Fluid flow in minerals processing

July 12th, 2018

Dr Mark Cookseyby Dr Mark Cooskey

Are you missing opportunities to improve fluid flow in minerals processing?

The pressure on mineral processing operations to increase revenue and reduce costs is only increasing, thanks to industry-wide competition.

As a result, your organisation is likely looking for new ways to optimise operations anywhere you can.

There are several key areas where this can be done, from finding ways to extract value from waste, to optimising the process of heat transfer modelling.

Another key area of optimisation — that some organisations aren’t even considering — is improving fluid flow within mineral processing equipment.

A number of operations have low or variable throughput, or suffer from low product quality due to their fluid-based processes; but some are totally unaware that they’re operating sub-optimally.

This can be caused by a lack of knowledge of what throughput and product quality could be achieved from their unit operations.

A reason for this is the varying types of tanks across different operations, and hence data from one operation is not widely applicable, which is compounded by the difficulties in observing and measuring fluid flow.

This can be exacerbated by the restricted knowledge of staff members.

Even experienced engineers and technical staff may have spent the majority of their career at one site, and therefore may lack the breadth of knowledge and experience to know what other operations have achieved.

And when operations don’t understand what’s possible, they aren’t able to realise all of the potential revenue.

Often, an operation will only address fluid flow issues if there is a noticeable reduction in production or quality affecting their bottom-line.

For example, an operation will notice a 10% reduction in throughput — but what they don’t know is whether their throughput could be 20% higher.

So, there are two possible situations of sub-optimal fluid flow:

  1. A noticeable degradation in productivity or product quality.
  2. Continuous low throughput or product quality that goes unnoticed.

Whichever situation, there are many operations that are unaware of their maximum potential.

As a result, there is a major opportunity to remedy the issue by increasing the throughput and/or increasing the product quality of fluids-based processes.

The knock-on effects of low or variable throughput

The effect of low throughput or product quality is often immediately felt on your bottom line.

But on top of that, sub-optimal fluid flow can also lead to problems over time, such as increased maintenance cycles.

So you’ll face increased downtime and maintenance that isn’t being balanced out by strong revenue generation. And — as you know — having to replace equipment is a huge capital cost.

To add to that, continuing to operate at a sub-optimal level means you risk losing valuable product to waste.

That means revenue (almost literally) down the drain.

You’d also be sending more product to tailings dams than planned — which brings you closer to the day when you reach dam capacity.

So, how optimal are your fluid flow processes? And what options are available for improvement and optimisation?

How to improve and optimise fluid flow

There are several phases to assessing and improving throughput, but key to improvement is to understand and gain visibility of fluid flow behaviours within your processing equipment.

The benefits of increased understanding were recently experienced by a base metal processing plant.

When this plant’s feedwell within their thickener reached end-of-life, they installed a new one based on our recommendation.

Immediately, they observed that the new thickener was operating very differently to the previous one, which caused alarm within operators and operations.

The operation initially thought this change in behaviour was an issue, so they brought in the our team to re-diagnose the problem.

However, our team advised that the new thickener was actually performing well.

In fact, it was the old thickener that had been performing with poor overflow clarity, causing a significant amount of valuable product to report as waste rather than concentrate.

This operation only discovered that they had been performing at sub-optimal levels after the fact — and purely by chance.

To help you be proactive about optimisation, our Minerals Processing team has developed a 5-phase program to help take you through the process of improvement:

1. Benchmark your operations

It’s vital to not just assume that you’re operating at maximum throughput; you need to benchmark your production.

Where do you stand against the best in your industry?

Having your data analysed by an expert — one who has had visibility over hundreds of operations — will allow you to get an immediate idea of where your business sits compared to industry benchmarks.

At CSIRO, our experience allows us to do a fast and efficient remote audit.

Almost immediately upon receiving the necessary process data, we can conclude how your operations are running and if improvement is possible.

2. Get a comprehensive on-site assessment

A more rigorous on-site audit of your operations allows you to identify the specific areas that are causing throughput or quality issues.

Whether it’s the appropriate feedwell for a thickener or changing chemical dosing locations to handle a new type of ore, our team can help you determine areas of focus, as well as offer immediate solutions and avenues for investigation.

3. Determine the measures you need

Sometimes, more or better fluid flow data is needed. We have extensive experience in conducting fluid flow measurements in many different operations.

Different measurement techniques are appropriate for different situations, including:

  • Hydrodynamics assessments of flotation units
  • On-line fluid flow assessment of solvent extraction settler units
  • Small scale pipe reactor studies to enhance solid-liquid separation processes.

Our Minerals Processing team have significant expertise in conducting these different types of measurements to help improve your fluid flow data and offer more accurate solutions.

4. Lab-developed solution

On occasion, sub-optimal fluid flow may be particularly intractable.

Conducting controlled and targeted laboratory experiments and modelling allows various solutions to be rapidly and cost-effectively evaluated, allowing you to reach your optimisation targets.

At CSIRO, we have extensive experience in conducting laboratory experiments and modelling fluid flow, in addition to applying these results to plant operations.

5. New solution implementation

Being able to work with experts to implement a new solution is advantageous to any process improvement project. It gives you the reassurance of correct implementation, as well as the efficiency of experience.

We work with clients through every step of the process to validate solutions and the improvement achieved.

Engage experts who understand fluid flow

With a breadth of experience, our Minerals Process Optimisation team has the skills and expertise to appropriately assess and develop solutions to optimise fluid flow in your operation.

Our lab- and pilot-scale facilities, combined with world-leading measurement capabilities, mean that you can be assured you’ll see the ROI when you partner with the CSIRO team.

Through ongoing analytical support, training, or solution development, we can help you understand and optimise your operations.

So, do you want to ensure your organisation is well-supported during fluid flow optimisation?

Contact the team on +61 3 9545 8865 or email me, mark.cooksey@csiro.au to take the next steps in analysing your fluids-based processes to determine areas for optimisation.

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