Tag Archives: ore characterisation

Weir Group marks Minerals and ESCO progress in H1 results

The Weir Group has issued its half-year results to June 30, 2023, noting some significant achievements across its Minerals and ESCO divisions.

Headline numbers for the six-month period included a 19% year-on-year jump in revenues to £1.3 billion ($1.67 billion) and a 26% rise in operating profit to £212 million.

Weir Minerals continued to execute on key strategic growth initiatives, and during the first half gained market share in its core mill circuit product categories, it said.

The company said: “We converted 100% of our competitive field trials for large mill circuit pumps, and also rolled-out our latest cyclone technology.”

One highlight in the period came at a large Brazilian iron ore mine, where Weir Minerals upgraded the cyclones to its latest Cavex® 2.0 solution. The new cyclones, which are Synertrex®-enabled, have improved separation and increased mineral recovery by more than 400,000 t/y, according to the company.

Cavex 2 cyclones were launched in 2020, introducing new geometric features to offer performance unmatched by any cyclone in operation at that point, the company claimed. The advanced LIG+ design (patent pending) enables the Cavex 2 hydrocyclones to classify up to 30% more feed slurry, while occupying the same footprint as competitor hydrocyclones, according to Weir.

Weir Minerals says it also made good strategic progress in sustainable solutions during the six-month period and delivered year-on-year growth in comminution. New orders included a pebble crushing plant for a large copper mine in South America and a crushing solution for a potash mine in Canada.

The company also said it saw “very encouraging interest” from customers for its Redefined Mill Circuit, securing orders from large copper mines in South America for coarse particle flotation (CPF) pilot circuits, in partnership with Eriez.

“Through this strategic alliance, we have integrated CPF technology with our latest generation Warman® mill circuit pumps and Cavex cyclones to provide significantly improved recoveries and process efficiencies for our customers,” it said. “Once operational in the September quarter, these plants will be important reference sites for the industry.”

Around a year ago, Weir Minerals and Eriez Flotation announced a cooperative agreement to design and develop CPF systems. This allows both companies to better connect the Eriez equipment with the slurry classification and conveying expertise of Weir Minerals, according to Ricardo Garib, Division President of Weir Minerals.

Weir Minerals also launched its new, proprietary digital intelli-solutions for pumps, cyclones and high pressure grinding rolls which, coupled with its Synertrex 2.0 platform, captures critical machine health data and enables remote condition monitoring.

It concluded: “We continued to invest in research and development of our core technologies including new materials and polymers, and upgrades and range expansions for our industry leading Warman slurry pumps.”

Weir ESCO, meanwhile, reported that the number of mines using Motion Metrics™ AI-enabled vision technology increased during the first six months of the year, with new orders including a package of five ShovelMetrics™ and five LoaderMetrics™ systems to be deployed across all large mining machines at an iron ore mine in Western Australia.

“The division made excellent progress in growing market share in mining attachments, with a 37% year-on-year increase in orders,” it said. “A particular highlight included converting four cable shovel buckets from competitor products to ESCO technology for a large North American copper miner.”

The division also provided an update on trials of its proprietary ore characterisation technology, which has been leveraging the BeltMetrics™ solution from Motion Metrics positioned above a conveyor directly after the crusher in the flowsheet at an unnamed mine. As well as using the rugged vision technology Motion Metrics has previously used, the company is also incorporating hyperspectral imaging into the mix for this trial.

It reported: “Field trials of our proprietary ore characterisation technology were successfully completed during the first half. Tests enabled critical data to be collected and validated the performance of the technology in a real-world environment.”

Development has now progressed to the next phase focused on exploring “novel illumination” technologies to enhance minerals characterisation, it added.

New Motion Metrics capabilities and functions were launched during the six-month period, including an upgraded lens cleaning solution that enhances machine vision capability and improves response times.

“Other technology investments included development of a new series of mining attachments that, once launched, will expand our addressable market,” it said.

Plotlogic geared for OreSense tech growth in North America following latest funding round

Ore characterisation company Plotlogic and its proprietary OreSense® technology have been given a boost with the latest $28 million funding round, supported by US- and Australia-based venture capital climate and sustainability firms.

In the five years since its inception, Plotlogic has become a leader in ore characterisation. Its OreSense technology is helping customers, including BHP, Vale, South32 and Pilbara Minerals, increase output and reduce waste through the combination of a sensor stack and artificial intelligence (AI) to scan core samples, chips and terrain (including mine faces, stockpiles, heavy vehicle loads and plant feed) in real time. This stack generates highly accurate ore characterisation predictions enabling miners to increase extraction of critical minerals and metals, according to Plotlogic.

By enhancing grade control methods and identifying problematic ore and deleterious materials as well as optimising plant uptime, Plotlogic’s technology effectively reduces costs and energy usage for every tonne mined and processed, according to the company.

Galvanize Climate Solutions, the climate-focused global investment firm founded by billionaire Tom Steyer and Katie Hall, and SE Ventures, the investing firm backed by French energy and automation giant Schneider Electric, co-led the round. Existing investors Innovation Endeavors, DCVC, Bentley iTwin Ventures and GRIDS Capital also supported the raise, doubling down on their Series A investments. Main Sequence, the Australian deep-tech VC firm backed by the CSIRO and Australian government, also participated via its newly launched Main Sequence Three fund.

After achieving success with its single-application deployments of OreSense, Plotlogic says it has an ambitious growth agenda and is planning to use the Series B funding to broaden its platform across a greater number of touchpoints, bolster commercialisation and invest in additional research and development as the company looks to continue to expand into North America.

Founder and CEO, Dr Andrew Job, is confident the company will see escalation in adoption of OreSense, driven by mounting pressure on the mining industry to confront its most formidable challenge to date: providing the essential critical minerals required for a sustainable future while avoiding the repetition of past environmental harm.

“Recycling alone can only meet a fraction of the demand for essential commodities making continued mining essential,” Dr Job said. “And sustainability in mining can be achieved through the increased adoption of advanced technologies like ours. Discovering new deposits is a challenging task and the development of mines can take up to 17 years, pushing us well into the 2030s before we see any kind of transformation in the supply of minerals required for a net-zero future.”

He added: “Plotlogic is actively contributing to the pursuit of a clean energy future by enabling existing mines to extract every vestige of value right now in an environmentally sensitive way. We developed the OreSense technology with the firm belief that mining should be able to generate the resources society needs without harming the planet. The feedback from our customers is that we are delivering on that vision. They describe using our tech as a game changer – like swapping a hacksaw for a scalpel – enabling them to mine more selectively, efficiently and sustainably, benefiting both their projects and the planet.”


Weir eyes game-changing energy intensity reductions with ore characterisation project

With an extensive footprint from the rock face all the way through to tailings, it was only a matter of time before the Weir Group decided to enter the ore sorting game.

In recent years, the company has re-focused as a pureplay mining and aggregates company that can provide value throughout the flowsheet.

The company ditched its oil & gas exposure and added to its process plant and tailings remit with the acquisition of ESCO, a front-end-focused mining technology company with leading market share in the ground engaging tool (GET) segment.

Having more recently incorporated Motion Metrics into the mix – now within the ESCO division – it is embarking on a project that could have positive ramifications throughout the wider Weir Group offering.

Motion Metrics is a developer of artificial intelligence (AI) and 3D rugged machine vision technology. Its smart, rugged cameras monitor and provide data on equipment performance, faults, payloads and rock fragmentation (read: particle size distribution (PSD)). This data is then analysed using embedded and cloud-based AI to provide real-time feedback to the mining operation.

Initially developed for GET applications, these technologies have recently been extended into a suite of products and solutions that can be applied from drill and blast through to primary processing. Motion Metrics has, in the process, built up an impressive customer base and income stream, performing well since the acquisition.

Weir has outlined a £500 million-plus ($604 million-plus) emerging digital market opportunity for the entity, with much of this hinged on rugged machine vision technology, its sophisticated digital platform and the ability to add ore sensing to its offering.

This became clear at the company’s recent Capital Markets Day during a presentation from Chris Carpenter, VP of Technology for Weir ESCO.

Sensing, not sorting

At this event, Carpenter said the company was combining Motion Metrics’ PSD capability with ore characterisation technology to explore high-value opportunities for its clients.

“Looking further out, we believe ore characterisation…has the potential to transform mining by moving less rock, using less energy and creating less waste,” he said during his presentation. “Ore characterisation technology, which is underpinned by sophisticated sensing systems, captures critical data on properties and composition of rock, including rock hardness and mineral and moisture content.”

“When coupled with Motion Metrics fragmentation analysis technology, it has the potential to be a game changer, giving miners a full picture of the size and characteristics of rocks.”

Weir has outlined a £500 million-plus emerging digital market opportunity for Motion Metrics, with much of this hinged on rugged machine vision technology, its sophisticated digital platform and the ability to add ore sensing to its offering

This concept is not new. Measuring the quality of ore has been spoken of for decades and, more recently, has become a reality with the likes of MineSense, NextOre, IMA Engineering, Scantech, Malvern Panalytical and Rados International, among others, all having trialled technology or deployed commercial solutions across multiple commodities and sites.

Metso Outotec, one of Weir Minerals’ big competitors in the plant and tailings arena, has also spoken of the potential for bulk ore sorting by using its existing portfolio of material handling modules, crushing stations, mobile crushing equipment and bulk material handling solutions as the basis, while incorporating sensors from other vendors.

Weir believes it is one step ahead of its OEM counterpart in its pursuit of ore sorting, even if Carpenter is only referring to the trials currently being conducted at an unnamed copper mine as “ore characterisation” studies.

“With the acquisition of Motion Metrics, what we essentially bought was the ruggedised vision systems used in both mobile and fixed applications,” he told IM in January. “While the ore sensing piece is by no means trivial, the integrated AI capabilities and digital infrastructure that allows the data to be transported via a variety of avenues is incredibly important.

“Being able to pick up the data is one thing but being able to transport that data to the right people in a secure, accurate and timely manner is something different altogether.”

With a portfolio that includes LoaderMetrics™, BeltMetrics™, TruckMetrics™ and CrusherMetrics™, Motion Metrics and the Weir ESCO R&D team had several potential applications to start its ore characterisation journey with.

The company has settled on a BeltMetrics installation for its first trial, with Carpenter confirming the sensing solution under the microscope is currently positioned above a conveyor that is directly after the crusher in the flowsheet.

“We feel we will learn quickest over a conveyor belt, so it is really an expansion of the existing BeltMetrics solution that we will start with,” he said.

The sensing options open to Motion Metrics for this trial were also vast, with the aforementioned ore sorting vendors using the likes of X-ray Fluorescence, magnetic resonance, prompt gamma neutron activation analysis, pulsed fast thermal neutron activation, and others within their solutions.

Motion Metrics has chosen to incorporate hyperspectral imaging into its PSD mix.

Carpenter explained: “When you think about ore characterisation, we are just moving from a visual spectrum base with Motion Metrics vision-based systems to the expanded light spectrum for gathering data and making decisions. This is all being built on the established digital platform the company has.”

The company is not alone in using this type of technology. MineSense has spoken of trials using multispectral sensing technologies, while Australia-based Plotlogic has been tapping hyperspectral imaging to provide precision orebody knowledge prior to mining.

Collaborating on energy intensity reductions

Safety, scalability and flexibility were three factors taken into account with the hyperspectral imaging decision, but Carpenter was also aware of the potential limitations in using such technology.

Mines will need to be willing to make some changes and invest in alternative infrastructure to leverage the most value out of the solution the company is putting forward.

“That is where productivity partnerships that we spoke about on the Capital Markets Day are going to be really important,” he said. “It is going to be essential to collaborate with customers.”

The initial collaboration with the trial mine site looks to be extensive, stretching from the back end of December throughout 2023.

The site is already equipped with a significant amount of Weir Minerals and ESCO equipment, so the collaboration appears to have started well before this trial.

“Throughout the year, we will have the opportunity to make enhancements; starting out with an initial system that is upgraded,” Carpenter said. “By the end of the year, we should have high confidence of having something ready to commercialise. It could also be that we have other trials running concurrently with this one to extend the learnings.”

The two primary key performance indicators for the trial surround accuracy and speed, with Carpenter saying the company is targeting to at least meet the metrics competing technologies have been promoting over recent years.

“In both cases, we are well equipped to measure both and – in the initial phase – we are performing well,” Carpenter said.

“Right now, when they (the mine site) carry out an assay, they have to stop the conveyor belt, take a sample off and send it to a lab. At best, the feedback takes hours, if not days. Motion Metrics has done a really good job of building the sensors, algorithms and platforms to process the data coming from above that belt very quickly.”

There are a team of very experienced, PhD-equipped personnel currently working on this trial, monitoring the real-time results from Motion Metrics’ base in Vancouver, however there is a Weir network across the globe watching and waiting for news.

A sensor above a conveyor belt able to provide ore characterisation data is step one. Step two will most likely involve leveraging this data to provide insights as well as initiate downstream actions.

Then, there is the potential to equip these sensors for the pit on an excavator or wheel loader – which introduces many additional challenges both Motion Metrics and ESCO are aware of. Understanding exactly what is in the bank or going in the bucket will be critical to improving operational efficiencies.

These are longer-term goals that Motion Metrics, ESCO, Weir Minerals and Carpenter are cognisant of – and excited about – that may provide the true value to customers throughout the flowsheet.

“What is exciting for us is that – as may be obvious – the further upstream you can make some good decisions, the more energy you can save downstream,” he said. “As you get into some of the other processing elements in the plant, there are sustainability benefits to be had – a more efficient use of reagents to liberate the elements, a more efficient grinding setup based on ore characteristics, a reduction in water use, etc.

“The driver for this has really been sustainability and energy reduction. It is all about reducing the energy intensity associated with ore.

“We feel we are well equipped and in a good position to deliver on this and provide the industry with the step change in sustainability that it requires.”

Modernising last-generation geo-metallurgy practices

By Wolfgang Baum*

Dan Gleeson wrote in International Mining April 2020, “…near identical flowsheets have remained the status quo for decades, with the only variation tending to be how many pieces of conventional equipment are used, as opposed to what new innovations are slotted in up- or downstream of primary crushing”.

It is puzzling that, in many mining companies (and the EPCM world), the ore characterisation status quo has also remained the same since the 20th century ended. Robust ore profiling via modern quantitative laboratory technology is spotty at best or frequently outsourced to commercial labs. Models continue to be filled with too much visual data and lack sufficient quantitative process-related details. Hand lens and pocket knives or other qualitative tools prevail, while we try to utilise Big Data analytics.

Geo-metallurgy, the most overused word in mining, lingers on without emphasising the heart and essence of geology and metallurgy, ie modern ore characterisation focused on processing and based on instrumental laboratory work.

The current situation in ore characterisation is reminiscent of the US steel industry, post-World War II: the status quo remained with companies bound to familiar technology. When ‘big steel’ removed its blinders, the industry and technology had changed. Geo-metallurgical work, if it is to make meaningful improvements in future mining, requires ‘Ctrl-Alt-Delete’ followed by some seismic optimisations.

The low-hanging fruit has been harvested and future orebodies will not forgive one metallurgical mistake. A paradigm shift is needed toward robust continuous ore profiling (chemical, mineralogical and metallurgical). And, routine ore characterisation has to range from the blast holes and draw points, to the rougher and final tailings.

The few positive exceptions

Of course, a few exceptions stand out and need to be applauded.

Several mining companies have implemented and advanced cutting-edge laboratory technology and lab automation, built 24/7 central laboratories and continue to modernise ore characterisation in the direction of cross-belt analysis, downhole logging and large-scale orebody profiling.

Yet, these are exceptions, not the rule.

  • From 15 new copper concentrators built during the last 12 years, only +/- 14% had mineralogical lab capabilities on site. This contributes to delays in reaching nameplate capacity, more downtime and ‘noisy’ metallurgy; and
  • In 2018, only +/- 50% of the 10 largest copper producers and only +/-25% of the 10 largest gold producers had significant modern laboratory automation and process mineralogy labs at mine sites.

Too often, lab work has been minimised, de-prioritised and/or run as shortcuts by many mining companies.

  • Block models continue to be overloaded with geochemical data and a lack of sufficient quantitative mineralogy;
  • Operators wonder why they did not receive a warning from the mine geology department that the swelling clay content increased by 4%;
  • Most modern haul trucks may have over 200 sensors, yet most mines lack a cutting-edge mineralogy lab;
  • In 1973, Don Hausen pioneered the use of large-scale XRD (X-ray Diffraction) alteration contouring in Arizona. Forty-seven (47!!) years later, feet are still being dragged on installing routine XRD equipment for mine geology and processes;
  • Heap leaching in copper (and some other metals) continues to be challenged by wrong placement of ore, leach test coding errors, over- and under-crushed and over- and under-cured feed, poor agglomeration, high acid consumption or inconsistent acid addition, scattered permeabilities and permeability failures;
  • Many permeability failures in heap leaching were caused by a lack of geological ore control, missing quantitative clay data, ore blending based on visual logging, and/or poor leach practices;
  • Visual diagnostics are the most inadequate tool for identifying and monitoring detrimental minerals such as talc, pyrophyllite, swelling clay, hornblende, zeolites, acid consumers, pH–changing minerals to name a few; and
  • Finding out, post-start-up, that the mine has a poor hardness, pyrite or clay model should not be acceptable in the third decade of the 21st century.

Not modernising last generation laboratories imperils mining from pit to plant, and is one reason for underperforming flowsheets.

Having a few dump trucks or conveyors misrouting ore in large, integrated copper stockpile leach/heap leach/concentrator operations with molybdenum by-products may result in rapid compounded losses in the multimillion-dollar range.

Pushing tonnage (‘tonnage farming’) has its place, but, without concurrent good ore characterisation, it can be a high risk to optimal metallurgy.

For geo-metallurgy, labs are not everything – but they are an extremely important thing.

The plant does not see assay Cu, it sees minerals and textures!!

If modern ore characterisation had been used as part of an integrated geo-metallurgy program at many mine sites, there would have been significantly less of the issues listed below – most of which are related to lack of mineralogy data and continue to drain money from many mines:

  • Excessive frothing;
  • Over-reagentising;
  • Reagent pyramiding;
  • Permeability failures;
  • Undersizing of cleaners;
  • Higher pyrite dilutions;
  • Inconsistent feed size;
  • Runaway float conditions;
  • Self-floaters being out of control;
  • Unexpected changes in PSD;
  • More oxide molybdenum than modelled;
  • Oxide ore sent to concentrator;
  • High clay affecting mill loading;
  • Higher clay content than modelled;
  • Lack of control of acid consumers;
  • Excessive salting in heap leaching;
  • Increased wear through clay in high pressure grinding rolls;
  • Higher self-floaters = increasing smelting cost;
  • Feed rate variance 12-35% = incorrect mill sizing;
  • Higher acidic gangue = xanthates become ineffective;
  • Uncontrolled clay/mica/chlorite = sluggish molybdenum float;
  • Reduced grinding efficiency – packing of clays in lifters;
  • Excessive sliming = problems with cleaner scalper function;
  • Contaminated recycle water – higher O/F turbidity – U/F density issues; and
  • Poor selectivity, brittle froth, gangue entrainment and too much pH variance.

The cost of the above ‘issues’ may be in the hundreds of millions of dollars range.

Fire prevention, (modern lab technology at mine sites) on the other hand, is cost efficient

A heap failure due to clay variance can cost upwards of $15 million, in some cases, whereas unplanned concentrator shutdowns due to de-bottlenecking and tailings losses can prove even more expensive.

Ore misrouting, one of the larger loss factors due to a lack of routine process-related ore characterisation, may increase with deeper pits, more underground operations, longer hauling/conveying and higher strip ratios.

Big Data analytics requires ‘large-spatially-gridded-sampling’ and quantitative mineralogical and chemical characterisation of these samples. Anything short of this, despite the assumed cost savings, remains risky over-simplifications which lead to ‘speculative models’. Efficient geo-metallurgy will start when we enter process-related ore characterisation data into the models.

In regard to cost-cutting of on-site laboratory services, it’s just like in the nautical business – you can’t keep your sails trimmed forever. Future geo-metallurgy efforts would benefit from an assessment of ‘lessons ignored’.

*Wolfgang Baum is Managing Director of Ore & Plant Mineralogy LLC