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The relevance and application of textural information across the value chain

Posted by: Keirissa Lawson

June 19, 2018

Keith Viningby Keith Vining

Wrap-up: Rising industry challenges compounded by increasing ore complexity

Changes in the iron ore industry have been a huge point of discussion over the last year. We’ve seen a lot of talk about high-grade and low-grade markets, customer demand shifts and changing discounts and prices.

At the same time, increasingly goethitic ores are affecting the value chain from feasibility through to handling, process planning, mining, agglomeration and iron-making. In addition, environmental pressures and increased steel production margins are shifting the focus firmly to ore quality.

What hasn’t changed is that iron ore grades, impurities and changing customer requirements are making processing and planning increasingly challenging.

With these industry challenges looking set to continue, the questions have to be asked:

Which future do you want? Which have you designed for? And which are you prepared for?

Furthermore, are you aware of (and using) the power of textural analysis? It’s the capability that will give you the greatest level of insight into your ore and ore potential, wherever you are on the value chain.

And do you have access to the expertise and support to help navigate product, process and market uncertainties and to help develop, evaluate and test new ideas and options at lab and pilot scale?

Whatever your answers to these questions, two things are clear:

  1. Planning, processing and marketing is getting tougher.
  2. Textural analysis is a key part of fully understanding your ore, your process and your ore’s potential right along the value chain — from mining to the blast furnace.

Time, quality and cost: Dealing with rising ore complexity in a changing and quality-focused market

In response to these questions and concerns, the importance of adopting a practice of textural analysis and not simply relying on chemistry has become clear.

As we’ve discussed, evaluating ore quality by grade — while still the industry benchmark — doesn’t provide the full picture. Textural classification offers deeper insights and understanding of ore characteristics to improve processing, beneficiation and product differentiation by attributes, which go beyond grade.

If you’re relying on chemistry-determined classification and ignoring texture, you risk missing out on:

  • the potential to improve lump/fines prediction
  • understanding iron ore potential and cost-effective beneficiation options
  • the ability to better predict downstream performance
  • improving materials handling, processing control and output control
  • determining the value-in-use of your ore beyond chemical composition
  • improving mine performance to better deal with increasingly goethitic ore deposits
  • improving resource development using textural classification systems.

All these opportunities need to be considered if you are to meet the demands of rising ore and industry complexity, and prepare for the future.

Given the impact of increasing ore complexity on operations, it’s clear that early intervention is more advantageous than changing your operations further down the line.

The relevance and application of textural information across the value chain

No matter what stage you’re at, there are multiple points of intervention and options for textural classification along the entire value chain – regardless of whether you’re at an early stage or not.

Textural classification provides insight and a continuous thread through the value chain; from product, market and processing options, through to improved mining and processing operations, to understanding ore attributes during marketing and handling changing ores at the blast furnace stage (see Figure 1 below).

The application of textural understanding and classification can assist your operations by:

As you can see from Figure 1 below, there are multiple points along the value chain where textural understanding (and the tools that provide it) could inform early intervention or product and process alternative consideration and development.

Chart showing minerals value chains from discovery through to blast furnace outlining points of intervention where ore complexity has an impact and is overcome in the process
Textural understanding and analysis has relevance at all stages of the value chain, from resource definition to the blast furnace. The tools that support this understanding and analysis are many and varied and provide opportunities for early intervention or product or process alternative consideration.

Supporting textural understanding and classification

There are many opportunities along the value chain to take advantage of textural classification to test the status quo, consider the impact of different possible futures and help optimise your planning, processing or performance.

In order to achieve this, there are 4 key factors that are essential to the successful adoption of textural classification no matter where your responsibilities lie in the value chain:

  1. Connection to practical, not theoretical, product development support — access to R&D capability, testing and facilities which fit real-world constraints, rather than an academic approach or testing campaign which is limited in its applicability.
  2. Using an options-based approach which prepares for several possible futures — obtaining hard cost/benefit indications within your constraints for a range of possible alternatives. This helps to prepare for an upside opportunity, while also preparing alternatives to counter downside risk.
  3. Accessing deep insight capability that doesn’t leave interpretation up to the customer — accessing insightful providers who can coordinate a unified, integrated and cohesive analysis, development or testing program — including using the latest in analysis software and technology.
  4. Connect with those who connect with others — connect with support providers with experience across the industry, across different product areas, and across the globe. This broadens opportunities for comparison and challenges “groupthink” and accepted positions by using an evidence-based and grounded-in-reality approach.

What’s in a lab, anyway?

We’ve established the benefits of textural analysis, but what sort of facilities, capabilities or labs can support its implementation?

At CSIRO, we offer a comprehensive, cutting-edge range of evaluation techniques based on the latest research — all in the one place.

We have a range of laboratories and pilot-scale test facilities, meaning that we can assist with everything from analytical input, to helping design the most effective testing campaign, to undertaking testing at lab-scale and pilot-scale.

Overall, we’re not just a teaspoons and test tubes operation. We do have that capability, but we’re primarily a forklifts-and-overalls, fieldwork operation. We have the ability to complete feasibility testing through to pilot-scale sinter performance tests and we focus all our research around the day to day reality of your operations.

In short, we provide:

  • Continuity, quality, uniformity, admin and overhead minimisation – CSIRO can complete in-house end-to-end research or manage work from one or more subcontractors to achieve a consistent and coordinated result. This minimises the load on client teams to interpret and assess results, provides a stage-gated testing approach to help achieve the best return on client investment, and maximises the real-world impact of research spend.
  • Flexibility and cooperation – CSIRO can complete end-to-end work flexibly, to meet changing environment and client needs. Because work can be completed in-house, changes to work can be dealt with cooperatively. CSIRO can subcontract routine test work to other providers if this provides economies of scale or scope. Given our focus on the outcome, not the task, we are unique in that we would be happy to see clients get results faster or cheaper, or options and approaches excluded early — saving time, money and opportunity cost.
  • Continuity – a single point of contact to simplify project execution and result interpretation.
  • Quality – quality information and information on quality throughout the value chain.
  • Comprehensive support – full value and production chain support capability.
  • Deeper, more integrated and consistent understanding – we are a provider of richer and deeper ore, ore potential and cost/benefit understanding as well as a provider of alternative technology options to stay ahead of the curve.
  • An opportunity to shape our strategic research direction – You can influence current and future research by staying in touch with us and providing feedback on organisation or industry issues, our work, and possible future issues for the industry. We seek to make solutions as relevant and implementable as possible, so the more we know, the more we can do. Further, working with us during the R&D phase of technology can help provide a “sneak peek” as well as influence the development of the solution. This ensures that it provides maximum benefit and best addresses technical, non-technical or implementation considerations faced by your organisation.

Till next time, not goodbye

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series about the world of iron ore as much as we’ve enjoyed speaking about rising ore complexity and what can be done to achieve cost-effective results.

You can also find out more about how the changing state of iron ore affects the value chain in our book. It’s written for industry professionals and companies in the field of iron ore extraction processing, iron-making and steel processing. It summarises topics including the characterisation of iron ores, beneficiation (separation and refining), agglomeration (e.g. production of pellets or powders), blast furnace technology for smelting and environmental issues. It’s a must-have if you’re interested in — and responsible for — iron ore extraction processing.

Don’t be a stranger

Please stay in touch with us and please feel free to contact me or the team.

If you want to know more about CSIRO’s capability to help you across the value chain, give me a call on +61 7 3327 4761 or email me directly on Keith.Vining@csiro.au.

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