The development of an intelligent cyclone by minerals processing equipment supplier Multotec is at an advanced stage, Multotec South African Operations CEO Rikus Immink tells Mining Weekly.
Through the instrumentation of its ceramic-lined cyclones, Multotec is aligning itself to the automation requirements of the mining industry.
Multotec is using artificial intelligence (AI), which has been developed using the data interpreted from sensors integrated into their cyclones, to accurately identify foreign material entering the cyclone.
The company is testing the technology at its offices in Kempton Park, South Africa, and intends to test its intelligent cyclone at a coal operation in the near future.
Through machine learning, the company plans to adapt its intelligent cyclone technology to its steel- and ceramic/silicone carbide-lined cyclones, which are used in the processing of a range of minerals.
Immink says the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is a sensitive topic in South Africa, owing to perceived job losses, but is an important initiative for Multotec. International evidence shows that 4IR actually creates more jobs.
He stresses that Multotec cannot do without its 1 600 factory workers, as the manufacture of some of its products is labour intensive.
“We believe that equipment should be enabled in terms of 4IR, and workers should be upskilled accordingly. Other workers can be reskilled to support maintenance and housekeeping of automated equipment, as well as for safety.”
For example, Multotec’s DESMA injection moulding machinery is fully automated. The finishing of these screen panels before packaging, however, remains a manual process and will require a larger workforce to accommodate potential increases in production volumes.
Innovation Through Collaboration
Immink emphasises the importance of collaborating regularly with Multotec clients in the mining and aggregate industries to drive innovation.
Through industry collaboration, Multotec says it has made its solutions as cost effective as possible for mineral processing while supplying a high-quality product.
In addition, collaboration with clients operating in Australia’s remote Pilbara, known for iron-ore mining, has highlighted the need for products that can last between long maintenance intervals.
“These remotely operated mining operations have limited staff on site and can require components to last up to 13 weeks between maintenance shutdowns,” says Immink, adding that the biggest problem these operations face is wear in chutes, cyclones and screens.
He states that silicone carbide is “just about the only solution” specified to address these high-wear application challenges, but also notes the company’s composite wear solution Ceradox, which comprises ceramic, polyurethane, rubber and hardened steel.
With limited staff on site at these Australian mines, and rubber’s flammability, Immink also highlights the need for fire-resistant solutions, noting that, for this reason, Multotec incorporates fire-retardant chemicals when manufacturing products from rubber or polyurethane.
“The one thing you surely cannot do remotely is extinguish a fire,” he notes.
Other innovations by the company include the development of a fine-chrome spiral to process the fines accumulating at South Africa’s chrome mines and a coal spiral that removes sulphur in the form of pyrites to improve coal’s environmental impact.
Immink says the chrome spiral technology is in the field and results are looking promising.
Leveraging its 45 years of experience, Multotec is establishing a global business with a South African head office to service Canada, Europe, South America, Australia, Eurasia and China.
“To get the focus right, we have divided our business in terms of South African and international operations. As we can’t replicate our vast South African manufacturing operation in multiple countries, we support the international markets with an existing structure of technical backup, processing expertise and production capability.”
The intention, however, is to expand production capacities in each international operation, especially for Multotec’s screening panels, as they are costly to transport.
The company is already producing screening products in Australia, Chile and China, and will soon produce in Brazil.
Further, doing business internationally requires “excellent product specialists”. If this expertise is not available to support international operations, Multotec would not be able compete with local companies, he notes.
With regard to growing its African mining business, Immink highlights the need to support engineering houses based in South Africa, Canada and Australia, all of which have projects throughout the continent.
Multotec has a business development department based in South Africa which specifically deals with project houses locally and in Canada and Australia.
This year’s Investing in African Mining Indaba presents Multotec with an opportunity to network with these project houses directly, as well as junior, midtier and major mining companies, and various other industry stakeholders.
“However, the main take-away is gaining insight into the trends in the industry so that Multotec can align its strategy according to market requirements,” he concludes.