Mineral processing experts from research institute Sustainable Minerals Institute’s (SMI’s) Julius Kruttschnitt Mineral Research Centre (JKMRC) have embraced technology to maintain site engagement and delivery of research outcomes to mineral processing plants amid Covid-19 restrictions.
Surveying, diagnosing and identifying improvement opportunities for processing plants generally requires teams to travel to a mine site, often in remote locations, and undertake hands-on testing alongside mine personnel − a difficult feat considering ongoing travel and distancing restrictions.
Faced with these challenges, JKMRC experts have developed a remote survey coordination method which allows them to engage with site personnel and facilitate the same procedures using video streaming.
JKMRC senior research fellow and process performance specialist Lizette Verster said the novel approach offers a flexible, robust and practical alternative to conventional methods.
“Usually when one conducts a survey like this, it would involve a team of researchers travelling to a site, staying there for a minimum of a week, and working closely with site personnel. In this case, rather than having a representative attend the site who coordinates the work, [commodity trading and mining company] Glencore nominated an on-site representative who took responsibility and worked with us to ensure they had the information required to perform the survey,” says Verster.
She explains that a video link was set up between Glencore’s Mount Isa Mines copper processing team and the metallurgical laboratory so the team could observe and direct the testwork as it was being performed.
“The most important aspect of this is establishing a safe mobile link that is in line with the site’s safety requirements. All remote viewing equipment allowed for hands-free operation and was protected against dust and water exposure. The team opted to mount a smartphone on a hard hat or, alternatively a chest harness, that allowed site personnel to move around the plant freely, while continuously streaming audio-visual data, and allowing for two-way communication.”
Verster notes that the team will continue with this method, as it allows for the effective remote coordination of site work. It also provides greater flexibility of survey timing which means that experts can make better use of operational windows for successful survey execution, which does not have to be predetermined weeks in advance.
“The key to success is communication and upfront planning and we are fortunate to have a close relationship with Glencore and are working with them on a number of projects.”
Glencore’s Mount Isa Mines senior process engineer Roxanne O’Donnell was suitably impressed with the ease of using video streaming to enable the remote testing.
“This approach minimised the need for people to come on site, and proved very effective in streamlining the analysis of our mineral processing operations. At Glencore, we recognise that collaboration is the key to unlocking innovations and improvement opportunities and we were really pleased to work with the team at the SMI’s JKMRC,” concludes O’Donnell.