At Process Mineralogy Today we like to keep abreast of what is happening in the world of Process Mineralogy. A key tool in our field that has driven the development of Process Mineralogy over the last 3 decades are automated mineralogy systems and it is excellent to see that a wider range of solutions are being produced that move away from the research oriented full SEM based systems to more useable options.
One of the key industry players, FEI Natural Resources, has announced the release of the latest in their series of automated mineralogy tools – the bench-top QEMSCAN EXpress. This follows a big year of releases from FEI, with the MLA EXpress a few months ago, and the release of the rugged MineSite systems. FEI now offers a trilogy of platforms for the QEMSCAN and MLA, from the high-end laboratory system, to the affordable bench-top system, to the rugged mobile platform for remote locations. This is great news for the industry as it offers a wider range of fit for purpose systems that can service anything from a high-end research laboratory to a mine-site laboratory.
This QEMSCAN EXpress system takes what has traditionally been a high-end, laboratory-based instrument that requires highly skilled operators and a dedicated environment to operate: and makes it simpler to operate in a wider range of environments at a lower price-point. The EXpress system has essentially the same QEMSCAN software and analytics as its big brother, but on a cut-down, easier-to-use platform for laboratories with a smaller number of samples to analyse. Perhaps the main differences are the smaller chamber (currently 6 samples rather than 14) and the single EDX detector (vs 2 detectors on the high-end system): but this is reflected in the lower price point.
The launch of this system is another step towards making automated mineralogy more accessible to a wider user base in (say) metallurgical testing laboratories or on mine sites. It also reflects the growing industry demand for a greater understanding of rocks and minerals, and their texture, in order to gain greater process efficiencies when extracting the elements of interest in an environmentally responsible and economic manner. Automated mineralogy tools have been at the heart of advanced characterisation and quantification of rocks and plant products for many years – and now the valuable knowledge and understanding that can be gained from these instruments is becoming more accessible.
For those of us using Process Mineralogy on a regular basis, the introduction of more accessible systems, such as the QEMSCAN EXpress, opens a new door to generate meaningful mineralogical information at site, reducing turn-around times and allowing metallurgists to use mineralogy more as a predictive tool and less as a reactive post-mortem of what went wrong. Of course, finding skilled expertise to successfully operate these systems will remain a challenge but the move away from full SEM functionality will make it easier for technicians to generate the raw data and availability of groups such as MinAssist means that options for data analysis are available and readily accessible.
If you are considering the advantages of a more accessible system, like the QEMSCAN EXpress, but are concerned about having access to the expertise to generate maximum value from it, feel free to contact us at MinAssist to discuss how we can help with off-site data analysis and interpretation. We would love to hear your thoughts on how these systems will influence the industry and help it grow.