presented their work comparing ColdBlock to both microwave and hotblock for environmental applications (soils and sludges). It was demonstrated that ColdBlock improved precision from 12.9-1.3% with a 60% time saving.
The ColdBlock Digestion mechanism

The speed of our digestion system remains the same, however, it is unmatched when compared to conventional methods. We can digest sample materials for gold analysis in minutes compared to hours with fire assay. We can also digest sample materials for base metal analysis in minutes compared to hours with hotblock.

IM: Is Nucomat competing in the same sample preparation field as ColdBlock? Where do the two companies’ solutions overlap?

MVdS: Nucomat and ColdBlock Technologies manufacture complementary technologies that will take laboratory efficiency and workplace safety to a higher level.

NK: ColdBlock delivers solutions in optimising laboratory efficiency, productivity and safety:

  • Sample digestion system based on focused short-wave infrared radiation and a cooling zone;
  • Consumables and accessories;
  • Ancillary product solutions; and
  • Laboratory services in method development.

MVdS: Nucomat provides lab automation solutions for sample preparation, handling and testing for quality control laboratories. Our systems aim to control the sample preparation burden for 24/7 applications. These automated systems offer unique advantages compared to manual sample preparation, such as:

  • Operator safety;
  • Traceability and repeatability;
  • Gravimetric accuracy;
  • Validated results; and
  • Web-based remote control.

NK: Together, ColdBlock and Nucomat have joined forces to deliver a powerful solution offering a substantial ROI, elevated workplace safety and throughput while achieving high analytical accuracy and precision.

IM: How will this tie-up between the companies work? Will Nucomat be providing the automation solution for ColdBlock’s technology? How does this relate to the Amira Global P1196A project and delivering the ColdBlock 3rd Generation Product Line?

NK: This collaboration will deliver the integration of the ColdBlock Digestion 3rd Generation Product Line with Nucomat’s Compact Sample Preparation Unit (pictured below in a three reagent configuration). The combined technologies will provide an automated system capable of rapid acid dispensing and digestion. An optional making up to mass feature is also being considered. When combined, these features will enable a process of raw sample in, analysis-ready sample out at unprecedented speed and level of operator safety.

The details of the commercial framework are in progress. The integrated product line will first be offered through the Amira Global Project P1196A initiative. This will be delivered in Q2 (June quarter) 2021. The commercially available product will also be delivered through direct sales and a channel distribution model, which is targeted for Q3 (September quarter) 2021.

IM: What is the end goal of the collaboration?

NK: The end goal of the collaboration is to deliver a powerful solution to today’s challenges of sample preparation and to meet the current needs of the laboratory environment.

The aim is also to address a segment of small and mid-size laboratories that are looking for automated solutions but cannot justify the risk and ROI on a large full-scale automation system.

We aim to deliver:

  • High ROI, including high efficiency/productivity;
  • Elevated workplace safety; and
  • High analytical accuracy and precision.

IM: Is the agreement a reflection of the need to provide more environmentally sensitive sample digestion technologies that are automated to the mining and metals industry? Will the collaboration speed up the development of such a solution?

NK: The agreement is a reflection of both ColdBlock and Nucomat working together to respond to the current needs of the laboratory environment and to deliver a powerful and sustainable laboratory solution.

ColdBlock and Nucomat deliver solutions that are already proven in the marketplace. As such, this collaboration will speed up the development and commercialisation of the integrated solution.

With respect to gold application as an alternative to fire assay, we eliminate the need to use lead as part of the digestion process. So compared to fire assay, we eliminate lead waste and we eliminate lead contamination to workers.

IM: Where in the mining and metals space do you see the most demand or opportunities for deploying such a solution? Do you already have a trial lined up for the solution?

NK: The applications of our technologies are in the following spaces:

  • Mining and minerals applications such as precious metals (namely gold), base metals (such as copper, zinc, iron and nickel) and rare earth elements;
  • Metals and alloys;
  • Environmental; and
  • Other industry applications.

ColdBlock and Nucomat are working together with Amira Global to recruit participants for the Amira Global P1196A project that will see the delivery of ColdBlock’s third-generation product line with Nucomat’s automation solution. This includes both mining organisations and commercial laboratories.

Participating prospects currently come from Canada, USA, South America and Australia.

ColdBlock Technologies and Nucomat will be taking part in a CEMI-hosted webinar titled, ‘The Integration of ColdBlock Digestion with The NUCOMAT Automation System’ on December 2.

Visualising the future of particle measurements with 3DPM

The 3DPM vision system has had quite a journey. Since the first prototype was installed at LKAB’s Malmberget iron ore to help the miner optimise its pellet production, the system has helped ‘settle the argument’ between mine and mill at base metal mines in Europe and improve the quality of coke being fed to blast furnaces in Japan.

The future looks bright too, with the potential for the system to play a major role in the automation of mine process plants.

Users of 3DPM have seen the importance of having a high-quality vision system that can measure material from a few millimetres to as big as 300 mm in size at relatively high speeds on conveyor belts.

Matthew Thurley, Principal Scientist at Innovative Machine Vision and one of the inventors of the system, has seen the system evolve at the same time as the industry’s understanding of orebody characterisation has grown.

Sweden-based MBV Systems was involved from the beginning on the system, working in partnership with Thurley during his time at Lulea University. It was a three-way collaboration between the university, the SME, and mining companies that got the product to market.

3DPM stands for three-dimensional particle measurement. The system consists of high-performance hardware for 3D scanning of particles and state-of-the-art software for analysis of the size and distribution of particles on a conveyor belt.

“Each system is optimised regarding the hardware and software to best fit each individual installation site and customer preference,” MBV Systems said. “A few examples include OPC communication, heating options to allow functionality in freezing environments, bulk volume calculation, rock bolt detection, and alarm triggering on oversize material.”

Back in 2006, the system installed at Malmberget was very different.

Thurley said the physical hardware, mounted above a conveyor, was pieced together to function properly, but required integration of many individual parts which was hard to maintain.

Still, it provided the iron ore miner with a detailed particle size distribution down to mm-size classes of its high-grade iron ore pellets.

And, in the 14 years since first installation, the principle of the system has remained: to provide increased knowledge of particle size distribution to generate value in, for instance, crusher/mill control, blast furnace effectiveness, process optimisation, or process knowledge.

As more companies have become familiar with the system, the advanced features such as algorithms to detect fines and partially embedded particles have come to the fore. The hardware has been reinforced for rough environments with IP65 rating and the need for very low maintenance even when running 24/7.

This has meant the system has potential in projects focused on improved quality control, automation and process control; three topics the industry is looking at to improve its bottom line, increase its revenues and remove people from operations.

MBV Systems said: “Our customers, who are already highly automated, must continually make their operations more efficient and reduce costs in increasingly tougher international competition. MBV Systems’ machine vision systems constitute a decisive factor for higher productivity, improved efficiency and for complete quality control.”

LKAB started using the system more than 10 years ago. Over that timeframe, the system won many admirers.

Boliden is a big fan of 3DPM, with installations at its Garpenberg, Aitik and Tara operations.

Earlier this year, the miner decided to install another 3DPM system at Garpenberg, four years after the first system was delivered to the Aitik mine to help boost process knowledge and control strategies for crushers and grinding mills.

The way the Sweden-based miner has applied this technology makes for a great case study, according to Thurley.

At Tara, the system is being used for increased process knowledge – “settling the argument between mine and mill”, Thurley says – while, at Garpenberg, the vision system is being leveraged to detect boulders and rock bolts online in a safe way.

This shows 3DPM can be used for multiple purposes.

Such flexibility is down to the system’s ability to provide full size distribution measurements from 0-300 mm and the use of newer algorithms, with the accuracy dependent on the speed of the conveyor belt and the target size of the material under scrutiny.

One of the differentiating factors of 3DPM compared with other vision systems – many of which are now used within ore sorting projects – is the ability to provide a good 3D data profile of the surface of the rock mass. This helps distinguish between rocks and fines, for instance, even when the two are interwoven.

“With the system, we can classify fines and embedded rocks,” Thurley explained. “In other systems, fines may be mistaken for large ‘rocks’ and significantly skew the measured size distribution resulting in bad data and bad decision making.”

This is particularly important in operations that produce several products within one mine – for instance iron ore lump and fines – ensuring that the correct product ends up in the correct stockpile.

The vision system can be tailored to each application.

“At a pigment producer, for instance, we are looking for material that is 3 mm in size,” Thurley said. “In order to carry out that sort of classification, we use the latest technology to measure 3D points at 0.3 mm resolution.”

Typically, visualisation down to this size of material is not required in mining operations, where the company is really competing with batch ‘mine-to-mill’ ore characterisation studies carried out through sieving or some type of other manual process. Such classification can work well for that ‘sample’ but can be misrepresentative depending on the orebody’s heterogeneity.

“3DPM can, instead, provide an end-to-end analysis that can now start to be used as a decision-making tool,” Thurley said.

Analysis of the ore coming through just after blasting can help provide the reconciliation tool miners require to check how effective the blasting practice is, for instance, helping provide the “pre-crusher size distribution feedback much earlier in the value chain”, he said.

With the incorporation of new software and camera technology, the company is expecting more complex analysis to be carried out on bigger amounts of material, according to Thurley.

“These new technologies will allow us to analyse material on a conveyor belt going at 6 m/s where the previous generation was limited at around 2 m/s,” he said.

This could open opportunities at much bigger operations – some large copper or iron ore mines, for instance – as well as automated plants of the future.

It is not farfetched to see the system operating in the same blasting reconciliation position but providing crusher operators with the analysis required to optimise operations ahead of receiving the material.

Moving one step further, it could provide the same information to a system that operates autonomously.

“This could eventually lead to automatic control of the crusher,” Thurley said.

Canada Cobalt Works moves to protect Re-2OX process following SGS testing

Canada Cobalt Works says it has made important breakthroughs in its proprietary and environmentally green Re-2OX process for the recovery of cobalt, precious metals and base metals, and will look to submit a patent application to protect the technology.

New testing using SGS Lakefield in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada, has highlighted further optimisation of Re-2OX can allow the recovery of silver and copper for the first time, while also increasing the recovery rates for cobalt and nickel.

“In refining the Re-2OX process through a one-step leach extraction, overseen by Canada Cobalt adviser Dr Ron Molnar, SGS has recovered >99% cobalt, >99% silver, 99% nickel and 99% copper while removing 99% of arsenic from a composite of gravity concentrates,” the company said.

The gravity concentrates tested at SGS were from the historic Castle mine, in Ontario, classified as waste material and grading 10.2% Co, 11,000 g/t Ag, 0.26% Cu, 1.49% Ni and 45.1% arsenic.

Re-2OX skips the normal smelting process to create battery-grade cobalt sulphate, according to Canada Cobalt Works. The company said nickel-manganese-cobalt (NMC) battery-grade formulations are also in the pipeline.

“In addition, the ability of Re-2OX to achieve exceptionally high recovery rates for both cobalt and silver, plus nickel and copper, while also removing 99% of arsenic, expands the potential of the Castle mine given Phase 1 underground results released February 19, 2019, and a second phase starting soon,” the company said. “Furthermore, Re-2OX is a value-driver for the company’s planned tailings programs at Castle and elsewhere in the district, and will also be used by Canada Cobalt to immediately build a new model of ‘streaming’ opportunities for the company with respect to other battery metal projects while protecting the process.”

Given the current optimisation level of Re-2OX, and the growing importance of this hydrometallurgical process to Canada Cobalt and its shareholders, the company has now initiated the process of submitting a patent application for this proprietary metal extraction method.

Frank J Basa, Canada Cobalt President and CEO, said: “The fact that SGS has demonstrated that Re-2OX can very efficiently recover a broad set of metals from arsenic-rich material, ranging from low grade to high grade, further de-risks the Castle mine project and expands opportunities to build shareholder value. Further Re-2OX optimisation will target the recovery of gold.”

Canada, NWT governments invest in Slave Geological Province access

The Government of Canada, this week, announced it would invest C$5.1 million ($3.8 million) in two projects to support resource development in the Slave Geological Province (SGP) of the Northwest Territories (NWT).

Paul Lefebvre, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources, on behalf of Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development and Minister responsible for CanNor, was joined by Wally Schumann, GNWT Minister of Infrastructure and Industry, Tourism and Investment, to make the announcement this week during the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada annual convention, in Toronto.

Funding will go towards the planning of an all-season access corridor into the SGP as well as aerial geophysical surveys of the region, the government said. “The surveys will lead to the development of mapping products used by mineral exploration companies to target their activity,” it added.

Bains said: “Knowing where mineral deposits exist and being able to access them is the first step in attracting investment and growing the resource development sector. We know that similar projects in NWT in the past have led to significant economic development activity. These projects are building on that success.

“The Government of Canada is committed to the creation of more good jobs, more economic growth and long-term sustainable development in the North.”

CanNor is investing C$2.7 million in a two-year SGP access corridor project, with a further C$678,000 investment from the Government of the Northwest Territories Department of Infrastructure. Total funding for this project is almost C$3.4 million.

CanNor, meanwhile, is investing C$2.4 million in a two-year project to develop exploration in the region, with a further C$280,000 commitment from the Government of the Northwest Territories Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment, and C$749,000 from industry partners. Total funding for this project is C$3.43 million.

The SGP has significant untapped mineral potential including several defined large base metal deposits (eg IZOK – 15 Mt and Hackett River – 82 Mt) and hundreds of base metal and gold showings (372 along current proposed route alone), according to the Government of the Northwest Territories.

Three diamond mines (Ekati, Diavik and Gahcho Kué) produced 20 Mct, C$2 billion in revenue and employed over 3,000 people (FTE) in 2017 and contribute C$1.1 billion to GDP directly, representing 28% of the NWT economy, the government added.

Vale after more cost savings with development of artificial intelligence centre

Vale’s is today inaugurating its Artificial Intelligence Center in Vitória (Espírito Santo state, Brazil), a centre aimed at improving maintenance, processes, and environmental, health and safety compliance controls.

The facility, which will develop and monitor AI initiatives from the company’s units across several countries, has already saved the company more than $20 million/y, and another $37 million is expected to come from initiatives already underway.

“The benefits derive from improving maintenance of assets (from off-highway trucks to railroad tracks), improving management of processes in pelletising and ore processing plants, as well as enhancing environmental, health and safety and compliance controls,” Vale said.

Hélio Mosquim, the IT Innovation executive manager, said the new centre will “intensify the integration and collaboration” among those people responsible for different projects.

“Also, this initiative will promote the exchange of experiences and knowledge, increasing synergy among teams and generating results on a global scale. Most features developed for one project can be applied to others,” he said.

The centre is located at the Tubarão unit, in Vitória, which comprises eight pelletising plants, the operational centre of Vitória Minas railroad, and four port terminals distributed across 14 km². Some 50 professionals – including data scientists and engineers as well as business experts – are exclusively dedicated to Vale’s AI projects. Vale has 15 of them working at the new centre to support thousands of assets (such as trucks, excavators, trains, conveyor belts, etc), among other tasks.

“Broadly speaking, AI is the ability of machines to simulate the human decision-making process and perform complex tasks normally requiring human intelligence,” Vale said. “It is part of a variety of systems – from those used for recommendations on shopping sites to stand-alone cars. Vale uses AI systems to collect and analyse millions of data from its projects, generating insights that will help predict problems and influence decision making.”

Vale’s teams are currently working on 13 lines of projects carried out alongside some of the company’s corporate and business areas covering ferrous metals, base metals, and coal.

Vale’s Digital Transformation Director, Afzal Jessa, said: “artificial intelligence has the potential to generate value for all business areas of the company. We’re taking another important step towards digital transformation to increase productivity and operational efficiency, achieve the highest levels of health and safety, improve our financial performance and drive innovation.”

Vale’s digital transformation programme is expected to generate gains in all business areas. In iron ore, in particular, it shall reduce the cost of production by $0.50/t until 2023.

The programme is based on improving asset performance, optimising maintenance, increasing workforce efficiency, and integrating the value chain. Technological innovations developed by the company include the Internet of Things, AI, mobile applications, robotisation and autonomous equipment (such as trucks and drills).

Vale outlined six examples of projects being developed in the new centre:

  1. Rail fracture prevention – One of the high-impact projects being developed at Carajás railroad (Estrada de Ferro de Carajás) is focused on predicting rail fracture, which is one of the most common occurrences and most serious for the operation. Data generated by the railroads uncovered a solution that identifies the occurrence of one or more fractures in a specific rail branch. In addition to increased operating security, the solution decreases railroad shutdowns to repair fractured rails.
  2. Train wheel-set maintenance – A set of sensors installed by the railroad called waysides monitor the wear as well as impact of wheel-sets, temperature and noise of bearings, as well as displacements of the bogie (an important part of the railroad car). By cross-checking the data generated by these sensors with information from other systems, mathematical models were created to allow the maintenance team to predict the behaviour of wheel-sets in the following 30 days. Based on this information, the team can plan the purchase and maintenance of assets, thus extending their useful life. In the first year, the programme generated savings of BRL2.3 million ($624,019) – about 10 times the amount invested in its implementation.
  3. Maintenance of mine assets – Collection of data generated by mine equipment, such as off-highway trucks, excavators and loaders, as well as use of AI techniques. A project implemented at Salobo mine, in Pará, increased the useful life of off-highway truck tires by approximately 30% in one year. These projects have produced $8 million in savings.
    Another project addresses the increase of useful life and prevention of premature failure of powertrains on off-highway trucks and other mobile assets of the mine, such as loaders and excavators. This is one of Vale’s major projects, involving 15 operations in Brazil, Canada and Mozambique. Sixty per cent of the company’s off-highway trucks already use this system. The approved potential of savings amounts to more than BRL2 million.
  4. Reduction of fuel consumption – A partnership between Vale’s operational areas and researchers of the University of Queensland, Australia, helped the company’s data scientists develop a system to reduce the fuel used by off-highway trucks. Tests conducted in the state of Minas Gerais showed the project can potentially reduce the diesel consumption.
  5. Pelletising process optimization – Data generated during production of pellets were analysed using AI techniques and generated several insights as well as recommendations on ideal operational conditions for the pelletising plants. These process improvements generated $3 million in savings per year in one of the plants, in Vitória. The gains came from a 7% reduction in variable costs by improving the balance between the coal and natural gas used in the process and reducing the use of electric power, among other factors.
  6. Data analysis to avoid safety incidents – Started in 2017 in partnership with the health and safety area, the project analyses the demographic profile of employees to evaluate which ones are more exposed to accidents. The data generated is combined with historical accidents, near misses, and unsafe conditions of the localities. The system uses this information to calculate the probability of incidents occurring in each area in a specific period of time – in a week, for example – as well as its current risk, enabling to evaluate whether the employees’ risk exposure in the work environment has increased or decreased. Then, it is possible to prioritise the activities of health and safety professionals.

Australia resources sector supports record FY18 exports

Australia’s exports of goods and services surpassed A$400 billion (US$295 billion) for the first time in the 2018 financial year to end June, with resources making up the majority of sales.

Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics showed resources exports – including minerals, metals, coal and petroleum – were a record high A$220 billion in the 12-month period. This was a 11% rise from the previous year due to higher exports of coal, gold, base metals and LNG.

Despite lower prices, iron ore remained Australia’s largest source of export revenue with A$61.4 billion shipped.

Coal exports were only just behind, reaching a new record high of A$60.1 billion – up 11%, or A$5.9 billion, from the previous year.

Gold exports, including mined and refined yellow metal, set another record for export values with A$20.1 billion of the precious metal shipped in the 12-month period. This is the first time in Australia’s history gold exports have exceeded $20 billion, showing just how important the weak Australian dollar – relative to the US dollar – has been to the sector’s resurgence.

Exports of base metals and other minerals showed strong growth as a result of higher commodity prices and totalled $38 billion in 2017-18, also a record high.

The Minerals Council of Australia said this resources export revenue was delivering benefits to all Australians.

“The minerals industry and mining equipment, technology and services sector continue to provide high-paying jobs for more than one million Australians, particularly those in regional areas,” the MCA said.

“And, Australia is also poised to seize future opportunities for minerals resources that will come from growth in new consumer, energy and transportation technologies around the world.”

Australia has extensive resources of the rare earth elements, base metals, lithium and precious metals that are essential materials in smart phones, electric vehicles, modern energy systems and industrial machinery, according to the MCA.

“This means maintaining a competitive minerals sector is essential for Australia’s continuing economic prosperity, jobs and regional communities.”