Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Quantifying The Value of Automated Mineralogy

MEI's Process Mineralogy '14 consultant, Dr. Megan Becker has emailed to let me know that The Centre for Minerals Research (CMR) in the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Cape Town has just completed the installation and commissioning of a new FEI FEG (Field Emission Gun) QEMSCAN 650F (Quantitative Evaluation of Minerals by Scanning Electron Microscopy). The instrument was funded by the South African National Research Foundation and the Centre for Minerals Research. QEMSCAN provides detailed quantitative mineralogical data on metallurgical samples and is a key process mineralogy tool used in the comminution and flotation research of the Centre. At last month's SME Meeting, Prof. Cyril O'Connor reviewed how in recent years the CMR has been integrating its comminution and flotation research, demonstrating the importance of developing a fully integrated approach to the design and operation of comminution and flotation circuits.
Megan Becker and Gaynor Yorath with the CMR's QEMSCAN
Automated mineralogy methods and tools, such as the Mineral Liberation Analyser (MLA) and the QEMSCAN, are now widely used in the mining industry worldwide, with close to two hundred of these systems installed in research and company central labs over the last ten years. By measuring samples of ore and processing plant material, these instruments provide statistical distribution of the size distribution and associations of minerals of interest, critical for ore characterisation, process design and optimization. As such, automated mineralogy has become an important contributor to process mineralogy and geometallurgy. The world leader in automated mineralogy systems is Process Mineralogy '14 sponsor FEI, manufacturer of both QEMSCAN and MLA systems, who are developing systems enabling the generation of daily automated mineralogy data (QEMSCAN or MLA) on-site, with a turn-around time of around 24 hours. Recent case studies of the application of automated mineralogy for process improvements have highlighted significant returns obtainable through grinding and flotation optimisation supported by automated mineralogy data.
However, since automated mineralogy can only provide the information pointing to where the process gains can be made, it does not directly impact the production gain. Thus the question is often asked: how to value the contribution of automated mineralogy to process improvement at a particular plant. This appears to be a difficult question to answer, but a recent paper in Minerals Engineering, authored by workers from Australia and South Africa, shows that the value of information is the reduced risk of an investment and opportunity loss, which can be applied to estimate the value of automated mineralogy, as well as metallurgical test work, both producing information that reduces the risk of investment.
This is the first time an attempt has been made to quantitatively value the contribution of automated mineralogy for mineral processing plant optimisation. The method can be used to estimate the value of metallurgical test work in the context of either ore source characterisation (geometallurgy) or plant optimisation. The methodology developed can be applied to different commodities and different scales of mining operations. Each mine will have different operational parameters, such as tonnages, grades of ore and the price of their products. It is often the case that the metallurgist needs to evaluate different plant modification options. The simulated results for each of the options can be used to rank them so as to allow for the selection of the option that can deliver the best possible outcome with acceptable risk profile.
The authors accept that the model developed is by no means the most comprehensive one, but it should be more than adequate to assist the plant managers when they consider plant optimisation and investment in automated mineralogy.
Hopefully more on this at Process Mineralogy '14 and an opportune time to remind everyone who has an interest in process mineralogy (which should be all mineral processors) that the deadline for abstract submission is the end of May.


  1. Very exciting to see this development! Well done to all those involved for making it happen - and I look forward to seeing photos of more than Megan and Gaynor relaxing in the future...

  2. Our senior Process Mineralogy Staff and I just noticed the MEI blog on “Quantifying the Value of Automated Mineralogy”.

    We would like to make some comments and I invite my colleague Norm to also add his opinion.

    1. The QEMSCAN and MLA from FEI are not the only automated mineral analyzers out there. The company TESCAN builds an automated mineral analyzer (TIMA) – we operate two of them and there are least 6 more out there - even on mine sites. So, in all fairness and objectivity, MEI blogs (or write-ups by consultants) should also mention this equipment. I think TESCAN even exhibits at your Process Mineralogy meeting.

    2. TESCAN has recently come out with another cutting edge technology: they built the first “Auto Loader System” for polished sections to a TIMA. That is absolutely a break-through for automated mineralogy and deserves to be mentioned in any competent Process Mineralogy write-up on automated mineralogy. We have installed one of those and I know one system is in a mining company lab in Arizona.

    3. Further, there is a statement in the blog (bottom of first page): “However, since automated mineralogy can only provide the information pointing to where the process gains can be made, it does not directly impact the production gain.”

    4. I regret to say: I have to wholeheartedly disagree with this statement. It is simply incorrect. Unfortunately, I cannot provide confidential details but from my 25 years as a process mineralogist with Hazen Research, Texasgulf, St. Joe Minerals and Phelps Dodge/Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold and numerous consulting jobs with Codelco, I can tell you that much of our Process Mineralogy work directly impacted production gains: in crushing and grinding, in flotation, in metals recovery, in copper and gold heap leaching and in the smelter. We had multiple projects, where mineralogy was (a) the major driver for process changes and (b) the only way to convince the operators to make the changes.

    5. I have just returned from a modern concentrator in South America and the manager told me that having an mineralogy lab was the major tool for overcoming the commissioning and post-commission process challenges and today it is the backbone of their advanced Geo-Met Program.

    6. In regard to production gains, I can tell you reliably that in a 5-year period alone my mineralogy labs contributed over $ 80 million to production gains company wide.

    7. I have Randy Zahn (our Supervisor for the Automated Mineralogy Labs and one of the world’s top QEMSCAN & TIMA operators) sitting right next to me. Randy was for 3.5 years the Chief Mineralogist in Cerro Verde’s on-site Mineralogy Lab (the only fully integrated mine-site mineralogy lab in the copper mining business). He can attest to the value and impact his daily automated mineralogy work had on the production gain in mine geology/or control, concentrator and heap leach operations. Also, many people around the world are talking about Geo-Metallurgy. Well, Cerro Verde has probably the most advanced Geo-Metallurgy and Process Mineralogy program for a production site in copper.

    8. I have the highest respect for folks in R+D and in Universities. However, Norm, Randy and I who have practiced Process and Automated Mineralogy for decades in operations have directly impacted production gains. Therefore, it might be good to solicit input from operational process mineralogists when writing about “…the value of mineralogy…”. My first QEMSCAN was paid off in less 1 week with one concentrator job.

    As always, these discussions are very good and welcome but they need to cover all technologies (not just FEI) and consider input from the battlefields.

    Best regards,
    Wolfgang Baum
    Director, Ore Characterization & Process Mineralogy Labs, FLSmidth, USA

    1. Many thanks for your valuable comments Wolfgang. Maybe the authors of the paper will respond to this- I hope so.

  3. I too would be interested to hear responses to Wolfgang's comments. AMA is a tool which can provide numerous benefits, the most recent being geometallurgical characterisation programs. These test-work programs can be vast and AMA is a central focus. It would be very interesting if others who've read this article could explain (as much as they can) their justifications for the use of AMA a their mining operations/technical centres; everyone will have a slightly different tangent I am sure.

  4. To be fair to the original article, the comment about automated mineralogy being a tool to provide useful diagnostic information is, in my opinion correct. QEMSCAN (or the new kid on the block, TESCAN!) does not directly impact the production gain until a competent metallurgist or mineralogist interprets the data, figures out, and then implements a sustainable solution that realises the production gain. Metallurgical testwork is often involved at this point, once the mineralogical data has defined the problem to be solved. Therefore, there are some significant and lengthy steps between conducting automated mineralogy to define the problem and realising production gains...

    I admit I have not read the paper referenced in the article but I assume that they are using Hubbard's method to quantify the $$ that have been gained through projects that have involved some form of automated mineralogy to define a problem, help fix it and measure the step changes after the solution has been implemented.

    I would therefore argue that automated mineralogy does not directly impact production gains, as just like a shift assay, feed tonnage from a weightometer, % solids measurement of a BMD etc... it's just data until someone does something smart with it. With respect, I think Mr Baum and Mr Wills are talking about two different things - Automated Mineralogy and Process Mineralogy. Mr Baum cliams that his "Process Process Mineralogy work directly impacted production gains" in past projects and I have no doubt this claim is absolutely true. Automated Mineralogy is not process Mineralogy however. Automated Mineralogy is just a tool (albeit an absolutely brilliant one) that enables the field of Process Mineralogy to exist. The article and paper is referring to Automated Mineralogy...


    Dave Middleditch
    VP of Operations, Blue Coast Research

  5. I applaud this discussion, and would like to say that it is great to see such animated posts regarding process and automated mineralogy! Many congratulations to UCT of course.

    Dave makes an excellent point in differentiating automated and process mineralogy. Automated mineralogy referring to the tool that creates data, whilst process mineralogy is the discipline that turns that data in to actionable understanding. I would love to see further publications (from papers to blog posts) that highlight how interested parties are measuring their ROI (return on investment) in both automated mineralogy tools and process mineralogy as a whole. ROI of course means different things to different investors from say industry (essentially $) or research (understanding and knowledge...). I know there have been various publications on this over the years, and give a couple of examples below:

    - Lotter, N.O., Kormos, L.J., Oliveira, J., Fragomeni, D., Whiteman, E., 2011. Modern Process Mineralogy: Two case studies. Miner. Eng. 24, 638–650.
    - MacDonald, M., Adair, B., Bradshaw, D., Dunn, M., Latti, D., 2011. Learnings from five years of on-site MLA at Kennecott Utah Copper Corporation. 10th International Congress for Applied Mineralogy, Trondheim, 2011.
    - Rule, C., Schouwstra, R. P., 2011. Process mineralogy delivering significant value at Anglo Platinum concentrator operations. Presented at the 10th International Congress for Applied Mineralogy, 1-5 August 2011, ICAM, Trondheim, Norway.

    In the interests of fairness of course, Oxford Instruments have also developed the INCAMineral software for automated mineralogy, and I know of one such system at Plymouth University that is used by PetroLab (Cornwall, UK) for process mineralogy applications (there may well be others out there).


    Al Cropp

  6. Having just spent the last week on site at the largest copper producer in Africa, I have a renewed appreciation for the role that process mineralogy can play in developing the potential of mineralogically complex ores. Some great comments have come out through this discussion which Wolfgang really got going - and of course its always important for the manufacturers of automated mineralogy instruments (e.g. QEMSCAN, MLA, TIMA and INCAMineral which are key tools used in process mineralogy) to have some competition!

    I look forward to the continued development of process mineralogy and the publication of more papers quantifying its value. I would also like to invite all those interested to Process Mineralogy 14 in Cape Town in November this year (sponsored by FEI, Zeiss, TESCAN, Bruker, FLSmidth and International Mining).

    Megan Becker
    University of Cape Town

  7. I think it is very important for these blogs to be manufacturer non specific in order to maintain their credibility. It should also be noted that Jeol and Zeiss make automated mineralogy solutions and Zeiss was in fact the first to launch a ruggedized system in 2011 ahead of the FEI Wellsite and Minesite tools. This tool has now been widely accepted in the O&G industry.

  8. Hi Anonymous

    The Company Intellection launched the QEMSCAN On Site for Mining in 2008 in Brisbane at the Users Group Meeting.



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