Analytical Services Division upgrade to streamline efficiency

STREAMLINED EFFICIENCY Mintek’s Analytical Services Division will create an open-plan laboratory where ore weighing, sample preparation, testing, analysis and results processing are performed in successive stages

ANALYSIS INCREASE While Mintek processed about 50 000 samples in 2013, the Analytical Services Division aims to process about 60 000 samples this year

28th November 2014

By: Mia Breytenbach

Creamer Media Deputy Editor: Features


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Refurbishments to State-owned minerals research organisation Mintek’s Analytical Services Division are expected to start in the first quarter of 2015, Mintek Analytical Services Division manager Joe Baloyi tells Mining Weekly, highlighting that expanding the division’s services to the metallurgical and mining industry further enhances Mintek’s status as a “one-stop shop”.

Baloyi explains that Mintek is re-engineering the division to create an open-plan laboratory where ore weighing, sample preparation, testing, analysis and results processing are performed in successive stages to significantly streamline efficiency. He expects an increase in productivity, efficiency and turnaround time of at least 25% after completion of the refurbishments.

“We need to move away from the entrenchment of haphazardly conducting analytical services and evolve to an approach where each analysis and process seamlessly follow the next to allow for an enhanced workflow,” Baloyi stresses, adding that this will reduce any subsequent challenges during the process.

Laboratory Automation

Baloyi believes that the trend of analytical laboratories shifting from manual analytical process intervention to process automation – which reduces human error and turnaround time – is increasing.

Technology market research publisher BCC Research noted in a June 2013 press release that “laboratory automation is being used to reduce costs, improve accuracy and increase output”, and that “[the] market for laboratory automation [is] expected to grow at a 6.3% compound annual growth rate and reach $3.8-billion in 2017”.

The publisher stated that while clinical diagnostics, pharmaceuticals and academia had historically been the primary drivers of growth in this market, “experts agree that future growth will come from the expansion of laboratory automation into new market segments”.

Further, BCC Research noted: “The market as a whole is expected to increase by $1-billion in the next five years, [while] the Asian market alone is expected to double its 2010 expenditures on laboratory automation by 2017.”

Baloyi highlights that being able to perform analytical services, such as dilutions, through online analysis systems also allows for better-quality results.

In light of this, the Analytical Services Division is investigating various means of automating processes in the wet/classical chemistry subdivision, he adds, citing time-consuming titration processes as a key challenge in reducing analysis turnaround time.

“The division further aims to consider the possible discontinuation of manual processes, such as manual titrations, and the introduction of autotitrators, for example, which will facilitate the titrations and automatically print the results. Human resources would only be required for the calibration requirements, similar to those that are currently performed in the inductively coupled plasma spectroscopy areas.”

Although local industry experienced a lull in the demand for analytical services, owing to reduced funding for exploration projects in the past year, Baloyi believes that demand for the Analytical Services Division’s services will remain constant, as the bulk of the division’s samples is supplied by the minerals processing division and the hydrometallurgy division. Therefore, the analytical services division is not directly exposed to mining operations and exploration project fluctuations.

Demand for analytical sampling has not significantly deviated from last year’s demand, he points out. “While Mintek processed about 50 000 samples in 2013, the company processed 25 202 samples for the first six months, ended September, which suggests a similar estimation for 2014.”

Nevertheless, the division aims to process about 60 000 samples this year, which is mainly why the company plans to invest significant capital in the refurbishments, in addition to increasing and encouraging service demand, Baloyi says.

The division’s analytical work in the past year included sample analysis for the mining industry in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia, as well as graphite sampling work for a Tanzanian mine.

Further, Mintek remains committed to supporting the mining industry, as it is involved in on-the-job training for analytical chemists in the industry, stresses Baloyi.

“We recently completed the training of three chemists from the Geological Society of Tanzania and received a request last month to provide consulting services for the Tanzanian Geological Society, including assisting in establishing an analytical services laboratory,” he concludes.

Edited by Samantha Herbst
Creamer Media Deputy Editor



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