Sunday, 4 March 2018

SME 2018: a mineral processing perspective

Minnesota is the largest producer of iron ore and taconite in the USA, and Minneapolis is the biggest city in the State,  forming "Twin Cities" with the neighbouring state capital of St. Paul. Bisected by the Mississippi River, Minneapolis is known for its parks and lakes, and this year, for the first time it was the venue for the Annual Meeting of the Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration (SME).
Everyone sets their own agenda for this huge congress and exhibition, but my focus is always the giant exhibition, a great place to stroll around, meet old friends and make new acquaintances.  And there are always a few surprises, so this is my diary of my few days in Minneapolis.

Sunday February 25th
Yesterday's snowstorm caused many flight delays, and there were noticeably fewer delegates for the late afternoon reception in the exhibit area than in previous years.
I always seem to catch up with my old friend Osvaldo Bascur, of OSIsoft, USA in the first few minutes of entering the hall, and he is always with interesting people, this time with Jim Gebhart, of FLSmidth, Tarun Bhambhani, of Solvay, USA and Ronel Kappes, of Newmont, USA.
Jim, Tarun, Ronel and Osvaldo
At last year's event I photographed Osvaldo with Qingqing Huang, who was then a post-doctoral research assistant at West Virginia University. It was good to hear that, a year on, she is now an Assistant Professor at the University.
With Qingqing Huang
The University of Utah's student body is well represented, and some of them are shown below, along with the Mining Engineering's Professor and Chair, Mike Nelson.
Before leaving the exhibition, I called in to see the UK's International Mining team, this year without its stalwart, John Chadwick, who I am sure will be back next year in Denver for the International Mining Technology Hall of Fame Awards. International Mining, one of the world's leading trade journals, is a media partner for all MEI Conferences.
Phil Playle, Paul Moore and Kevin Lapham of International Mining
Monday February 26th
As the exhibition hall did not open until 11am, I called in at the Bookstore, to talk to Jane Oliver and her team. There are no new mineral processing books to report this year, but a major volume is planned for launching at next year's meeting in Denver.
Theo Warrior, Ann Hoopingarner, Jane Oliver and Joe Mow
The SME tells me that at this stage there have been 4707 registrations, and over 550 companies are exhibiting, so it looks like numbers are relatively low this year.
The South African branch of Split Engineering was represented at Comminution '16, and this morning Tom Bobo, a founding director of the USA company, expressed his interest in April's Comminution '18. Split have been using image analysis to provide on-line measure of particle size distribution of rocks from the ROM ore muck pile to the SAG mill feed, using a continuous, automatic, non-invasive monitoring system employing image processing technology for particle size, shape and colour for any conveyor belt or feeder location. 
Tom Bobo (left) and Jonathan Dufek (right) of Split with John Kemery of University of Arizona
and Rennie Kaunda of Colorado School of Mines
Four years ago I wrote an article for the blog singing the praises of two small companies who regularly exhibit at SME and at MEI's comminution conferences. Chris Martin's Alabama-based RSG Inc. has exhibited at the MEI events since 2006. Chris formed RSG in 1991, having identified a need for more efficient classification in the kaolin and marble industries, specifically for vertical roller mills, and in 1999 the company invented, designed and built the first ever mill for dry ultrafine grinding of calcium carbonate. The latest mill is a 450 kW ufg-mill, and in April Chris will be commissioning a major lime plant start-up in Thailand, and so will unfortunately have to miss out on Comminution '18.
With Chris Martin
The other small company highlighted in my 2014 article was Ontario-based Starkey & Associates. John Starkey founded S&A in 2000 and the company is now a global leader in ore hardness measurement, and grinding circuit design and optimisation, particularly for SAG mills. John and his wife Donna have been familiar faces at SME for many years, and have sponsored MEI's comminution conferences since 2012. This year John and Donna have forsaken Minneapolis, as many people seem to have done, and have left the booth in the capable hands of their metallurgists, Jenna Hedderson and Spencer Reeves, two young people who give me every confidence that the future of the minerals industry is in safe hands.
With Jenna and Spencer
There is an obvious scarcity of mineral processors this year, probably as there is no dedicated symposium in anyone's honour. So it was a great pleasure to see Glenn Dobby, and his colleague Catherine McInnes, of Woodgrove Technologies, Canada. I have followed Glenn's career for around 30 years, ever since I invited him and Jim Finch to Camborne School of Mines to present a workshop on column flotation, based on their eponymous text book on the subject. Glenn and his colleague Glenn Kosick were the recipients of a double award, as Canadian mineral processors of the year, at the recent CMP Annual Meeting in Ottawa. This was for their development of the Staged Flotation Reactor, which will be highlighted by Jan Nesset in his keynote lecture at next year's Flotation '19. Glenn and Catherine were talking to Rob Dunne and Chris Fleming. Rob is an adjunct professor at both Curtin University and the University of Queensland, Australia, and he will be presented a keynote lecture at Sustainable Minerals '18 in Namibia in June. Chris is Senior Metallurgical Consultant with SGS, Canada and this year's recipient of one of the SME's top awards. 
Rob, Catherine, Glenn and Chris
Hans von Michaelis
And it was to the Mineral Processing Division's Awards plenary session that I headed next.
Hans Von Michaelis unfortunately was delayed, but he was the Robert H. Richards Award winner for his commitment to advancing the mining and mineral processing industry by collecting and sharing information about new technologies and application through his Presidency of Randol International Ltd.
Chris Fleming won the Milton E. Wadsworth Award for "exemplifying Wadsworth’s finest qualities of energy and enthusiasm for his work and desire to share his knowledge".
Kevin Galvin is a long serving member of the Minerals Engineering Editorial Board. He is Laureate Professor at the University of Newcastle, Australia, and the winner of the MPD's most prestigious award, the Antoine M. Gaudin Award, for his contribution to advances in the science and engineering of innovative systems for coal and mineral beneficiation. Kevin is the inventor of the well known Reflux Classifier.
Chris Fleming and Kevin Galvin
The relative lack of mineral processors at this year's event was evident from the low attendance at the awards lectures, the major MPD plenary, with only around 30 in the audience.
Many mineral processing companies are also missing from the exhibition this year, apart from in the comminution field, the area of mineral processing which has developed most rapidly in recent years. Stirred mills, for example, were little heard of in mining a few decades ago, but are now increasingly incorporated into flowsheets where ultrafine grinding is necessary. Eirich's TowerMill is one such machine, and Mark Oles and Christopher Clark, of Eirich Machines, USA, were demonstrating a model of the mill to delegates from Colorado School of Mines. The Eirich Group is headquartered in Germany and has subsidiaries worldwide. Nippon Eirich, the Japanese sister company, will be represented at Comminution '18, and Sam Palaniandy will be presenting work on developments for the further refinement of ultrafine grinding.
Mark Oles (right) with Colorado School of Mines delegates and Christopher Clark
Rob McIvor, Chief Metallurgist with Metcom Technologies Inc, was a keynote speaker at Comminution '16, so it was good to catch up with him and Business Development Manager Omar Arafat and Senior Metallurgist Kyle Bartholomew, talking to Bill Conger of ME-ElecmetalMetcom Technologies has been generating a lot of interest with its new Streamline™  ball mill circuit modelling program, and has also launched a new commercial service focused on optimization of ball mill media sizing practices. In the MPD Comminution technical session Rob presented a paper which analysed the relationship between the size of the grinding media in the mill and grinding performance.

Rob, Bill, Kyle and Omar

Despite mineral processors being thin on the ground, the multi-speciality chemical company Solvay had, as usual, a large team in attendance. Solvay was a sponsor of Flotation '17 and expect to have a big involvement in next year's Flotation '19.

The large team from Solvay

As does another major chemical company, BASF, also strongly represented as a sponsor of Flotation '17, and also with a big team here. BASF was presenting its extensive range of products for hydrometallurgy, mine backfill, solid liquid separation and tailings management in its exhibition booth. Additional focus is on the latest developments in iron ore binder technology and flotation, which are also presented in three of the technical sessions.

The BASF team

Tuesday February 27th
The exhibition opened at 11 am this morning, but if my agenda had been to sit in mineral processing lectures before the opening I think my head would be spinning. There were eight parallel sessions of interest to mineral processors this morning, including comminution, flotation and plant design, so I opted for leisurely coffee before being allowed into the exhibit hall by the border guards.
It was nice of Yuesheng Gao to make himself known to me. Yuesheng is a PhD student at Michigan Technical University. He left the Central South University in China at the end of 2016, after graduating with an MSc in Prof. Yuehua Hu's group, supervised by Dr. Zhiyong Gao, who looked after my brief visit to Changsha last year. 
Three of MEI's most valued sponsors are Outotec, Metso and FLSmidth, who support a wide range of MEI Conferences. They are giant multi-national companies, whose status in the industry is reflected by the size of their displays at every SME. 

It is always good to catch up with Guven Onal, of Istanbul Technical University, Turkey, a regular at SME meetings and IMPCs. Guven was Chairman of the 2006 IMPC in Istanbul.
 It was also good to see the 2016 MEI Young Person's Award winner, Swadhin Saurabh, with his colleagues in the Millcreek Engineering booth.
With Swadhin Saurabh (2nd left) and colleagues
On leaving the exhibition I saw the University of Arizona's Brent Hiskey chatting with members of the Chevron Phillips flotation chemical company. 
Brent Hiskey (2nd right) at the Chevron Phillips booth
It has been a somewhat downbeat day, with many of the familiar races missing, the general consensus being that Minneapolis was not the best choice of venue. However, let's see what tomorrow morning holds. 
Wednesday February 28th
I called in for a final stroll around the exhibits this morning before leaving for the airport and my long journey back to Cornwall, where there is very rare snow!
The final day of the exhibition is usually quiet, but today it was like a ghost town, but I did manage to call at two more booths.
I spoke to Pete Hoffmann and Ron Hutchcraft of Fluid Systems, who are interested in an involvement in Physical Separation '19 in Cape Town next year. The company manufactures cyclones and screens for high volume ultrafine operations.
Bruker is a sponsor of Process Mineralogy '18, and I had a long chat with Tina Hill and Patrick Woo, Applications Scientists with Bruker AXS, USA, and Hitachi High-Tech, Canada, respectively. Bruker and Hitachi are in partnership for automated mineralogy software for minerals, oil and gas. 
This has been a fairly low-key SME event, for me at least. Many people seem to have forsaken Minneapolis for various reasons, Denver, Salt Lake City and Phoenix being the most popular venues. The mining industry is now waking from its long slumber, so we can expect a record turnout next year in Denver, the home of the SME. I look forward to it, and I thank the organising committee for another smooth running event.
Twitter @barrywills


  1. Barry,
    Good to read what you wrote on the event,mineral engineers(particularly the youngsters) you met and about the industry persons. For me what you implied in between the lines carries a message on the future.
    I hope we take full advantage of the support we get from industry and serve the future needs of the profession in a more focused manner. This is what I feel from India.

  2. Yes, the Mineral Processors present were few compared to what shows up in other SME venues, especially when the meeting is in Denver. However, my count on those attending the MPD Plenary was closer to 75 (maybe 80 counting the photographer) than 30 --- sorry Barry, but I was counting from the front... And several drifted in/out. Overall, I enjoyed the meeting, exhibits and sessions.
    Erik Spiller, Colorado School of Mines

  3. Barry, thanks for the comprehensive review of the event. Perhaps there were fewer people there but I certainly got a great feel for the event. And it was good that you caught up with such industry leaders as Glen D and Katherine and of course, Chris Fleming.

    1. Thanks Jerry. I have just heard from SME that the final number was 5083, the lowest for the best part of a decade. In 2015 there were 7800 in Denver, 6500 in Phoenix in 2016 and last year 6300 in Denver. The steady decrease in numbers can be accounted for by the state of the industry, exacerbated this year by Minneapolis as a venue. This was not a popular choice, but I found the city to be attractive, and the convention centre and local accommodation were of high standard. It was a real pain getting to Minneapolis, however, from UK, necessitating a 6 hour stop in Chicago. The industry is improving and next year we will be back in Denver, so I am hoping for big numbers again in 2019.

    2. Final numbers:
      5083 Attendance/ 600 international from 40 countries
      106 Sessions
      727 Exhibit Booths
      440 students

      Tara Davies, SME, Colorado

  4. February 27th witnessed this year’s version of the annual SME Scotch Nightcap fundraising event to provide scholarship assistance to new students. Similarly to last year’s event in Denver, the 2018 event, held in the ballroom of the Hyatt Regency in Minneapolis, featured traditional Scotch tasting accompanied by live music which was once again provided by Bass Metals.
    Bass Metals dubbed this year’s event ‘The British Invasion’; While the core of the band was as last year - featuring Dave Meadows, Bechtel Mining and Metals and Joe Mercuri from CiDRA supported by John Marsden of Metallurgium and Nick Hazen of Hazen Research Inc, the band were joined by two ‘Brits’ who provided the rhythm section - Rob Walbourne on drums and Dave’s brother John on bass guitar.
    The band played two sets of music. The first set featured ‘unplugged’ versions of some classic rock along with a mix of mellow ballads and blues.
    The second set was a powerful tour de force featuring some of rock’s finest anthems and allowing Mercure and Meadows to display their vocal and guitar playing talents respectively. A rousing finale to the gig featured yet another guest appearance and some mean axe playing when the band were joined on stage by Joe Dziedzina of FL Smidth.
    Thank you to one and all for your support!

    Dave Meadows, Bechtel Mining & Metals, USA

  5. Barry, Thanks a great summary. It is always good to see you.
    This year I had a pleasure to award the SME Antoine Gaudin to Prof. Kevin Gavin. He and his team have done a great job at redefining flotation by using fundamentals engineering principles such as the two phase flow, Kynch Theory, Yoshioka operating diagram and Richardson-Zaki suspension model. It was a great validation to our Dynamic Flotation Model where both the hydraulic components and particle-bubble attachments are modelled in parallel. The Reflux Flotation Cell incorporates these physical concepts for the separation of complex minerals with lesser space and operating costs.

    1. Always good to see you, Osvaldo. See you in Denver next year, if not before


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