Thursday, 29 March 2012

How important is collaboration to quality research?

There are many fine mineral processing research institutes around the world.  MEI has very close involvement with two of them, Australia's JKMRC and South Africa's University of Cape Town. Research teams at both of these have very strong collaborative ties with each other, mainly due to the efforts of Profs. Malcolm Powell and Dee Bradshaw at the JKMRC, and Prof. J-P Franzidis and Dr. Aubrey Mainza at UCT, all MEI consultants.

One lesser known university has impressed me with its work in recent years. Turkey has many universities with mineral processing research departments, of varying quality, but that of the Hacettepe University has evolved into one of very high quality. Maybe because it has strong collaborative links with various high calibre institutes such as the JKMRC.

The flotation team at Hacettepe is led by Dr. Zafir Ekmekci, whose work led me to invite him to represent Turkey on the editorial board of Minerals Engineering.  At the recent Flotation '11 conference, he and co-workers presented four papers, two in collaboration with other establishments.

Prof. Hakan Benzer leads the strong comminution team.  He recently presented the plenary lecture, on HPGR technology, at the Lulea Conference on Minerals Engineering in Sweden. He and his team have four papers scheduled for presentation at Comminution '12, together with co-workers from UCT, JKMRC, Chalmers Rock Processing Research, Sweden, the University of Rio de Janeiro, and the German company NETZSCH-Feinmahltechnik.

So how important do you think collaboration is, and what tips can you give emerging research institutes on how to go about seeking such links?


  1. The best way to get links initiated is via attendance at conferences, such as yours and others. You can't develop links with strangers by email, face to face is the only way.
    B.J., Salt Lake City, USA

    1. I totally agree with you BJ. Apart from our own conferences, we at MEI try to attend as many international events as possible, and we find this to be the most cost effective marketing tool. I have never left a conference feeling that I have achieved nothing. Personally I rarely sit in on presentations, preferring to walk around seeing who I can bump into, meeting old friends and making new ones. As you say this is much better than trying to forge links using email, and there is no substitute for talking to someone over a beer or a coffee.

  2. I see a great opportunity for the collaboration to reach outside academia into industrial operations. Too much of research tends towards the theoretical or the practice of yesteryear. This may relate to the academic upbringing of researchers or their exposure to industry being long in past or through the technical literature. Finding pathways to melding the theory into improved practice and practice into meaningful theory and test of theory are critical to useful collaboration. I'm happy to say that the universities mentioned have done many positive steps in this direction, although there is ample room for additional improvement.
    Posted in Minerals Engineers group by Robert Seitz, Rio Tinto, USA

    1. I agree with you on this Bob. The JKMRC research programmes have always involved close industrial collaboration, as have those of the major flotation research groups around the world, including the Imperial College London team, led by Prof. Jan Cilliers, which I rate very highly. In fact, the combined approach of theoretical research coupled with industrial testing has been very successful for all of these groups.

      Slightly off on a tangent, but this type of collaboration with industry is, I feel, essential not only for research but also for teaching, as a surprising number of lecturers in mineral processing have never set foot on a mine site!!

    2. Barry. I agree with your tangent as well as main point. It's quite interesting to contrast what's taught at uni vs. what engineers actually do (the practice). Part of this reflects the differing environments and part a philosophical divide between practice and an ideal.
      Posted on Minerals Engineers by Robert Seitz

  3. Research indicates that collaboration is mostly likely to take place with large firms (plus 200 people) rAther than SMEs. This is why the mining industry is one of the most collaborative research sectors in Australia. It is one of the few sectors where we have a reasonable no of large firms operating!
    Posted by Elizabeth Lewis-Gray, Gekko Systems, Australia, in Minerals Engineers group

  4. As an indication of my belief in the strength that collaboration brings to research I have staked my career on collaboration, both in collaborative industry projects and in the newly formed Global Comminution Collaborative (GCC). (Universities of Queensland (JKMRC), Cape Town, Hacettepe (Turkey), Chalmers (Sweden) and Rio (UFRJ). Collaboration between institutes tremedously broadens capability and ability to make a difference to the industry. Our key to delivery is close contact with our sponsors, applying research ouputs to site issues and circuit design.
    However, collaboration doesn't come easy, it is not a contract but rather a relationship built over time and with trust and a lot of time and effort.
    Meet at conferences, make an effort to vist each other, exchange students, do some joint low-key work and then look for funded joint projects with industry solving real problems. Joint work on site is a fantastic team building experience.
    My experience is that true collaboration is massively worthwhile

    Posted on Minerals Engineers Group by Malcolm Powell, JKMRC, Australia

    1. Malcolm, you are a classic example of the value of collaboration and of seeking such by conference networking. I remember you telling me that one of the first international conferences that you attended after completing your PhD was MEI’s Minerals Engineering ’95 in Cornwall, where you made some crucial contacts.
      You met Walter Valery, then with the JKMRC, and through him you were offered the JKTech agency on your return to South Africa. At the conference you also met Prof Cyril O'Connor of the University of Cape Town, from where you had obtained your PhD. He encouraged you to come and start a comminution research group at UCT, to supplement the growing Flotation group. This developed into one of the world’s strongest comminution groups, and in collaboration with the JK led to your subsequent appointment as Professor at the JKMRC. It is a remarkable story, and I congratulate you on it, and hope that your subsequent collaborative efforts with the GCC lead to further dividends.

  5. The implication of the original discussion is that research institutes need to establish direct collaborative with links.

    Yet I would like to throw onto the mix the role of consultants/Service groups/ and contractors.

    In the last 20 years there has been a substantial increase in non-University based professionals in research projects.

    I consider this increase is largely attributable to the gap in IP commercialisation strategy in University environments.

    One of the great successes of The University of Queensland was a company called Mincom. It was started by a number of Applied Maths lecturers. Mincom rose to be a significant player in Operations Research service.

    There are a countless number of examples of University staff deciding that their objectives can best be achieved outside the University environment.

    Many would think that Service Companies do not add to the research mix. This concept is not true.

    Service Companies publish research papers - the difference is they have to balance commercial/ common good/ personal finance objectives. Where in a traditional University environment it is part of their career path.

    Indeed one classic paper is by Shannon who is regarded as the Father of Information Theory. This paper was published by Bell Laboratories - not a University.

    These days if you look at most research projects there will be a number of consultants or Service Groups as part of the Project team.

    I believe this trend needs to increase; indeed my strongest comment is that an emerging Research Group needs to identify those consultants that could play an integral part of the Centre's objectives.
    Posted on Minerals Engineers Group by Stephen Gay, Australia


If you have difficulty posting a comment, please email the comment to and I will submit on your behalf