Over the past few months we have explored the value of investing in Process Mineralogy in some detail. We have established that best practice dictates that every site should include some Process Mineralogy in their continuous improvement plans but when is the optimum time to start? The answer is right now. With budgets stretched due to lower commodity prices this may seem a difficult proposition but in reality it is in difficult times that we need our plants to operate at their optimum efficiency and even a simple Process Mineralogy program can genuinely help an operation run more smoothly, and lead to larger savings, for a relatively small investment.
Sadly the value of process mineralogy is often poorly articulated or understood, not least because it can be difficult to directly link to the bottom line. Its not easy to quantify: “we do process mineralogy routinely, and it saves us $xxx per year” (the blog on 13th August 2013 does highlight some cases where companies have attempted to do this). It is therefore inevitable that when the financial decision makers are casting an eye around for areas to trim, particularly with a limited budget as so often is the case, process mineralogy can seem an easy target to drop (and therefore be even harder to start!). In today’s market place, modern mining companies work very hard to lower overhead costs and be careful with expenditure in order to extract ore economically – however the old adage ‘you have to spend money to make money’ does hold true in this instance.
A relatively small investment in a process mineralogy study can unearth a wealth of knowledge to be used in decision making and reducing risks: streamlining processes and improving grade recovery with financial benefits that far outweigh the initial cost. Keeping this work going on a routine, on-going basis will build exponentially on the collective knowledge of an ore body leading to a program of continuous process improvement.
So, when times are lean and areas for cost savings are being identified, process mineralogy should come on the radar as something to bring real benefits to the operation. It may not be necessary to track more than grade in easy to process ore (if you are lucky enough to have that!), but this is not enough for the more challenging ores. Mining and grade control practices need to be carefully matched to the geology in order to meet head grade and production targets.
Process mineralogy is equally something that can be introduced to almost every stage of an operation, and can be used to integrate both processes and people, from geologists to miners, to metallurgists to planners.
Continuous monitoring of grade from reverse circulation drilling samples and ROM samples for example, should be supported by ongoing mineralogy on a % of those samples to ensure that grade does indeed reflect the ‘processability’ of the ore. Can grade alone be used as an indicator of ore type, or is more information needed? Is this the case for all blocks? Has anything changed since the last routine check that might raise a red flag? This will also allow better delineation of ore types and ore boundaries, and reduce improper mixing (of say disparate ore types, or ore and waste during mining) / improve blending.
The data and knowledge gained from this continuous monitoring of RC and ROM samples can feed blending strategy, and should be reviewed by metallurgists and plant operators: as much of the information here can be used to indicate the best operating conditions for the plant.
Process mineralogy is a vehicle to help expand the collective understanding of one of the primary controls on an operation – that of the material being processed – to be used to bind together the mine to metal process. So, when times are lean – invest a little to gain a lot.
A great way to get this going is to look at using one of MinAssist’s off-the-shelf Health Checks – ideal for those sites new to process mineralogy, or with limited time. These represent an easy solution to access some of the clear benefits of a larger Process Mineralogy program, with fast turn-around times and a low initial investment. As an entry point or as part of ongoing mineralogical evaluation our Health Checks have been specifically designed to offer simple mineralogical solutions, with a report that is written with an operational focus and results in a time-frame that is useful.
For more information on Health Checks, have a look at the MinAssist Products and Services.