What will crushing plants of the future look like? Mineral Resources Ltd and Metso Outotec have pondered that question and have since gone on to answer it with the delivery of a modular, scalable and relocatable plant at an iron ore operation owned by one of the world’s biggest miners.
Called ‘NextGen II’, the solution represents a ground-breaking approach to delivering safe and reliable production to the hard-rock crushing industry, Mike Grey, Chief Executive of Mining Services for Mineral Resources, says.
And it all started with a test for one of the company’s most technically minded individuals.
“We were sitting around the boardroom table with David De Haas, one of our key engineers on this project, and gave him the challenge to come up with a crushing plant that we could literally relocate anywhere very quickly, build on a very small footprint, and have it plug and play,” Grey told IM in a recent IM Insight Interview.
Mineral Resources, which counts CSI Mining Services (CSI) as a wholly-owned subsidiary, was in a unique position to deliver on this.
A provider of world-class tailored crushing, screening and processing solutions for some of the world’s largest mining companies, CSI specialises in build, own, operate (BOO) projects where it provides both the capital infrastructure and the operational expertise to ensure these crushing plants operate to their potential on site.
It carries out crushing services for Mineral Resources’ own mines, as well others across the mining sector.
When offering such ‘crushing as a service’ type of contracts, the service must be underpinned by the best equipment possible.
Enter Metso Outotec.
Having initially commenced discussions with the global OEM in early 2019 (when it was still Metso), Mineral Resources, later that year, agreed with Metso on the design and delivery of a new type of crushing solution.
The pair recognised early on in these conversations that the industry was changing and they, as service and solution providers, needed to change with it.
The largest bulk commodity operations in the world are made up of multiple pits that get mined over time. As these operations expand, miners are left with a dilemma: extend the haulage time from the pit to the plant or build another plant.
The NextGen II crushing plant has provided a third option.
De Haas, collaborating with Metso Outotec, has delivered on the board’s brief with the design for a crushing plant able to produce 15 Mt/y using a modular design made up of several stations. The plant can move with the mining, being erected and taken down quickly without the type of in-ground services that can scupper such moves.
The first plant delivered under this collaboration is now operating in the Pilbara at a very well-known iron ore operation.
Guillaume Lambert, Vice President of Crushing for Metso Outotec, provided some specifics.
“The NextGen II is a crushing and screening plant to crush iron ore and produce lump and fine products,” he said in the IM Insight Interview. “The process starts with a primary station made up of a Metso Outotec apron feeder (below left), followed by a vibrating grizzly scalper.” Then starts the size reduction process with a Nordberg C150 jaw crusher (below middle).
From this primary station, the ore goes to three secondary crushing stations, each comprised of an MF3072 banana screen (below right) and Nordberg HP400 cone crusher.
Fines and lump are the products from this secondary station, with the oversize arranged in close circuit with the screen, Lambert said.
The screen was designed specifically for the project – offering the compact dimensions that could fit inside the station’s footprint. Other customised add-ons included specialised cooling rooms for the lubrication units and extensive steel fabrication works.
Lambert added: “Really, the tailoring of design is around the modularity of the different stations. Each station is made up of several modules. All those modules can be pre-assembled and tested in a factory and transported by road to the site. This has been established to enable a fast erection process.”
This turned out to be the case with the very first NextGen II installation.
Despite a timeline setback caused by the global pandemic, the 1,500 t of steel needed for the plant construction was built in 16 weeks, starting in March 2020 and ready by July 25 of that year. It was shipped to CSI’s Kwinana facility in Western Australia for pre-assembly before delivery to site.
Final commissioning took place in early 2021, and the crusher has been working well since.
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A distinctive blue colour, the plant reflects Mineral Resources’ commitment to mental health awareness and support, carrying the phone number and colour of Lifeline, a Western Australia-based charity formed to prevent suicide, support people in crisis and reduce the stigmas which can be a barrier to seeking help.
“It is really important for us to promote mental health; our fly-in fly-out workforce has matured over some years, but the challenges around working remotely remain,” Grey said. “It is important that we demonstrate we have the support mechanisms in place to support our workers and their families.
“The NextGen II plant is at the forefront of that – it is the first thing people see when they come to work and the last thing they see when going home. They can always reflect and make sure their work mates are OK.”
Support and service
The plant’s operating success has been helped by a local service and support network from both companies, with Metso Outotec providing critical spares and all large “rotable refurbishments” serviced by CSI’s Kwinana facility.
This is underwritten by a remote condition monitoring service that can see personnel and parts from both companies deployed to site at a moment’s notice.
This comprehensive offering has seen close collaboration between Metso Outotec’s Minerals (capital equipment) business, Service business and MRL’s own service team.
Understanding the challenges and potential delays for parts deliveries due to MRL’s remote location, the companies agreed to a specific consignment inventory close to the site to ensure parts availability and exclusivity for MRL to better support the operation.
In addition, a Metso Outotec service expert is present for maintenance and shutdown events to provide expertise and support to the MRL maintenance team.
Grey and Lambert said the collaboration has been a win-win for both companies.
“Working with Metso Outotec on this project has allowed us to define the scope together, rather than remotely,” Grey reflected. “That allows us to ensure we deliver to the timelines and then make any necessary changes on the run, hand-in-hand. We deliver the solution together.”
Lambert added: “Metso Outotec is an indisputable leader in crushing and screening technology, as well as plant. However, working with MRL, we learned a lot about improving the design of our station to maximise safety and improve accessibility in a very, very compact environment for high-capacity plant.”
This is unlikely to be the first and last next generation crushing plant to come out of the OEM/service provider collaboration.
While iron ore was the commodity of choice for the first installation, Lambert said there was potential for these types of plants featuring in base and precious metal operations.
“The NextGen II plant is very flexible,” he said. “Each station is individually plugged into the solution, and we can easily upgrade the crusher, the screen, etc throughout the year depending on capacity needs.”
Adding or removing some stations could see the throughput reduced or increased, with Lambert even talking about the ability to construct a 30 Mt/y plant that can be built, erected and relocated in the same way as the first 15 Mt/y plant.
“In addition, NextGen II, today, is designed for iron ore applications with lump and fine products,” he said. “If we want, we can add a tertiary crushing stage in order to produce only fines for iron ore. This can match with copper and gold operations also.”
There are plenty of gold miners extracting ore from multiple pits that could provide a strong business case for the installation of such a plant. Similarly, there is potential for this working at major open-pit copper mines.
Lambert concluded: “There is, for sure, global demand for modular crushing plants. Today, having a fast and safe erection process is a must in many countries and locations. In addition, we have more and more short-term operations emerging in very remote locations, so having the possibility to minimise civil works is key for a lot of our customers.”
To watch the full IM Insight Interview on ‘Mining’s next generation of crushing solutions’, click here.