Chemicals company BASF Mining Solution’s latest and “most exciting” new project is a partnership with service provider Intellisense.io, where the two companies are working together to develop dynamic and robust artificial intelligence- (AI-) based solutions for downstream mining processes.
The platform called the BASF Intelligent Mine (powered by Intellisense.io) focuses on maximizing the efficiency and effectiveness of the unit operations involved in the recovery of minerals and concentrates.
BASF global digitisation in mining head Ken Plozza says that through using the BASF Intelligent Mine, completed projects have shown a reduction in downtime, improved production rates, enhanced recoveries, and overall easement concerning the management of the process.
“The system can be described as an assortment of applications that rest on a material tracking platform called the Brains.app,which follows the material as it flows through the plant, making note of changes to variables like particle size, impurity levels, and more.”
He explains that any information that the plant monitors can be fed into the platform, which the Brains.app then uses and feeds into the apps associated with each unit operation, and the apps, in turn, guide the operator on what changes should be made to keep the plant running smoothly.
The BASF Intelligent Mine also incorporates virtual sensors which can predict, to a high degree of accuracy, certain variables within a process that one wouldn’t normally be able to observe.
For instance, in a flotation cell, BASF has been able to predict and track bubble size and compare it to recoveries in each cell.
Bubble size, the company explains, “is a fundamental property of the system and is impacted by many different factors, like airflow, reagent dose, dilution, washing rates, cell design, and incoming ore properties”.
Considering that these parameters change the app, it can notify the operator and advise on changes to these same parameters to optimize bubble size. The result is the most appropriate operating conditions to maximize recovery, Plozza notes.
Considering that AI is not exactly new to the mining sector, Plozza tells Mining Weekly that there are three main differences, namely that the BASF Intelligent Mine platform focuses on the flow of material throughout the processing section of the plant, rather than looking at the management of assets, such as pumps.
Plozza says “it is not limited to a single unit operation”, such as flotation or thickening, and that the Brains.app platform encompasses the entire processing circuit and uses the outputs from a primary system as feed information to a secondary system.
Secondly, the BASF Intelligent Mine uses scientific AI, which is a combination of machine learning and data analytics, together with the company’s first principal models.
“Usually, when gathering vast amounts of data, a lot of non-sensical trends can be created. Our platform filters the information through the models and illustrates trends unique to the specific unit operation,” Plozza notes.
Thirdly, just because the flow of material through the plant can be tracked, the company says, “it doesn’t mean it needs to be tracked”.
“The extent to which we implement the apps is completely up to the customer, says Plozza, who adds that “sometimes a customer would like to focus on just one system, such as flotation, so it isn’t essential to include other apps for milling circuits or thickeners”.
Further, considering that sustainability is one of BASF’s core values, Plozza says the company’s goals have “always been to use less and create more, resulting in less wastage of chemicals, consumables, and energy, whilst achieving higher recoveries”.
With the BASF Intelligent Mine, operators can track what material is coming and recommend residence times and ball charges to ensure a more consistent particle size.
“Our partnership with Intellisense.io is bringing together the perfect combination of process & chemical knowledge, with AI & modeling knowledge, to create a system whose goal will be to use less and produce more,” Plozza enthuses.
The BASF Intelligent Mine is sold on a software-as-a-service (SaaS) basis, which means that BASF still has regular interactions with its customers, which Plozza notes is helpful in ensuring that the product is working as it should.
“Our system-specific apps have their models checked and updated every three months, and the apps and the platform are upgraded with new features and functions every six months in alignment with our product road maps. This ensures that the systems will run with the highest levels of accuracy and robustness.”
Additionally, the company also has systems in place to alert it of any irregularities in the data or trends, so if there are problems, the company doesn’t “wait three months before addressing them”.
BASF also has new apps being developed all the time for different processes.
Currently, the “most exciting” new app is the Solvent Extraction app, which will, when completed, give insight and recommendations to copper SX plants to balance operational conditions and maximizes recoveries.
The BASF and Intellisense.io partnership has already created system-specific apps for grinding and milling, thickening, flotation, heap leaching, and stockpile management.