Tag Archives: milling

The Axora take on crushing and comminution

As we are continually told, comminution is one of the most energy intensive single steps in the resource extraction business.

One estimate is that it accounts for 36% of all the energy used in the extraction of copper and gold, which is only a shade over the 30% proposed as an average by another industry expert for all mining and mineral processing industries.

It also accounts for an estimated 3% of the global energy requirement for metal production.

These energy requirements are shocking from a sustainability and greenhouse gas emission perspective; they are also extremely costly regarding operating expenses on site.

It is with this in mind that IM touched base with Joe Carr, Industry Innovation Director of Mining at Axora.

A spinoff from the Boston Consulting Group, Axora has emerged as a business-to-business digital solutions marketplace and community for industrial innovators. It says it allows industrial companies to discover, buy and sell digital innovations and share knowledge in its community, powered by an advanced marketplace.

“We exist to transform industries to be digital, safer, more sustainable and efficient,” the company states on its website.

Having recently gone to press with the annual crushing and comminution feature (to be published in the IM April 2021 issue), IM spoke with Carr to find out what the Axora marketplace has to offer on the comminution and crushing front.

IM: What are the main issues/concerns you continuously hear from your mining clients when it comes to designing and maintaining comminution circuits? How many of these problems/issues can already be solved with existing technology/solutions?

JC: One of key issues in this area we hear from our customers at Axora is the blending quality of the input ores.

Joe Carr, Industry Innovation Director of Mining at Axora

This could be particularly relevant in the sulphide space, for instance.

I did some work years ago on Pueblo Viejo for Barrick. When I was there, one of the things we were working on was blending the sulphides as we were feeding the mill from numerous satellite pits with very different sulphide grades. Because we were processing the ore with an autoclave, high-grade sulphides would cause a temperature spike and the low-grade sulphides would lower the temperature. This constant yo-yoing of the feed into the autoclave was terrible for the recovery of metals against the plan.

Generally, the old school way of blending is setting up stockpiles of ore based on whatever variable you want to manage at your operation. You would put a defined amount of each into the primary crusher on the understanding this would create a ‘blended’ feed for the processing plant.

With the information we have at our fingertips today, this process seems outdated.

You could, for example, use HoloLens or another VR system in tandem with the shovel operator to be able to see exactly what material he or she is excavating. That can then be linked back to the geological block model, with this material then tracked in the trucks and onto the run of mine stockpile, before heading to the plant.

This is where something like Machine Max comes in. Machine Max is a bolt-on IoT sensor that tracks where your trucks are in real time – where they have been and where they are going. The processing piece requires block model integration into a mine plan system. If you have the building blocks in place – the networking, sensors, additional infrastructure, etc – Machine Max could, when integrated with this model, allow you to attempt real-time ore tracking.

“If you have the building blocks in place…Machine Max could, when integrated with this geological block model, allow you to attempt real-time ore tracking,” Joe Carr says

The issue is not that the technology doesn’t exist, but that the mining industry hasn’t yet cracked putting all of this together at an industry-wide scale, available to all miners.

You can carry out a project like this or go totally the other way and have a machine-learning or artificial intelligence algorithm in the plant that is constantly reading the incoming feed. These could be based around the block model inputs, or a digital XRF solution, which is able to constantly tweak or adjust the plant settings to the feed specifications. Process plants are generally setup to handle one type of feed. This is usually only tweaked in retrospect or for short periods of time when the mine plan moves into a different mining horizon.

We also have a comminution solution that understands the feed coming in and optimises the mill and power settings to get the optimal grind for flotation, maximising recovery at the back end. While the input is typically set up to be grind quality and hardness for optimal flotation, there is no reason why you couldn’t configure it for, say, sulphides going into an autoclave, tweaking the autoclave heat settings dependent on the feed.

Once that system is set up, it becomes a self-learning algorithm.

Saving operational costs is another pain point for mining companies we always hear about.

We have a solution on our marketplace from Opex Group, which is looking to optimise production while reducing power. Coming from the oil & gas space, this AI algorithm, X-PAS™, offers the operator an opportunity to adjust the settings while still achieving the same required outputs. This is tied to CO2 reduction, as well as power cost reductions.

Opex Group’s AI algorithm, X-PAS, offers the operator an opportunity to adjust the plant settings while still achieving the same required outputs

In mining, the plant is your largest drawer of power, hands down. Generally, if it is not powered on the grid, it is powered by diesel. Opex Group’s solution can save up to 10% of power, which is a significant amount of fuel and CO2.

The solution reads information from your pumps and motors, analyses the planned output of your plant using all the sensor feeds, and tweaks the variables while sustaining the required output. The algorithm slowly learns how you can change configurations to reduce power, while sustaining throughput. This results in lower power costs, without impacting the output.

Importantly, instead of automating the process, it offers the saving to the operator sat in the control room. Operators, in general, are incredibly reluctant to pass over control to an AI algorithm, but when faced with such power saving opportunities, they will often elect to accept such a change.

And, of course, plant maintenance is always on the agenda.

This is where Senseye, which has been used in the car industry by Nissan and the aluminium sector by Alcoa, is useful.

Essentially, this provides predictive maintenance analytics. It is also a no-risk solution with Senseye backed by an insurance guarantee. It is sold on the basis that if you do not earn your money back within the first 12 months, you get an insurance-backed refund.

There could also be openings in the plant for Razor Labs’ predictive maintenance solution, which is currently increasing the uptime of stackers, reclaimers and car dumpers for iron ore miners in the Pilbara.

IM: When it comes to future comminution equipment design, do you expect digitalisation, wear liner innovations, or equipment design to have more of a bearing on operational improvements at mine sites? Phrased another way; is more emphasis being given to refining and extending the life of existing products with digital technologies and wear solutions, than the design of brand-new equipment?

JC: We believe there is always going to be a focus on retrofit and extensions. Once a mill is built, changing the equipment, upgrading, etc is very hard and time consuming. The logistics of getting a new SAG mill to site, for example, are mind boggling. New technology will always come for new sites, but most of the world’s mining capacity is already in place. I would expect most digitalisation to focus on two areas:

  1. Getting more and longer life from all the assets. For example, extending liner life, reducing operating costs and shortening downtime between refits; and
  2. Drawing insights from the existing asset with a view to sweating it. No mill ever stays at nameplate; there is always an increase in production. One or two percent more throughput can put millions onto the bottom line of a company. No mill wants to be a bottleneck in the cycle. In a mine there are always two goals: the mine wants to produce as much ore as possible to put the pressure on the mill, and the mill wants to run as fast as possible to put pressure on the mine.

When it comes to extending liner life, we have a solution worth looking at.

One of the companies we work with out of Australia has an IIoT sensor all tied to wear and liner plates. It is a sensor that is embedded into a wear plate and wears at the same time as the wear plate itself wears. It provides this feedback in real time.

So, instead of the standard routine changeout, it gives you real-time knowledge of what it is happening to these wear parts.

We have a great case study from Glencore where they installed the sensors for around A$200,000 ($152,220) and it saved several million dollars. The payback period was just weeks.

Where I want to take it to the next level is pairing the wear plate monitoring technology on chutes and ore bins and looking into SAG mills and crushers. Relining your SAG mill or primary gyratory crusher is a massive job, which takes a lot of time and cuts your productivity and output by a huge amount. Wear plates are made as consumables, so if you can use 5% less over the space of a year, for instance, there are huge cost and sustainability benefits. You can also more accurately schedule in maintenance, as opposed to reacting to problems or sticking to a set routine.

IM: When compared with the rest of the mine site, how well ‘connected’ is the comminution line? For instance, are gyratory crushers regularly receiving particle size distribution info for the material about to be fed into it so they can ‘tailor’ their operations to the properties of the incoming feed?

JC: Generally, not really. The newer, better financed operations tend to have this. Taking the example above, when designing a plant flowsheet, the close side settings are used. But are they updated on the fly to optimise the plant? Not really. Most processes are designed with a set number of conditions to operate at their maximum.

Most plants dislike, and are not set up to handle, variation in their system, according to Carr

Most plants dislike, and are not set up to handle, variation in their system. They like consistent feed quality and grade to achieve maximum recoveries. Over the next few years, the companies that develop the best machine learning or AI models to run plants in a more real time, reactive way will see the biggest growth. A mill will always say it’s the mine that needs to be consistent, but the nature of geology means that you can never rely on this. As one geologist I knew said, “geology, she is a fickle mistress”.

IM: Where within the comminution section of the process flowsheet do you see most opportunity to achieve mining company sustainability and emission goals related to energy reductions, water use and emissions?

JC: In terms of emissions, at Axora we are actively looking at technology that can help across the entire plant. There was a great paper published in 2016 around this specific topic ‘Energy Consumption in Mining Comminution’ (J Jeswiet & A Szekeres). The authors found that the average mine used 21 kWh per tonne of ore processed. Given diesel produces 270 g per kWh, this means a plant produces 5.6 kg of CO2 per tonne of ore processed, on average. For a 90,000 t/day site, this might represent 510 t of CO2 per day (186,000 t/y), just for processing. To put that into context, you would need 9.3 million trees to offset that level of carbon.

If the industry is serious about lowering its carbon footprint, especially Scope 1 and 2 emissions, then the focus has to come into the process. There are easy wins available from proven solutions in other sectors for companies that want to take them.

eHPCC: the future of grinding in mining?

A lot has been made of the potential of high pressure grinding rolls (HPGRs) to facilitate the dry milling process many in the industry believe will help miners achieve their sustainability goals over the next few decades, but there is another novel technology ready to go that could, according to the inventor and an independent consultant, provide an even more effective alternative.

Eccentric High Pressure Centrifugal Comminution (eHPCC™) technology was conceived in 2013 and, according to inventor Linden Roper, has the potential to eliminate the inefficiencies and complexity of conventional crushing and/or tumbling mill circuits.

It complements any upstream feed source, Roper says, whether it be run of mine (ROM), primary crushed rock, or other conventional comminution streams such as tumbling mill oversize. It may also benefit downstream process requirements through selective mineral liberation, which is feasible as the ore is comminuted upon itself (autogenously) in the high pressure zone via synchronous rotating components. Significant product stream enrichment/depletion has been observed and reported, too.

As IM goes to press on its annual comminution and crushing feature for the April 2021 issue – and Dr Mike Daniel, an independent consultant engaged by Roper to review and critique the technology’s development, prepares a paper for MEI Conferences’ Comminution ’21 event – now was the right time to find out more.

IM: Considering the Comminution ’21 abstract draws parallels with HPGRs, can you clarify the similarities and differences between eHPCC and HPGR technology?

MD & LR: These are the similarities:

  • Both offer confined-bed high-pressure compression comminution, which results in micro fractures at grain boundaries;
  • Both have evidence of preferential liberation and separation of mineral grains from gangue grains at grain boundaries; and
  • Both have an autogenous protective layer formed on the compression roll surfaces between sintered tungsten carbide studs.

These are the differences:

  • eHPCC facilitates multiple cycles of comminution, fluidisation and classification within its grinding chamber, retaining oversize particles until the target product size is attained. The HPGR is a single pass technology dependent on separate materials handling and classification/screening equipment to recycle oversize particles for further comminution (in the event subsequent stages of comminution are not used);
  • Micro factures around grain boundaries and compacted flake product that are created within HPGRs need to be de-agglomerated with downstream processing either within materials handling or wet screening. In some instances, compacted flake may be processed in a downstream ball mill, whereas, in eHPCC, preferential mineral liberation is perfected by subsequent continuous cycles within the grinding chamber until mineral liberation is achieved within a bi-modal target size (minerals and gangue). The bi-modal effect differs from ore type to ore type and the natural size of the minerals of interest;
  • The preferential liberation of mineral grains from gangue grains generally occurs at significantly different grain sizes, respectively, due to the inherent difference in progeny hardness. eHPCC retains the larger, harder grains, hence ensuring thorough stripping/cleaning of other grain surfaces by shear and attrition forces;
  • eHPCC tolerates rounded tramp metal within its grinding chamber, however does not tolerate high quantities of sharp, fragmented tramp metal that create a non-compressible, non-free-flowing bridge between roll surfaces, which risks the damage of liner surfaces;
  • The coarse fraction ‘edge effect’ common in HPGR geometry is not an issue with eHPCC. In fact, the top zone of the eHPCC grinding chamber is presumed to be an additional portion of the primary classification zone within the grinding chamber. The oversize particles from the internal classification process are retained for subsequent comminution;
  • The maximum size of feed particle (f100) entering the eHPCC is not limited to roll geometry as is the case with HPGRs (typically 50-70 mm). eHPCC f100 is limited to feed spout diameter (for free flow) and dependent of machine size ie eHPCC-2, -5, -8 and -13 are anticipated to have f100 60 mm, 150 mm, 240 mm and 390 mm, respectively. The gap between rolling surfaces is greater than the respective f100; and
  • eHPCC technology shows scientifically significant product stream enrichment.

IM: What operating and capital cost benefits do you envisage when compared with typical HPGR installations?

MD & LR: Both operating and capital cost benefits of the eHPCC relative to HPGR technology are due to the eHPCC not requiring the pre-crushing and downstream classification equipment required by HPGRs.

The eHPCC operating cost benefits are associated with eliminating maintenance consumables, downtime, reliability issues and energy consumption associated with the equivalent HPGR downstream equipment listed above.

The eHPCC capital cost benefits are associated with eliminating the real estate (footprint) and all engineering procurement and construction management costs associated with the equivalent HPGR upstream/downstream equipment listed above. eHPCC flowsheets are likely to be installed as multiple ‘one-stop’ units that maintain high circuit availability due to ongoing cyclic preventative maintenance.

IM: Where has the design for the eHPCC technology come from?

LR: It was invented in early 2013 by me. I then pioneered proof-of-concept, prototyping, design and development, culminating in operational trials in a Kazakhstan gold mine in 2020. A commercial-grade detailed design-for-manufacture has since been undertaken by a senior team of heavy industry mechanical machine designers and engineers.

IM: In your conference abstract, I note that the eHPCC technology has been tested at both laboratory and semi-industrial scale with working prototypes. Can you clarify what throughputs and material characteristics you are talking about here?

LR: The first iteration of the technology, eHPCC-1, was tested at the laboratory scale from 2013-2015. This proof-of-concept machine successfully received and processed magnetite concentrate, copper-nickel sulphide ore, alkaline granite, marble and a wolfram clay ore dried in ambient conditions. The typical throughput was between 200-400 kg/h depending on the feed size, particle-size-reduction-ratios (dependent of grain size) and target product size. The feed size was limited to a maximum of 25 mm to ensure free flow of feed spout.

Alkaline granite: eHPCC-2 coarse product (left) and fine product (right)

MD & LR: From 2016-2020, we moved onto the semi-industrial scale testing with the eHPCC-2 (two times scaled up from eHPCC-1). This was designed for research and development (R&D) and tested on magnetite concentrate, alkaline granite, and hard underground quartz/gold ore. The throughput capabilities depended on the geo-metallurgical and geo-mechanical properties of feed material, such as particle size, strength, progeny (grain) size and particle size-reduction-ratios (subject to confined bed high pressure compression). Larger-scale machines are yet to be tested against traditional ‘Bond Theory’ norms.

The eHPCC, irrespective of the outcomes, should be evaluated on its ability to effectively liberate minerals of interest in a way that no other comminution device can do. The maximum feed size, f100, at the gold mine trials was limited to 50 mm to ensure free flow through the feed spout. R&D culminated in pilot-scale operational trials at the Akbakai gold mine (Kazakhstan), owned by JSC AK Altynalmas, in 2020, where SAG mill rejects of hard underground quartz/gold ore were processed. The mutual intent and purpose of the tests was to observe and define wear characteristics of the eHPCC grinding chamber liners (roll surfaces). These operational trials involved 80% of the feed size being less than 17 mm and a variety of targeted product sizes whereby 80% was less than 1 mm, 2 mm, 2.85 mm and 4.8 mm. The throughput ranged from 1-5 t/h based on the size.

IM: What throughputs and material characteristics will be set for the full-scale solution?

LR: There will be a select number of standard eHPCC sizes. Relative to the original eHPCC-1, the following scale-up factors are envisaged: -2, -3, -5, -8, and -13. These are geometrical linear scale-up factors; the actual volumetric capacity is a cube of this factor, with adjustments for centripetal acceleration. Currently -13 times seems to be the maximum feasible size of the present detailed design philosophy, but there are no foreseeable limitations in terms of feed materials with exception to moist clay. Clay was successfully processed after drying the feed in ambient temperatures during testing. Further testing of moist clays blended with other materials that can absorb the moisture as they comminute would be desirable.

IM: Other HPGRs can also be equipped with air classification technology to create dry comminution circuits. What is the difference between the type of attrition and air classification option you are offering with the eHPCC?

MD & LR: Two modes of comminution occur in the particle bed of eHPCC repetitively and simultaneously. First, confined bed pressure compression breakage occurs at a macro level that promotes shear/compression forces greater than the mineral grain boundaries. Second, Mohr-Coulomb Failure Criteria (shear/attrition) that completes the separation of micro fractures on subsequent cycles takes place.

The nip angle between the rotating components of eHPCC technology never exceed 5°. During the decompression and fluidisation portion of the cycle, the softer species – which are now much smaller – are swept out of the fluidised particle bed against centrifugal and gravitational forces by process air. The larger species, influenced by centripetal acceleration, concentrate at the outer diametric and lower limits of the conical rotating grinding chamber, continuing to work on each other during each subsequent compression phase.

HPGRs are limited to one single-pass comminution event, requiring downstream external classification and subsequent recycling/reprocessing of their oversize and/or flake product.

IM: How will it improve the mineral liberation and separation efficiency compared with other grinding solutions that combine both?

MD: eHPCC technology could compete with the Vertical Roller Mill and Horomill, however, eHPCC is likely to be more compact with high intensity breakage events contained within the all-inclusive system of breakage, classification and removal of products.

IM: When was it most recently tested and over what timeframe?

LR: The eHPCC-2 pilot plant was mobilised, setup and commissioned in March 2020, but its operation was suspended until June 2020 due to COVID-19 quarantine restrictions and a need to cater to abnormal amounts of ball fragments in the feed, the latter of which pushed the treatment of tramp metal to the extreme. The machine operated for the months of June and July using liners constructed of plasma transferred arc welded (PTAW) tungsten carbide (TC) overlay. During this period, a total of 795 t was processed at various targeted product sizes, with, overall, an average throughput of 3 t/h (nominally 265 operating hours) processed.

Side view of pilot system including feed hopper and weigh-scale feeder (right), feed conveyor (middle foreground), control and auxiliaries (middle background), eHPCC-2 (left foreground), dust bag-house (left background) and product conveyor and stockpile (not shown left background)
Front-end loader filling feed hopper with SAG mill rejects f80 18 mm

The PTAW-TC overlay was deemed unsustainable as it was consumed rapidly and demanded continuous rebuilding due to the high pressure intensive abrasive wear on the convex cone. The pilot plant operation was mostly suspended during the month of August while an alternative tungsten carbide studded liner, analogous to HPGR studded rolls, was manufactured for simulating a trial of this studded liner philosophy. The studded liner philosophy was operated in the eHPCC-2 in Kazakhstan for sufficiently long enough to ascertain the creation of the autogenous protective wear layer of rock between the studs, with the simulation trial deemed a success. The design philosophy shall be adapted on the commercial-grade eHPCC.

eHPCC-2 TungStud™ as-new (left) high-pressure-air-cleaned (middle) and brushed (right)

The pilot plant was demobilised from the Akbakai site laydown area on September 10, 2020, to release the area for construction of a non-related plant expansion. The operational experiences of the pilot plant at Akbakai provided valuable knowledge and experience pertaining to mechanical inertia dynamics and design for eliminating fatigue within eHPCC components.

IM: Aside from the test work on trommel oversize at the Kazakhstan gold mine, where else have you tested the technology?

LR: eHPCC has no other operational experiences so far. Investment and collaboration from the industry to progress the commercialisation of eHPCC is invited. The commercial-grade eHPCC-2.2 is designed and ready for manufacture.

IM: Is the technology more suited to projects where multiple streams can be produced (fines, coarse piles, etc)?

LR: eHPCC is configurable to meet the demands and liberality of a diverse spectrum of feed materials and the potential downstream extractive processes are complementary to eHPCC product streams. Therefore, it would be incorrect to categorise it as more suitable in any one niche; it is configurable, on a case-by-case basis, to meet the liberality of the specific progeny of the feed.

IM: What energy use benefits do you anticipate by creating a one-step comminution and classification process over the more conventional two-step process?

MD & LR: The energy saving benefits include:

  • Elimination of tumbling mill grinding media consumption;
  • Elimination of the liberal wastage of randomly directed attrition and/or impact events that indiscriminately reduce the size of any/all particles (gangue or precious mineral) with the conventional tumbling mill; and
  • Elimination of energy consumption of the materials handling systems between the various stages of comminution and classification, be it dry belt conveying, vibrating screens, classifiers, cyclone feed pumps, cyclones and their respective recirculating loads that can be upward of 300% of fresh feed.

IM: Do you anticipate more interest in this solution from certain regions? For instance, is it likely to appeal more to those locations that are suffering from water shortages (Australia, South America)?

MD & LR: We suspect the initial commercialisation growth market to be from base metals producers seeking to expand or retire existing aged/tired comminution classification capacity, followed by industry acknowledgement of the technology’s potential to shift the financial indicators of other potential undeveloped projects into more positive territory. This latter development could see the technology integrated into new projects.

In general, the technology will appeal to those companies looking for more efficient dry comminution processes. This is because it offers a pathway to rejection of gangue at larger particle sizes, early stream enrichment/depletion and minimal overgrinding that creates unnecessary silt, which, in turn, hinders or disrupts the integrity of downstream metallurgical extraction kinetics, and/or materials handling rheology, and/or tailings storage and management.

LR: There are a number of rhetorical questions the industry needs to be asking: why do we participate in the manufacture and consumption of grinding media considering the holistic end-to-end energy and mass balance of this (it’s crazy; really why?)? Why do we grind wet? What are the barriers preventing transition from philosophising over energy efficiency, sustainability etc and actually executing change? Who is up for a renaissance of bravely pioneering disruptive comminution and classification technology in the spirit of our pioneering forefathers?

The more these questions are asked, the more likely the industry will find the solutions it needs to achieve its future goals.

Dr Mike Daniel’s talk on eHPCC technology will be one of the presentations at the upcoming Comminution ’21 conference on April 19-22, 2021. For more information on the event, head to https://mei.eventsair.com/comminution-21/ International Mining is a media sponsor of the event

Metso Outotec Vertimill energy efficient tech heading to Australia gold mine

Metso Outotec has won an order to deliver two energy-efficient Vertimill® VTM-4500 stirred mills to a gold mine in Australia.

These vertical grinding mills will be the largest of their kind to be installed in Australia when the delivery occurs in 2021, the company says.

The typical value for this type of an order is in the range of €10-15 million ($11.7-17.5 million), depending on the scope of delivery. The order has been booked in Metso Outotec’s orders received in the September quarter of 2020.

Metso Outotec’s Vertimill provides the lowest total cost of ownership compared with other grinding mills in many applications thanks to its high energy efficiency, reduced media consumption, low installation cost as well as minimal liner wear and maintenance, the company says. It is capable of handling feed sizes up to 6 mm and grinding to products less than 20 microns. It is available in standard mill sizes ranging from 11 kW to 3,353 kW.

Metso Outotec says it is the only manufacturer worldwide than can offer multiple stirred mill technologies (Vertimill®, HIG™mill and SMD) to support their customers with the most suitable and efficient mill for their application.

DataCloud bridging the mining industry’s data divide

DataCloud is looking to collect and merge the mining industry’s datasets through a cleaning, processing, integration, and predictive analytics platform that can help different stages of an operation prepare and plan for the ore and waste heading their way.

While the coarse ore stockpile may be the section of the flowsheet currently in DataCloud’s crosshairs – thanks to a well-attended webinar a few months back – any part of the mining process that is “between departments” could benefit from the MinePortal solution, according to Steven Putt, Director of Software Solutions for the company.

“The value case is inherent anywhere between departments – ie the stockpile is after crushing, but before the mill,” he told IM.

“The reason that stockpile is there – it tends to only be half a day or a day’s material – is it is a buffer for the mill,” Putt said. “Within this pile, one truck might have been hauling very hard material that the mill is exclusively treating for a week or so. Then, in accordance with the mine plan, this can switch to another truck and a new area of the mine, meaning the mill is going to have to adapt to a completely different material.”

The distinction between material in the coarse ore stockpile is often not this apparent; it tends to represent the mine site’s ‘melting pot’, taking in material from all over the operation.

Yet, to operate effectively, the mill needs to know the origins of the material coming its way ahead of time. The mill would then, ideally, be re-configured to treat the material.

“The mill operator would need to change the speeds of operation, the water balance, potentially the grinding media, etc,” Putt said. “Operators would typically prefer not to make those changes though, having the mill running at some ‘optimal’ speed based on the idea that the material is relatively consistent.”

The reality of the situation is different, as DataCloud and its MinePortal platform have been proving.

“The last client we worked with could end up saving around $20 million a year by carrying out our recommended processes as part of a wider mine to mill tracking solution,” Putt said of a copper-gold operation the company worked at. “Basically a specific rock type (skarn) was being fed into the mix too often and the mill was not prepared to handle this in the blend.”

This client turned out to be spending more money than necessary on its blasting process – using too much energy blasting the material to create a ‘uniform’ blend. But, in upping the amount of explosive used, it created sub-optimal crusher feed.

This saw the primary crusher assigned to treat material around 5 in (127 mm) in size attempting to ‘crush’ material that was averaging around 1 in in size, according to Putt.

The primary crushing process was ineffective to say the least.

By adapting the blasting process to target the designed-for primary crush size, reorienting the mine plan so not as much skarn material was being fed into the coarse ore stockpile at once, and adding steel ball media to the mill to deal with skarn that was fed into it, the headline savings were made, according to Putt.

Such savings come with quite a bit of due diligence work, he explains.

“It is not just about connecting disparate datasets; a tremendous amount of work goes into cleaning and contextualising the data – knowing which information is right for the project at hand and which data is not applicable,” Putt said of the MinePortal data gathering and analysis procedure.

Where other data-focused companies can clean datasets and put them into algorithms to form various predictions, DataCloud’s mining knowledge and deep collaboration with customers enables the company to create fit-for-purpose solutions that work in a practical sense on the mine site.

This process sees at least six months of relevant data required up front. Then, a four-week deep dive of this data is needed to find out if the existing dataset can solve production bottleneck issues. The US-based company normally then allocates another three months to kick off the solution, on-board all teams and see improvements come through, according to Putt.

“I wouldn’t say it is a complete customisation, but there does tend to be differences in place at every mine site we visit that means the MinePortal solutions are somewhat unique,” Putt said.

Coming back to the coarse ore stockpile example, Putt recommends hard-rock miners add another filter to their existing blending process to help improve results.

“It is about adding a mill risk factor to an existing grade control program; getting the engineers to plan the mining regime in a certain way to effectively prepare the mill for the material being fed into the coarse ore stockpile,” he said.

Miners can do this by obtaining a good idea of the time window in which the material delivered to the stockpile is entering the mill, enabling engineers to trace it back into the pit and analyse the properties that were observed – and captured – during the drill and blast process.

“This can be a tricky thing to do as the size of the stockpile is changing so often,” Putt says.

Some miners use RFID tags embedded in truck loads to get a rough idea on a weekly or monthly basis when the delivered material is finding its way into the mill, but few do this on a consistent basis.

MinePortal uses machine-learning algorithms the company has augmented for geology and mining needs to automate the process.

Using features such as dynamic time warping – which measures the similarity between two temporal sequences that may vary in speed timing differences – the platform is able to reconcile timing differences from dumping ore into a primary crusher, to sitting in a stockpile, and to when the ore goes through the rest of the mill.

Putt expands on this: “There is enough robust data within a mill’s database to run dynamic time warping, a machine-learning method, to compute the delays (of the material coming into the mill) as they change.

“We don’t need the timing of the delay to be consistent; we need the data to be recorded consistently so we can find the patterns of the delays from stage to stage. Running the data through machine learning will learn the rhythms of the stockpile and filter out inconsistencies.”

At the reconciliation stage, mining companies can pair the material signatures (rock hardness, for instance) with the results from the mill (energy draw, grind size, etc).

“Typically, we find there might be one or two specific blend types that are causing the issues,” Putt said. “From there, we can carry out real-time planning to improve the operation. We then have a feedback loop where you identify the problem feeds, change the blending over the next three months and then keep running through the process for continued improvements.”

But it all comes back to ore blending.

“The best way to handle the problem is from the ore blending point of view,” Putt said. “If you can get your ore blending to be spot on where it comes with the lowest risk of impacting the mill’s performance or availability, then the mill won’t have to do anything different (change speeds, adopt new grinding media, etc).

“You still have to dig, haul and send the material to the mill, but you are sending this material to the mill in different proportions.

“It comes with the same input costs; it just requires a bit of extra planning ahead of time to save a tonne of money in the mill.”

FLSmidth’s SAGwise makes an impact on mill consumables

Just over a year since launching its SAGwise™ total process control solution for semi-autogenous (SAG) mills, FLSmidth is putting some savings statistics behind the sensory and process optimisation system.

SAGwise is designed to optimise the use of the three main consumables in SAG milling: power, media and liners.

Winston Mokoena, Key Account Manager at FLSmidth, said the solution reduces critical impacts inside the mill by up to 45%. This adds life to wear liners and grinding balls, helping to prolong liner life between maintenance and giving mills more uptime, he added.

“SAGwise can improve mill production by 6% and substantially reduce process variability,” Mokoena said. “This ensures that the mill provides a constant and optimal feed to the next stage of the process, effectively facilitating better performance of downstream operations.”

Among the challenges mill optimisation tries to address is too little material in the mill, or too much. Too little leads to critical impacts between the grinding media and the mill liners, damaging both elements without producing value. If the mill is overfilled with mined material, on the other hand, this results in grinding inefficiencies.

“The SAGwise system uses four or eight unidirectional or bidirectional audio sensors located in close proximity to the mill, which detect the analogue sounds and convert them into digital signals for analysis by a processing unit,” FLSmidth said. “This unit uses the sound patterns and other process variables to determine the necessary adjustment to the mill’s feed, speed and pulp density.”

So direct are the improvements that can be achieved by this solution that customers can pay back their investment in less than six months, depending on the commodity value and the specific mill environment, according to FLSmidth.

“The parameters that are monitored by SAGwise include the mill’s power consumption, load impacts, mill load and pulp density,” Mokoena said. “The system then responds to these parameters by controlling the mill speed, the feed rate and the water to achieve the ‘sweet spot’ where the mill runs at optimum efficiency.”