Tag Archives: bulk ore sorting

Metso Outotec on ore sorting’s potential ‘revolutionary change’

Metso Outotec stands out among the mining original equipment manufacturers for having publicly acknowledged ore sorting is on its radar.

The Outotec business had a relationship with TOMRA Sorting Solutions dating back to 2014 when the two companies signed an agreement that would see the particle sorting company supply Outotec-branded sorting solutions to the mining and metallurgical industry. Metso, meanwhile, has previously disclosed it was developing “breakthrough proprietary technology to address the demand of high throughput accurate sorting”.

Close to eight months after the two companies merged to become Metso Outotec, IM put some questions to Erwin Huber, Vice President, Crushing and Conveying Systems; David Di Sandro, Business Development Manager – Optimisation and Test Labs; and Rashmi Kasat, VP, Digital Technologies, Minerals, to find out the current state of play with ore sorting at the mineral processing major.

IM: Back in November at your Capital Markets Day, there was mention of ‘AI-powered Ore Sorting Solutions’ during a presentation. Can you expand on what this offering might include? What stage is it at in terms of commercialisation?

DDS: Ore sorting is one of the most exciting recent developments in our industry. With improvements in sensor capabilities and adoption of artificial intelligence (AI), this may well become the revolutionary change this industry needs to sustain itself in the face of diminishing grades and orebody quality.

EH: With our ore sorting solution development, we are targeting the ability to deliver complete offerings of hardware and sensor-fusion platforms as it relates to both bulk and particle ore sorting. These platforms would utilise AI to optimise the feed material for the downstream process. Metso Outotec is uniquely positioned to understand and optimise that plant feed stream with deep knowledge and almost complete technology coverage in both the concentrator and tailings processing areas.

We plan to bring new solutions to the market in the short term and continuously launch new technologies to increase capabilities and capacities when the developments are mature enough.

IM: Will these solutions leverage existing tools within the Metso Outotec product offering? Will they make use of existing agreements with other companies (for instance, the agreement with TOMRA that Outotec previously had in place)?

EH: Metso Outotec carries out its own development of these solutions, and some partnerships are part of it once sensoring and analysing different minerals and elements are not possible with a single or only a few technologies. Mining and concentration are becoming more and more a digital world where breakthrough innovation is finding its space towards efficiency and sustainable possibilities. Smart systems will enable improved equipment uptime, efficiency and remote diagnosis of process and maintenance, and will be the bonding element between our traditional offering portfolio and new technologies.

IM: Previously Metso has talked about the development of a bulk sorting solution: do these ‘AI-powered Ore Sorting Solutions’ fit into that category, or are they more particle sorting solutions?

EH: Bulk ore sorting enables material selection at high throughput flows and particle technology is limited by capacity while bringing the benefit of high accuracy on selectivity.

RK: Bulk sorting is in its early stages in industry and no single sensor can determine minerals content across all ore types and mine sites. This is where AI algorithms play a significant role in ‘self-learning’ ore characteristics, mine site by mine site. It also provides great opportunities to do sensor fusion and more accurately determine the minerals content based on outputs from various sensors and sensor types. AI augments our expert’s tacit knowledge and provides a more reliable way over time to analyse big data generated from online mineral analysis.

IM: Where in the flowsheet do you envisage these solutions going?

EH: The earlier we can remove the gangue from the flow stream, the better our energy efficiency will be by reducing the volume of waste material that is processed by downstream equipment. Deposits in advanced development allow for in-pit backfill bulk ore sorters that may be deployed behind mobile in-pit crushers, or before the coarse ore stockpile where backfilling is not an option. There are several pre-concentration technologies that can be applied at each stage of mineral processing and the ideal operation should combine those tools to remove the liberated gangue at multiple stages of the processing plant in order to achieve the most sustainable process (ie bulk/particle ore sorting, selective breakage, coarse flotation).

IM: Will the benefits of your solution be felt beyond the crushing and grinding stage? Do you intend to use the data generated from the ore sorting solutions to benefit the whole downstream flowsheet?

DDS: One of the benefits of ore sorting is more efficient removal of waste from the process feed. Under certain circumstances, this also means removal of deleterious material which otherwise would adversely affect downstream process performance such as flotation recoveries. In these cases, the downstream benefits are intrinsic. The key would be understanding the geometallurgical mapping of all rock types and their mineralogy, so a philosophy of ‘include or reject’ can be applied on a metallurgical response basis. This mapping can be improved with SmartTag™ and GeoMetso™ technologies from Metso Outotec.

EH: The ability to sort, the geometallurgical mapping and metallurgical response obviously feed back into the block model and allow for more options in the mine plan and life of mine resource recovery, for example with the deployment of low-grade stockpiles. This further enhances the sustainability of the mining operation.

IM: Is the market ready for and receptive to such a powerful ore sorting solution?

DDS: As we all know, for good reason, our industry is full of early adopters rather than innovators. Most operations will need to see the technology succeed elsewhere before increasing their uptake of the technology. The initial implementation will likely occur in partnership with customers whose operations need this technology to be economically viable.

EH: The key is to understand the ore variability through the deposit and through the life of mine. Adopting ore sorting as an integrated processing step does not differ that much from testing and sizing flotation circuits, where small changes in ore properties can affect the overall recovery. It is important to understand these changes and how to react to them during operations.

The confidence level in sensor-based ore sorting testing will grow over time. We already see real-life examples where customers report on ore reserves based on lower cutoff grades due to ore sorting.

IM: Anything else to add?

EH: Despite the fact that the concept of ore sorting, and the sensors required to detect the valuable ore from the waste, have existed for several years, if not decades, the implementation of these systems in full-scale operations have been relatively restricted to particular cases with the right kind of orebody to make the process viable. Implementing ore sorting more broadly remains the challenge and requires the dual application of the right sensors working effectively with the right mechanical handling systems to detect and remove the waste stream efficiently and accurately. The skills required to solve these challenges are not just for the traditional mining and mineral processing engineers, but need to include a cross-disciplinary team addressing the issues from all angles.

This Q&A interview was carried out as part of the IM March 2021 annual ore sorting feature, to be published early next month

CRC ORE simplifies complexity for value

“There are a lot more variables to bulk ore sorting than just the technology,” Jon Rutter says.

The Principal Geologist of the Cooperative Research Centre for Optimising Resource Extraction (CRC ORE), Rutter knows his stuff. He has worked underground in both narrow-vein and mass-mining operations, as well as at large scale open-pit mines; in the base and precious metal arena.

During a presentation at International Mining Events’ IPCC Virtual event in early-February, he shared a slice of this knowledge while reviewing a recent installation project CRC ORE had been involved in at a platinum group element (PGE) operation.

“The intrinsic value of bulk ore sorting comes from the delivered heterogeneity,” Rutter said. “We have got to be able to sense and divert a higher-value pod of material versus an adjacent pod of lower-grade material on a conveyor.

“You essentially want to put more material into the mill that adds value – and not what destroys value.”

Looking at the wider bulk sorting opportunity in mining, Rutter explained the sensor diversion units (SDU) in bulk ore sorting were smaller than what the mine itself can typically offer in the form of a selective mining unit (SMU), which may be comprised of a dig block totalling around 15,000 t.

A truck offers a 100-300 t opportunity, while a shovel typically comes with a 50-100 t opportunity.

Even with a modest conveyor running at a 2,000 t/h rate, an on-board sensor (eg PGNAA or PFTNA) running at a 30 second integration time (the time to analyse one grade) would provide an SDU of 16.7 t. A sensor with lower integration time (eg XRF at 10 seconds) comes in at 5.6 t.

The ability to provide analysis down to this level has enticed several major companies into testing bulk ore sorting solutions.

Anglo American has trialled bulk ore sorting solutions at copper and platinum group metal mines, while BHP recently engaged CRC ORE to examine deployment of cutting-edge preconcentration techniques under its Grade Engineering® platform at the Olympic Dam mine, in South Australia.

The SDU with bulk sorting may be that much smaller than the SMU of a typical mine plan, but lab-level precision is not required for these solutions to work, according to Rutter.

“What I need is the ability to measure the metal content adequately,” he said. “When I say adequate, this incorporates the entire error bar of the system. That system includes the inherent geology, the mineralisation style and heterogeneity. We also need to consider the precision, accuracy and integration time – which is the technology constraint; but we also need to include the weightometers, the flop gates, the diversion gates, as well as that entire mining and materials handling process right from the start – from blasting, loading, hauling and dumping to the plant.

“But for bulk ore sorting what I end up requiring from this combined data is usually a binary decision: am I above or below a certain threshold?”

He expands on the bulk ore sorting (BOS) assessment process: “The other way of looking at this is simply considering it as planned ore loss and dilution. If we go back into that dig block, in that 15,000 t of material, I’ve already incorporated planned ore loss and dilution decisions or parameters into that SMU decision. So, if we look at bulk ore sorting, I am just talking about those different attributes – the error bars of a BOS system – as the inputs or parameters for BOS planned ore loss and dilution – it’s now just at a smaller and more precise opportunity.”

The company took a two-phase approach to the BOS opportunity at the PGE operation in question.

The first phase involved carrying out heterogeneity analysis of the orebody; correlation analysis of PGEs to base metals; selection of sensor technologies (XRF and PGNAA were selected in this case), design, layout and equipment selection for the bulk ore sorting plant; natural deportment analysis of the orebody; development of a preliminary business case; the ore type selection and sampling strategy; and project planning and management.

CRC ORE and the company in question settled on a solution where a Caterpillar 992 wheel loader dropped material off to a system using a combination of grizzly, feeder, sizer, conveyors, diverter, stackers and associated equipment from MMD, used in conjunction with an ore sensing system equipped with both PGNAA and XRF sensors to continuously measure the elemental composition. The PGNAA sensor provided a “penetrative” analysis calculation whereas XRF provided a “surface” sensing calculation, Rutter explained.

An incline conveyor ahead of the diverter gate and the accept/reject stream provided the 30 second integration time the PGNAA analyser required.

Phase two of the project involved online and offline (pre-install) work; sensor calibration; proving the technology; and proving the technology can drive physical separation.

Rutter said the completion of static calibration of the sensors saw the PGNAA sensor 20-30% calibrated, and the XRF sensor 70-80% calibrated.

This outcome harked back to Rutter’s assertion that “bulk ore sorting implementation is not a plug and play opportunity”.

A dynamic calibration in online mode completed under normal conditions was required to get the PGNAA sensor up to speed. This process, meanwhile, solidified the operation of the XRF sensor.

While the two sensors were calibrated in different ways, Rutter showed data that confirmed both were in unison when it came to reading the ore/waste that came through the conveyor (see right-hand graph below).

“The two sensors are independent of each other and fundamentally very different, but they can work well together, or separately,” he said.

CRC ORE was able to prove the technology by running the same sample through the circuit a number of times, as Rutter explained: “We fed 15-20 t of run of mine material into the hopper and repeated the process 15 times, putting the same 15-20 t sample through the system. We could then start to determine the precision and accuracy of the sensors and the system.”

For further verification, the sample was crushed, sub sampled and assayed.

“We wanted a binary response to ore and waste to build confidence,” Rutter added.

Phase three involved the ramp up to production scale, going from, say, 500 t/h to 1,000 t/h; carrying out validation by campaign; and finally integrating with the operation.

There were several lessons all mining companies – and bulk sorting vendors – should keep in mind from such a project, Rutter said.

Operations need to assess the impact of mixing across the entire materials and mining handling process as soon as possible, for one.

“The earlier we can put this data into the system, the better,” Rutter said. “Without a heterogeneity signature, we cannot implement bulk ore sorting.”

He also stressed the importance of timely feedback. Sensor calibration, a secondary crushing/sampling plant and assaying were all required to build confidence in the solution.

Rutter added: “The proper calibration of sensors does require a considerable and ongoing effort…but that is no different from any other process plant or equipment.”

Operators also need to be wary of where they set these solutions up in mines, recognising this heterogeneity dynamic.

“Bulk ore sorting is quite unlikely to be universally suited to the entire deposit,” Rutter said. “The analogue for this is a flotation plant; there are ore types in the mine where you achieve better performance in the flotation plant and others where you get worse performance.”

BHP engages CRC ORE for Olympic Dam bulk ore sorting study

BHP has engaged the services of Australia-based research consortium, the Cooperative Research Centre for Optimising Resource Extraction (CRC ORE), to examine deployment of cutting-edge preconcentration techniques.

Olympic Dam, 560 km north of Adelaide, is one of the world’s most significant deposits of copper, gold, silver, and uranium. This large BHP site is made up of underground and surface operations and conducts fully integrated processing from ore to metal.

The South Australia operation is one of the locations where BHP is actively examining bulk ore sensing and sorting opportunities – techniques within the CRC ORE Grade Engineering® suite of preconcentration technologies.

Grade Engineering is an integrated approach to coarse rejection that matches a suite of separation technologies to ore specific characteristics and compares the net value of rejecting low value components in current feed streams with existing mine plans as part of a system-view.

CRC ORE was requested by BHP to assist in the assessment of bulk ore sorting opportunities at Olympic Dam, it said.

BHP Principal Technology, Lee Bolden, said that as a CRC ORE participant, the diversified miner had watched with interest the sorting and sensing work that CRC ORE is undertaking in open-pit and underground operations.

“It made sense for us to have CRC ORE provide us with valuable insights on this work and input into our bulk ore sorting plans,” Bolden said.

BHP received a high-level bulk ore sorting deployment strategy from CRC ORE for Olympic Dam, along with a framework and calculator for the quantification and ranking of bulk ore sorting strategies at the operation.

CRC ORE also identified the critical work and data required to strengthen the evaluation of bulk ore sorting with the Olympic Dam Project team.

CRC ORE Chief Operating Officer, Dr Luke Keeney, said there were several deployment options among the opportunities assessed.

“We explored sublevel open stoping under the current mining environment, along with block caving as part of future-state mining options,” Dr Keeney said.

As part of the assessment, BHP received a high-level estimate of value from these deployment options.

Dr Keeney said the engagement of CRC ORE at Olympic Dam demonstrated the commitment of big miners to apply innovation to their processes.

“With the need for valuable minerals continuing to grow and mining these minerals becoming ever more difficult, mine operators need to think differently,” Dr Keeney said.

“Bulk ore sorting, and other Grade Engineering opportunities become increasingly competitive and complementary solutions where mined grades decline and mining dilution increases.”

Magnetite Mines up for NextOre magnetic resonance ore sorting pilot at Razorback

Having shown potential in lab-based test work to increase head grades at the Razorback project, NextOre’s magnetic resonance (MR) ore sorting technology is to now get an outing in South Australia at the high-grade iron ore development.

Razorback owner, Magnetite Mines, says it has entered into an agreement with NextOre to supply a mobile bulk ore sorting plant using a magnetic resonance (MR) sensor for a trial of the technology at the project.

The company said: “This advances our exclusive partnership with NextOre and is an important step in our journey to unlocking the potential of the Razorback project. The company is excited by the potential of the NextOre technology to enhance processing of by ‘pre-concentrating’ run of mine ore feed to increase plant head grade.”

The NextOre agreement includes a non-refundable deposit of A$100,000 ($71,418) and contemplates further, staged payments of A$700,000, Magnetite Mines says. The scope covers supply of a full-scale mobile ore sorting plant to site at Razorback for sorting magnetite ore using MR technology during the trial period for the purpose of mine feasibility analysis. The agreement includes milestone dates, with the equipment despatch from the CSIRO Lucas Heights facility, in New South Wales, expected in 2021.

Formed in 2017 by CSIRO, Advisian Digital and RFC Ambrian, NextOre supplies MR ore sorting solutions to global mining companies that applies mineral sensing technology developed by the CSIRO.

Unlike traditional ore sorting technologies that are based on X-ray or infra-red transmission, NextOre’s on-belt MR analyser ore sorting solution allows for the grade of high throughput ore to be measured at industry-leading accuracies and speeds, NextOre says. Due to the high speed of the technology, the integrative system is able to perform the analysis, computation and physical diversion of waste ores down to one second intervals allowing for fast diversion or high-resolution sorting.

As previously reported, the company entered into an exclusivity agreement with NextOre granting Magnetite Mines exclusive use of its MR ore sorting technology for any magnetite processing applications Australia-wide and all iron ore applications in the Braemar (including New South Wales) for a period of four years.

Magnetite Mines Chairman, Peter Schubert, said: “NextOre’s magnetic resonance sorting technology, developed over many years in conjunction with the CSIRO, has a rapid response time allowing unprecedented selection accuracy and speed. The result is potential for a substantial increase in the head grade of plant feed, resulting in lower unit operating costs and a significant improvement in capital efficiency.

“This technology also offers potential environmental benefits, with enhanced water efficiency and reduced tailings volumes.”

He added: “We are particularly interested in the potential of the NextOre technology to increase the grade of ore fed to the concentrator. The bulk trial of this exciting technology will contribute to the study work now underway.”

Chris Beal, CEO of NextOre said: “We are enthusiastic supporters of Magnetite Mines’ vision of unlocking the vast resources in South Australia’s Braemar region. Their disciplined approach, which leverages emerging technologies with well-established mining methodologies, is a testament to the team’s knowledge and experience in the field.

“In our collaborative planning, the Magnetite Mines methodology of carefully integrating mine and mill activities speaks strongly to the ability to generate the maximum value from bulk ore sorting solution. I am thrilled that NextOre can contribute to this transformative project and I look forward to jointly developing Australia’s reputation as a global leader in green resource extraction.”

MineSense front and centre in bulk ore sorting game

Having just commercialised its bulk ore sorting technology at Teck Resources’ Highland Valley Copper (HVC) operations in British Columbia, Canada, MineSense is looking to show the wider industry just how effective this pre-concentration process can be.

IM spoke with President and CEO, Jeff More, to find out more about the company’s ShovelSense and BeltSense technologies and how the Vancouver-based startup has been able to secure investment from the likes of ABB, Caterpillar and Mitsubishi.

IM: Can you explain in a little more detail how your ShovelSense and BeltSense solutions work?

JM: The base technology for both is X-ray Fluorescence (XRF) – a technology that has been around for some time. What we have done to this existing technology, which is quite unique, is three things:

  • One, we have extended dramatically the range of XRF. Traditionally XRF would almost have to be held to the surface of a rock to get accurate measurements. The range extension allows us to work in the shovel environment where we are working across metres of volume;
  • Second is speed. Our system is extremely fast. High speed analysis is required on our conveyor belt applications, but this is even more important in the shovel, where we’re measuring dynamically; as the material is flowing into the shovel, to get a representative reading, you have to be able to take very fast readings of the material as it is moving past the sensors;
  • The third is robustness. On a shovel, you are in a nasty environment from a shock and vibration perspective. We developed a system with sensitive components – the XRF itself, as well as the computing devices around it – that can stand up to that very high shock- and vibration-type environment.

IM: The most high-profile examples of the application of your ShovelSense technology have been at copper mines (HVC, in particular); is the detection technology particularly effective in these ores? Is it being trialled elsewhere?

JM: The current sensing we have with the XRF is very effective in a certain section of the periodic table, which nicely covers the major base metals. We’re focused on copper, nickel, zinc and polymetallic versions of those three. The fourth area of focus is iron ore.

We’ve selected copper as our first focus because of the size of the market and the geography. We have done most of our work in copper, but we now also have operating systems in nickel and zinc.

On a lab scale, the technology has been very effective in iron ore, but iron ore is a very different flow sheet, so we have purposely set it as our fourth market in what we call our primary clusters.

We have five mine site customers at the moment – three copper, one zinc-lead and one nickel-polymetallic.

We were very much focused on North America and, in particular, British Columbia for our first pilots and trials as it was quite easy for us to service in our back yard. The first international market was Chile, for obvious reasons in terms of copper production, and we now have a full MineSense entity and team operating in Chile and Peru.

We’re staggering the rest of our global expansion. We’re now quite active from a business development perspective in southern Africa – South Africa, Zambia, DRC – and have activity in Australia.

We have Systems installed at two different copper mines in British Columbia, one at a very large nickel-polymetallic complex in Sudbury, Ontario, and will have a fourth system operating in Alaska. We also have two mines, but four systems, operating in Chile. By the end of Q2, we will have another three systems operating in Chile.

We did all our development work for the system at Teck’s HVC operation and we’re now completely commercial there. We officially commissioned our first system in December, the second system is being commissioned as we speak and the third and fourth will be installed and commissioned in late-March. This will completely equip their fleet.

IM: Teck has previously said the use of ShovelSense has resulted in “a net measurable increase in the amount of ore (and the associated head grade)” it has available to feed its mill at HVC. Are these results in keeping with your expectations for the technology?

JM: Yes, absolutely. We base everything on, what we call, our value model. Very early in our engagement process, we set out a detailed model that calculates the profit improvement that mine will see – we did the same for Teck HVC.

We agreed on a target at HVC and are actually exceeding that estimate. Most importantly, Teck is also seeing that value and is estimating a great overall impact at that mine.

This is an abridged version of a Q&A to be published in the ore sorting feature in the March issue of International Mining.