Monday 3 July 2017

In conversation with Osvaldo Bascur

I have known Dr. Osvaldo Bascur for many years, and we regularly meet at SME Annual Meetings and International Mineral Processing Congresses around the world. At the 2014 SME Meeting in Salt Lake City he was presented with the SME's most prestigious mineral processing award, the Antoine Gaudin Award acknowledging his outstanding contributions in mathematical modelling and management of process information in the mineral processing industry.
With the Gaudin Award in 2014

Dr. Bascur’s career spans over 30 years of meritorious scientific and seminal engineering contributions to the understanding of mineral processing technology in the areas of comminution, classification, froth flotation, thickening and hydrometallurgy. He has been a leader in the industrial implementation of dynamic process modelling, analysis, and optimization of mineral processing operations. His outstanding contributions are based on more than 10 years of fundamental seminal research, and 20 years of pioneering industrial transformational behaviour using process control and real time information operational management. The resulting continuous improvement and innovation of mining and mineral processing complexes for operational cost reduction have been widely disseminated in more than 100 technical papers, and at numerous scientific and industry presentations in all continents. Dr. Bascur is the creator of the Dynafloat© and Dynamill© dynamic simulation industrial models. He has recently designed an algorithm characterize the operating conditions of an industrial plant to assess the operational performance of each area of the plant.  The classification of the operating data enables generation of predictive models using machine learning tools for mine/mill/metallurgical optimization.  Large costs saving are achieved with an automatic capture of minor equipment production delays and the estimation of water losses are implemented in large industrial complexes.
Osvaldo Bascur was born in Concepción Chile in 1952 and attended the Alliance Francaise, Lycee Charles de Gaulle in Concepción, and then graduated in both Chemical Engineering and Metallurgical Engineering from the University of Concepción.

Osvaldo (front row 5th left)  with fellow classmates at school in 1969
During his 6 year University training programme he worked as a trainee engineer on the oxide leaching and smelting plant at Mantos Blancos, Antofagasta and then on the oxide leaching, solvent extraction plants and refinery at Codelco's Chuquicamata copper mine. Visiting teachers from France and Belgium, and engineering friends, had motivated his studies in metallurgical, then chemical engineering.
Osvaldo (centre) with final year University friends in 1976

With Colombia University's Prof. Somasundaran in 1976
On graduating in 1976, Osvaldo was offered post-graduate studies at various universities in the USA. He told me that Prof. Doug Fuerstenau (posting of 20 July 2015) asked him to study at the University of California-Berkeley, and one of his mentors suggested MIT with Prof. Szekely. At that time, however, there were visitors at Concepción from the University of Utah, and Prof. Alexander Sutolov, the great Yugoslavian engineer and founder of the Metallurgical Department at Concepción, was an invited professor at Utah. The fact that John Herbst , a student of Prof Fuerstenau, was also at Utah, and the bonus of “fine skiing in the nearby mountains” determined his decision to study at Utah. Osvaldo says of his supervisor, John Herbst "John is an outstanding Professor.  His scientific approach to mineral processing using particulate systems is very defined. His class notes were very well organized and his examples very well chosen.  He provided outstanding coaching, mentoring and support for his students at the University of Utah".
With John Herbst at this PhD ceremony in 1982
Osvaldo obviously thrived on his Utah experience, which was the era of the introduction of personal computers. During his first month he was provided with an early PC and developed many process unit models, and an interface between an X-ray analyzer and a control system for the online modelling of grinding and flotation.  He and John Herbst were developing Dynamill and Optimill, and “everyone was amazed with the things that we could do with computers”.

He says that he met “half of the world in mineral processing and extractive metallurgy, including Profs. Lynch (posting of 11 August 2014),  Barbery, Houdoin, King, Niemi, and many others,” who were to become leaders in this new field.  These pioneers greatly influenced Osvaldo’s career. He says that he closely followed the simulation work being done by Peter King at NIM in South Africa.
Prof. Ted Woodburn, of UMIST, UK, also  had a profound influence, when he spent some time at the Uuniversity of Utah and Osvaldo used his work to model the detachment sub processes in flotation, using the turbulence intensity measured on line to characterise the attachment and detachment forces.
Osvaldo had been aware of the early work of Alban Lynch, and TC Rao (posting of 16 July 2014) during his days at the University of Concepción, when he was introduced to the Rao-Lynch Model, and learned learn how to use multilinear regression to tune the model. Their hydrocyclone model was enhanced and used in all the models that he developed from 1977. He says that “we still use their influence to this day in modelling the hydrocyclone overflow stream to predict the particle P80 and % solids, these tools now being called machine learning and predictive analytics.
In 1978 Osvaldo met Profs Daniel Hodouin and Gilles Barbery from Laval University, Canada. He says “since I speak French they adopted me and we toured San Francisco together, and discussed the methods developed by Prof Ragot in France for the empirical modelling of hydrocyclones.  It is very sad that Giles died so young.”
With Daniel Hodouin at the 1995 IMPC in San Francisco
Osvaldo’s undergraduate Professor at Concepcion was Fernando Concha who introduced him to the theory of continuum systems, which he further developed at Utah, influenced by similar equations developed by Prof Tikhonov of St. Petersburg University, Russia, who provided guidance on his PhD thesis. He and Prof. Concha developed a theory of suspensions to model fluidization, filtration and thickening, which was published at the 1976 IMPC, and Prof Concha later received the Antoine Gaudin Award for the thickening work.
Second only to Prof. Doug Fuerstenau in Osvaldo’s esteem is Prof. Heinrich Schubert, who shared his ideas on the hydrodynamics of flotation cells, which were used in his thesis to develop a very precise method to measure the turbulence in a flotation cell to characterize bubble generation, air holdup and attachment and detachment sub processes. 
During his time at Utah, Osvaldo started working with Dr. Ed Free, who he had met at an Asilomar National Science Foundation Conference on Modelling Particulate Systems organized by Profs. Herbst and Kal Sastry. Dr. Free offered him a job at the meeting, so after receiving his PhD from Utah in 1982, he joined Duval Corporation of Pennzoil (now Shell), where he developed the Real Time Historian and A Process Advisor, both data collection systems for operational management.
He says that he gained tremendous experience with Duval, at Chino, Sierrita and Battle Mountain Gold (now Barrick), and when in 1986 Pennzoil decided to sell Duval to Cyprus minerals, Pennzoil offered him a job at Woodlands, Texas, to build the controls and plant information systems that were developed with a few excellent programmers in Tucson. He accepted the position, and he and his family  then moved to Woodlands in Texas.
 In 1995  Dr. Bascur  was hired by Oil Systems, now OSIsoft, the makers of the PI System. At that time there were 34 employees, now there are 1500. Upon his arrival at OSIsoft, Osvaldo joined Dr. J.P. Kennedy in his vision of empowerment of process engineers with the chemical engineering principles necessary to optimize the basic industries using a scientific approach.

At OSIsoft Dr. Bascur became a true mining industry leader with his formulation of a blueprint for real time enterprise information systems to improve energy and water management. Implementation of such optimizing processes has resulted in the conservation of resources and significant profits for plants all over the world. Recently he has designed an algorithm to characterize the operating conditions of an industrial plant, in order to assess the operational performance of each area of the plant.  Classification of the operating data allows predictive models to be generated using machine learning tools for mine/mill/metallurgical optimization.  Large costs saving are achieved with automatic capture of minor equipment production delays and the estimation of water losses implemented in large industrial complexes.
Dr. Bascur and OSIsoft are now synonymous, and he is a familiar face at major international conferences around the world.

In Rio de Janeiro, 2001, with Doug and Peggy Fuerstenau
IMPC 2012, New Delhi with Dr.Ilesh Shah from FLSmidth,
Dr. B.K. Mishra with IIMT, India and Prof. Raj Rajamani from U of Utah
Flotation '13 in Cape Town, with Jim Finch

With OSIsoft colleagues at the SME Annual Meeting in 2014 with the Gaudin Award
Hiking in Patagonia with sons Felipe and Sebastian

Dr. Osvaldo Bascur has developed into a major player on the mineral processing stage, and I asked him how, in between all his travelling and assignments, does he relax, what are his outside interests? He said that he enjoys travelling with his family, hiking, skiing, cooking and has an eclectic taste in music- opera, guitar, bossa nova, flamenco, boleros and Beatles! 
Osvaldo on the occasion of his 55th birthday in 2007, with his family Felipe, Carmen and Sebastian.
Felipe was born in Tucson and Sebastian in the Woodlands.  Felipe is a Business Major working
in the construction business. Sebastian is a Personal Trainer working in Portland, Oregon.
It is always a great pleasure to talk to Osvaldo, and I expect to hear much more of him in the future. He is currently working on a book, and has also written a chapter on Process Control and Operational Management for the forthcoming new SME Handbook.

More conversations


  1. First let me congratulate Dr.Osvaldo for the most coveted award which he richly deserves.
    Barry, you brought out so many names in this Blog, I felt as if I have travelled through many years of my professional career and brought back nice memories of meeting most of them .This shows how diverse and close the Mineral Engineering fraternity has been.This is classic reporting. Let me wish all the best to all of them.
    Osvaldo, congrats,once again ;the nice event brought back so many on this Blog.

  2. Dear Prof. Rao
    Thanks for your words. It was a blessing getting to start using your model early in my carreer which was embedded in our dynamic models. Today, these models are running in real time using new technologies.
    It is obviuos that collaboration at the IMPCs has been an influencing factor.

  3. Dear Barry:
    Thanks for publishing our conversation. It is amazing to see how you recollected so many beautiful times of my journey. I am very thankful to have so many great influencers in my life. Cheers.

  4. Barry,
    I applaud your adding Dr. Osvaldo Bascur to your list of MEI Blog conversationalists. Clearly Dr. Bascur is a major expert in the application of dynamic modeling to the simulation, control and optimization of mineral and metallurgical processing plants and their operation. In addition to an outstanding record of success in improving large-scale mineral processing operations around the world, he has been an exceptionally active participant in presenting his work at international professional society meetings over the years. I enjoyed seeing the photo of Osvaldo and young Peggy and me taken at a 2001 conference in Brazil.
    In my opinion, Osvaldo is fortunate that he chose to study with Professor John Herbst at the University of Utah for his PhD. At Utah, Herbst was an innovative teacher and research leader in process modeling and control, who provided Osvaldo with the solid foundation on which he built his career. That makes Osvaldo one of my grandstudents. As you know, Osvaldo was the proud recipient of the SME Gaudin Award, and in terms of the academic chain, Osvaldo can also consider Professor Gaudin to be his academic great grandfather and I am sure that Gaudin would be proud of the achievements of his great grandstudent.
    Doug Fuerstenau, University of California Berkeley, USA

  5. Dear Doug:
    Thanks for your kind words. I am very honored to be, as you said, a Prof. Gaudin grandstudent. All my gratitude goes to all my collaborators.


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