Sunday, 3 March 2013

SME 2013 A mineral processor's view

It is good to be back in Denver for what is one of the world's great minerals industry meetings. There is something for everyone here; in fact maybe too much for everyone, with the usual head-spinning number of parallel sessions, the huge exhibition, as well as receptions, awards, workshops and dinners. Mineral processing is only a small part of the overall proceedings, but even so I can only scratch the surface, and this report is very much my diary of personal experiences, which I hope will be supplemented by the input of others who attended.

Sunday February 24th
After nine days acclimatising in the mountains, Barbara and I arrived in Denver this morning via the Colorado Mountain Express. The road conditions were atrocious, and Denver itself is in the grip of a raging snow storm.

16th Street Mall, Downtown Denver
After registration we attended the official opening of the exhibition, and I thank John and Donna Starkey for loaning one of their exhibitor passes to Barbara so that she could accompany me for the 2 hour session.

Barbara with Donna and John Starkey, of Starkey & Associates, Canada
According to a tweet from the SME (@smecommunity) there are 585 exhibitors this year, a sizeable increase on last year's event in Seattle, but the opening was a relatively quiet affair, probably due to the snow, which has caused severe disruption of flights into Denver.

Monday February 25th

SME's resident tweeter,
Heather Gravning

The skies have cleared, the flights are back on schedule, and people are flocking in to register. Over 6800 have registered according to the tweets from @smecommunity, making this the largest ever SME. I arrived at 9am but not a lot happens on the first day of an SME and the exhibition does not open until 11am.

So the first port of call was to the Bookstore to see what is new this year. There was only one new book related to mineral processing, Process Plant Equipment, edited by Holloway et al and published by Wiley. This is a reference book for final year students as well as those who will work, or are working in production plants and refineries. It contains the information and practical guidelines needed to select, operate, maintain, control, and troubleshoot process plant equipment so that it is efficient, cost-effective, and reliable throughout its lifetime.

Guven Onal and Jim Finch
It was good to see old friends Prof. Jim Finch, of McGill University, Canada, and Prof. Guven Onal, of Istanbul Technical University by the Bookstore. Jim and I spent some time discussing a new project which we hope to be collaborating on. More on this at a later date. Also outside the Bookstore I met Romke Kuyvenhoven of Gecamin, Chile and we discussed MEI's involvement with Procemin '13 and next year's IMPC in Santiago, which will be organised by Gecamin. Romke will be presenting a short video this afternoon promoting the IMPC, and this can also be seen on YouTube.

Then into the exhibit hall, which as always is dominated by the huge FLSmidth display.

FLSmidth is a world leader as a source of engineered mineral processing equipment, systems and services and are major sponsors of MEI Conferences, and I called in to say hello to the many familiar faces, including Director of Global Marketing Andrew Cuthbert.

With FLSmidth's Andrew Cuthbert
I also called at the Metso booth, to thank them for their recent sponsorship of Comminution ’14. Metso provides a range of services to the minerals industry, including life cycle services, spare and wear parts replacement, field services, preventive maintenance, automation solutions, plant diagnostics, equipment refurbishment, as well as a broad range of training courses.

Before heading off for lunch I dropped in at Outotec, another major company providing a broad spectrum of services, including comprehensive processing plant solutions based on decades of research and development in its own research facilities and former plants. They are major sponsors of this year’s Flotation ’13 conference in Cape Town.

The mineral processing presentations commenced in the afternoon with the prestigious SME Award lectures. The highest award bestowed is the Antoine Gaudin Memorial Award and this year the recipient was Prof. Graeme Jameson of the University of Newcastle, Australia. Well known for the development of the successful Jameson Cell, first used at Tennant Creek in 1990, Graeme has in no small way contributed to improving the knowledge and hydrodynamics of flotation. His lecture Adventures in Flotation highlighted how flotation is a difficult art which is gradually yielding to science and informed observation.

The Richards Award lecture Making Simple Processes was presented by Nick Hazen, President and CEO of Hazen Research, USA who discussed how innovation is necessary for sustainability of future mining operations. These processes should be as simple as possible, such as innovative HPGR, bioheap leaching etc.

Prof. Jan Miller of the University of Utah, presented the Wadsworth Lecture on X-ray tomography for the 3D analysis of hydrometallurgical systems, a follow-on from his excellent keynote presentation at Process Mineralogy '12 (see also the posting of 16th August 2012).

Jan Miller, Nick Hazen and Graeme Jameson

Tuesday February 26th
The Symposium on Innovation in Metallurgical Processing got underway this morning, with Innovations in Comminution, and Innovations in Smelting running in parallel. Fair enough, but also running in parallel with these were sessions from the Mineral and Metallurgical Division (MMD) on Flotation; Plant Design and Optimisation; and Research and Characterisation. Frustrating to say the least, but having spent many years at SMEs I have learned to live with this and accept that the strength of the SME is mainly as a meeting place, so I gain most value by wandering round the exhibition.. The lecture room for this morning's comminution session was heaving, however, testament to the interest in this area, and the very high quality speakers who are presenting. By contrast the smelting session was lightly attended, reflecting more on the fewer number of researchers in this field.

In the comminution session Wolfgang Baum discussed recent innovations in process mineralogy and laboratory automation, a follow-on from his keynote at last year’s Process Mineralogy ’12. Automated mineralogical systems are becoming increasingly used in operations treating low grade and ever more complex and refractory ores. FEI is the world's largest supplier of automated mineralogical electron microscopes, and were sponsors of the last Process Mineralogy conference. The company has recently acquired Visual Sciences Group (vsg) whose software allows 3-D visualisation of mineralogical data.

There are many bewildering session clashes to come over the next few days, none more so than this afternoon. The Innovations in Separations session was extremely well attended. All the papers dealt with innovations in flotation - reagents, modelling, plant practice and surface chemistry. I felt sorry for the speakers in the session on Flotation which ran in parallel, and was attended by fewer than 20 delegates. Unbelievably, also running in parallel was a session on Problematic Non- Sulfide Gangue Minerals and Their Detrimental Effects in Flotation Performance. When I looked in at this one, there was an audience of 6 people! Not great if you have traveled all the way from Australia to present, as had two of the speakers.

The flotation reagent manufacturers were out in force in the exhibition, including Flotation ’13 sponsors Cytec and Clariant.

As flotation machines now tend to be gigantic, there were none of these on display, but there were a number of very large pumps on view. It was good to see Watson-Marlow represented, as their head office is just around the corner from my home in Falmouth, UK. Their pumps are well known for pumping harsh fluids in the minerals industry.






It has been a full and enjoyable day of meeting old friends and new people, rounded off nicely with a late afternoon international reception at the Hyatt Hotel for non-USA participants. In the photo below is Prof. J-P Franzidis, of the University of Cape Town, South Africa, and consultant to Flotation '13; Dr. Patrick Foster, lecturer at Camborne School of Mines, UK; and Dr. Zafir Ekmekci of Hacettepe University, Turkey's representative on the Editorial Board of Minerals Engineering.

It was also good to catch up with Mike O'Driscoll and Laura Syrett of Industrial Minerals, UK, and to congratulate Mike on winning 3rd prize in the SME photographic competition. Industrial Minerals is a media sponsor for three upcoming MEI Conferences. Mike and Laura are pictured below with Louis Bernard of Snowden Consultants, Canada.

Wednesday February 27th
More frustrating clashes in this morning's parallel sessions. Comminution II was reasonably well attended, as was Modelling and Simulation, Innovations in Hydrometallurgy and the student poster session, but there was only about a dozen people in the Phase Separations session.

The most well attended was Separations Innovation II which featured a paper by Bo Arvison on ore sorting, perhaps the oldest method of concentration. Automated sorting is increasing in importance with the development of faster sensing technology. In addition to providing likely economic benefits it also has the potential to reduce the greenhouse gas footprint of mining and mineral processing operations, as shown by Norgate and Haque in the latest issue of Minerals Engineering (Volume 42, 2013). In yesterday’s Innovations in Comminution session, Jens Lichter discussed the future of comminution, the main challenges being reduction in energy consumption, and how preconcentration using sorting will become ever more important in reducing the tonnages treated in comminution.

Ore sorting will be a major feature of Physical Separation ’13 in June, and one of the sponsors of this event is TOMRA Sorting, previously known as CommodasUltrasort. Worldwide over 200 TOMRA sorting systems are already contributing to more energy efficient and cost effective preconcentration.

TOMRA Sorting
As well as a TOMRA paper on chromite processing, the Physical Separation ’13 programme also includes two papers from Australia’s JKTech on the next generation sorters and the development of indices to assess sorting potential and the performance of sorting processes. Papers from the JKTech will also examine a novel separation method, dielectrophoresis.

Continuing with the theme of dry separation, I stopped off at the Separation Technologies LLC (ST) booth. ST is a developer and provider of specialized processing technologies for beneficiation of dry fine particle materials. Founded in 1989, ST capitalized on proprietary technology to develop a unique processing system based on triboelectric charging and electrostatic separation. The environmentally friendly process eliminates wet processing, requires little if any pre-treatment of the material and operates at high capacity - up to 40 tonnes per hour. The ST belt separator is ideally suited for separation of very fine  (less than 1 micron) to moderately coarse (300 microns) materials with very high throughputs. The US based company has deployed many separators, in North America, Europe and East Asia. 

Separation Technologies

An interesting paper in this morning’s Phase Separations session discussed Hawk Measurement Systems latest findings on the use of acoustic sonar technology for measuring the compact zone or bed level as well as the interface or hindered layer in thickeners.

Hawk Measurement
A level probe for a different application, flotation bank pulp level control, was demonstrated at the Zeroday Enterprises booth. Monitoring flotation bank pulp levels with the standard ultrasonic/floating ball assembly is often very unsatisfactory. At many operations any improved pulp level monitoring and control will significantly increase grades and recoveries. The innovative LTM level probe dramatically increases pulp level measurement accuracy, which operates conductively and provides near instantaneous measurements (100 ms) with 1% accuracy and measurement linearity.

Zeroday Enterprises

After an excellent three days, the finale, the Mineral and Metallurgical Division Luncheon was something of an anti-climax, dominated by an interminable after-lunch lecture. But it was good to see the students awarded the Richard Klimpel Scholarships by Jim Metsa, the Chairman of the Scholarship Committee. They are pictured below, but unfortunately I did not have time to add names to faces.

Other awards were the Outstanding Young Engineer Award to Lisa Schlink and the Arthur Taggart Award for best scientific paper to Jason Ripke and Glen Hoffman.

The final act was handing over the chairmanship of the MMD for the next year, from Jason Ripke to Corby Anderson of the Colorado School of Mines.

Jason Ripke and Corby Anderson
I have had a very enjoyable time in Denver, and would thoroughly recommend the SME as a great networking event. In an event of this size there will always be some aspects open to criticism. My only real criticism, however, would be with the timetabling of technical sessions and the MMD really must look at this so as to avoid the frustrating clashes which have occurred, which led to some sessions barely attended.

This has been the largest SME ever, which is a measure of the confidence in the industry at the moment. I hope that this continues, and look forward to being in Salt Lake City next year for what we hope will be an even bigger and better SME. Congratulations to all concerned on the organisation of SME 2013.


  1. Is that shaking table ideal for concentrating material from Knelson concentrators

    1. No idea. You would need to contact the manufacturer, Action Mining Services

  2. Barry, great report. As you say, SME is probably too much for everybody, however that is exactly what made it a good week. I was suprised by the good attendence of all known people in the field of mineral processing. A conference needs good papers, and becomes even better with good delegates from all over the world, which clearly was the case here. Hope to see many of you again in Santiago (Chile) later this year (clearblue sky, sunshine, nice temperatures).

    1. Thanks Romke. Yes it was a great week and the number of international delegates is on the increase. Look forward to seeing you in Santiago for Procemin 2013

  3. I agree with you that the scheduling of presentations needs to be looked at. In addition, the distance between sessions -- there were talks I wanted to hear in the 100 area rooms AND the 500 area rooms. It is almost impossible to go between the two areas in a timely manner, especially when some talks do not keep to a schedule.

  4. Raymond Looper4 March 2013 at 16:30

    I wish I had known about this. I would have been there.

    1. Where have you been hiding Raymond? You have not been aware of SME Annual Meetings? Now you do, hope to see you next year in Salt Lake City


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