Q. You’ve recently joined the Board of the Coalition for Energy Efficient Comminution (CEEC) – why are you so passionate about Comminution?

Most of the energy in mineral processing (power and steel) is used in crushing and grinding rock. This process is simple at a high level, and able to be modelled based on simple physics. However, understanding and optimising comminution processes have presented researchers and practitioners with significant challenges. Most of the improvements in the last 60 years have been in

  1. Machine scale, from 1 MW ball mills to 28 MW SAG mills
  2. Linking mine blast performance to plant comminution performance
  3. Development of high compression crushing (VRMs and HPGRs)
  4. Improved scale (not efficiency) of classifiers.

Energy efficiency links breakage and classification. CEEC is a non-profit organisation focussed on communicating ideas and facilitating the discussion of concepts that improve energy efficiency. Ausenco is an inaugural sponsor of CEEC. This demonstrates our desire to be efficient, participate at the “cutting edge” and supply the most cost-effective comminution solutions to our clients.

The CEEC Energy Curve program benchmarks the energy consumption of comminution circuits. Participation can help identify opportunities to improve individual circuits and will contribute to the development ideas that drive further efficiency in design of mineral processing plants. We’re encouraging mine owners to participate in the program.

Ausenco is also a leader in optimising energy consumption in comminution circuit design. A paper co-authored by Ausenco to be presented at the 2018 Mill Operators Conference in Brisbane in August will highlight energy efficiency improvements at a major processing plant in Australia. We are also working with major mining house partners in North America to identify significant energy savings in large plant design.

Q. You’re seen a lot of change over your 40+ years in the industry, what do you think will be the key changes in the resources sector over the next five years?

Change in the resources sector is currently driven by the following factors and these will continue to be influential over the next five years:

  • Refocus on commodities in demand, e.g. battery metals (Co, Li, Zn)
  • Improvements in data analytics and knowledge development based on sensor capability and cost and computational power
  • Continued focus on reducing energy consumption and improving water efficiency in processing
  • Social licence to operate issues and associated impacts on tailings storage strategies, project development timelines and community engagement.

Q. What implications do you think this has for engineering and project delivery and the people who work in the sector?

Engineering will continue to move from a series of “manual tasks”, such as drawings and calculations, to a more knowledge-based activity. Examples of trends include:

  1. Engineering calculations and specifications can already be automated. The real skill is in knowing what variant on a calculation or specification applies for a particular circumstance.
  2. Similarly, engineering design is moving from production of a “line drawing”, directly linked to supporting engineering and technical specifications, to a “database” that references engineering knowledge and specifications that exist in a data library.

Hence, the success and value of automation of engineering is directly linked to the parallel capture of knowledge that relates “what is good” to each particular project. This contrasts with current engineering and design value equation in some jurisdictions that is still measured in $ per equivalent A1 drawing.

Reliance on engineering deliverables in project construction will continue to increase. Planning and progress measurement capability is now built into design visualisation and reporting tools. Prefabrication and modularisation will increase to simplify constructability and improve quality control and safety. Operational training tools already rely on design visualisation down to the instrument level and simulation packages are available that allow a plant to by operated in virtual space prior to construction. These tools will become more common place as methods to manage risk during construction and ramp-up to full production.

This is the second in a three-part series of Insights with Greg Lane. You can read part one here.

For more information, view Greg's expert profile and contact him via the "Contact me" button on that page.