Optimising processes at pilot scale

May 14th, 2019

Dr Mark Cookseyby Mark Cooksey

Improving process optimisation using pilot scale facilities

Due to multiple changes across the industry, there’s increasing pressure to improve the performance of mineral processing operations.

Falling ore grades, increasing energy costs, and increased social and environmental demands have become an incentive for operations to undertake process optimisation that will help them remain competitive and profitable.

While widely acknowledged as an important investment, process optimisation can prove difficult for many operations. However, ignoring opportunities for improvement is not an option to be considered, as most operations cannot afford to be left behind by competitors.

Inconclusive and expensive: the current state of process optimisation

Currently, many operations have restricted abilities to optimise processes, due to the challenges of testing process changes in a plant environment.

For some, the difficulty of achieving accurate results without compromising the efficiency of current operations has made optimisation hard to pursue. Others continue their pursuit by carrying out trials despite the accrual of expensive and inconclusive results, driven by pressures to act.

The obvious place to start with process optimisation is to use your operating plant, as it is familiar, no experimental equipment needs to be constructed, and any results will reflect reality.

However, testing within an operating plant can have a number of issues, including:

  • significant process variation, such that results from trials can be inconclusive
  • loss of production, and
  • need to deploy production staff to the trial.

Other approaches to process optimisation, while also valid, have their own weaknesses:

Laboratory ScaleMale and female researchers working in laboratory.

Laboratory scale studies are attractive due to their small footprint and associated lower cost. However, results sometimes cannot be applied to production scale, due to the inability for the controlled lab environment to reflect plant conditions.

Using lab scale on its own as a singular method won’t give you the full picture, or accurately outline requirements at plant scale.

Computer Modelling

Unlike lab scale, this allows to test at full scale for a relatively low investment. However, it can be difficult to validate results of modelling because they are invariably a simplified representation of the operating environment.

These weaknesses put you at risk of inconclusive results and inappropriate process optimisation if modelling is used in isolation.

In turn, this leaves you with poor financial and environmental performance compared to competitors, and an inability to keep up with the changing demands of the industry.

Matching conditions are the key to success

Pilot scale testing fills the gaps of other approaches, by using a purpose-designed scale pilot facility to closely represent the conditions of your current operations. The primary advantage is to remove the process variation that is almost always present in an operating plant, allowing you to assess the effect of process variables with far more confidence.

Results from any previous studies you’ve carried out – including lab scale and modelling – can be integrated with the findings from pilot scale facilities to validate the results and provide stronger conclusions as to their effectiveness in your operating plant.

This results in:

  • more conclusive studies of process optimisation
  • increased productivity and efficiency, and
  • improved financial and environmental performance.

The adaptability allows you to tailor testing to site specific requirements, giving you the ability to conclusively evaluate results prior to making major investments in new optimisation processes.

Leading Australian pilot scaling facilities: Achieve process optimisation with CSIRO

Close-up of metal processing vats

While you may not have the ability to do this on your own, collaborating with organisations that have appropriate pilot scale facilities, or have the capability of designing and constructing them, is the first step to being able to achieve successful process optimisation and competitive advantages.

CSIRO have extensive experience in designing and operating pilot facilities for a range of applications and currently possesses the most developed set up for mineral processing piloting in Australia.

Our team have been involved in successful pilot scale testing across a range of processes, including:

Our scientific and technical staff have a high degree of engineering understanding; which in turn gives CSIRO multi-disciplinary capability to design and operate novel pilot scale facilities.

We also have the capability to use these studies to further assist operations with validating models for more rapid process optimisation in the future.

If you’re looking to successfully achieve process optimisation through pilot scale testing, CSIRO – through our research, breakthrough science and world class facilities – is uniquely positioned to add value to your operation.

Contact the team on +61 3 9545 8865 or email me, Mark.Cooksey@csiro.au, to discuss how our expertise and experience can help you.

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