Tag Archives: Australian mining innovation

mineral technologies

$4.1m funding for mining technology projects announced

Image: Hon Karen Andrews MP,  Federal Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, announcing the METS Ignited Collaborative Project Funds at Mineral Technologies on the Gold Coast. (Image credit: METS Ignited)

The funding has been awarded under the METS Ignited Collaborative Project Funds and was announced by the Hon Karen Andrews MP on 1 March. METS Ignited is an industry-led organisation which aims to increase the competitiveness of Australia’s METS (Mining Equipment, Technology and Services) sector through innovative mining technology projects.

The recipients of the funding will now be able to launch eight collaborative industry projects that will deliver highly-advanced solutions to a variety of mining technology challenges and contribute to the growth and capability of the METS sector.

This funding is part of a four-year, $15.6m commitment made by the Australian Government to incentivise collaboration and address METS sector priorities. The funding established the METS Ignited Collaborative Project Funds, which support industry-led mining technology projects to improve the productivity, competitiveness and innovative capacity in the METS sector.

Acting CEO of METS Ignited, Ian Dover, says the funding will spur necessary collaboration in the sector and drive development of technologies that will be vital for the future of the mining sector.

“Active collaboration across the ecosystem is core to accelerating commercialisation of innovation and has been lacking in the METS and mining sector, where historically relationships have been in the main transactional,” says Dover.

COLLABORATIVE PROJECT FUND RECIPIENTS

METS Ignited has awarded the funds to businesses specialising largely in mining technology: robotics and automation, data analytics, data platforms, internet of things and business and professional services. The largest fund recipients were Queensland-based Mineral Technologies and Premron, awarded $1M each.

Collectively, the projects will benefit the mining sector by optimising the value chain, increasing productivity for mining and mineral processing, supporting and enhancing environmental management, and improving operational safety.

The projects are summarised below.

mineral technologies

Image: Andrew Foster, Jess Maddren and Ian Dover at Mineral Technologies. (Image credit: METS Ignited)

Automation of the Roy Hill Iron Ore Benefication plant

Recipient: Mineral Technologies

Partners: Roy Hill

Collaborative Project Funds: $1M

Industry investment: $1M

This project automates the gravity separation spiral process used in the mine tooptimise the concentration of lower grade ore into higher value ore for export.

Continuous Haulage System

Recipient: Premron

Partners: Gauley Robertson Australia, Kestrel Coal Mine

Collaborative Project Funds: $1M

Industry investment: $1.13M

Continuous haulage will revolutionise coal mining in underground mines. It eliminates the use of shuttle cars, which are used to take the coal cut from the wall of the mine to a transfer point further away in the mine. CHS will see the coal go straight onto a conveyor belt and out of the mine.

Austmine METS career Pathway Program

Recipient: Austmine

Collaborative Project Funds: $240K

Industry investment: $1.76M

This project places university students as interns in METS companies around Australia, increasing the interest level and uptake of graduates into the METS sector.

The OVERwatch Platform

Recipient: Roobuck

Partners: Redpine Signals, Northpark Mines, University of Wollongong

Collaborative Project Funds: $600K

Industry investment: $1.5M

This project develops sensors and software to track the location of people and machinery working in underground mines and ensure that collisions are avoided. This is a complex project as there is limited communication options underground (e.g. no wifi).

Remote grinding optimisation and support centre

Recipient: ProcessIQ

Partners: Orway Mineral Consultants, Jamieson Consulting, Curtin University

Collaborative Project Funds: $620K

Industry investment: $780K

This project enables grinding experts to interact directly and in real time with grinding circuits on remote minesites to ensure they are operating at their most productive levels.The project will develop automated AI software to emulate the experts as there is very limited supply of this specialist expertise, leading to increased processing efficiency globally.

Automated Oversize Detection

Recipient: AMOG

Partners: Omniflex

Collaborative Project Funds: $150K

Industry investment: $220K

This project involves developing sensor equipment that alerts the mine when rocks are too big to process throughthe crushing and grinding equipment. Blockages in the crushing and grinding circuits are costly and time-consuming. Haulage trucks with oversized rocks will be diverted to a separate location in the mine, which avoids stoppages.

Smooth Operator leach circuit process optimisation

Recipient: AMOG

Partners: Lithium Consultants

Collaborative Project Funds: $220K

Industry investment: $220K

This project involves developing a predictive analytics tool that allows copper and nickel mines to pinpoint when they should close equipment for descaling. Closing equipment too late or early is very costly. There is a very large global market for this product.

Commercialisation of pulp chemistry monitor for the mining industry

Recipient: Magotteaux

Partners: Hydrix, Manta Controls, Newcrest Mining

Collaborative Project Funds: $250K

Industry investment: $310K

This project involves developing a device to give more detailed information on the chemistry inside the grinding mill while it is operating. Grinding and flotation circuitsuse many chemical inputs in order to extractminerals from the ore. Getting the chemical balance right in the mill and the next stage of floatation is critical to removing as much of the valuable mineral as possible. The percentages of the yield vary between 85% and 95% and a 1% improvement in yield will deliver a very large financial benefit to the mine.

Originally published by METS Ignited.

services boom

The services boom

Australia’s mining industry stands at a crossroads. This presents new opportunities for the industry, says one of the experts in the field: Dan Sullivan, CEO of METS Ignited, the new government-backed body charged with building the fortunes of one of the nation’s most important revenue earners – the mining equipment, technology and services industry (METS).

“Mining has to improve its productivity. The industry’s boom years are over,” says Sullivan. “But we have to make a choice about how we are going to do that. Either we find new reserves of high-grade ore or we invest in innovations that will make existing mines more productive.”

Sullivan says that if the first course of action is chosen, it will inevitably take the industry overseas. “In Australia, the easy-to-find resources have largely been discovered. If we want high-grade ores, we’ll have to go deep underground or to other mineral rich countries in Asia like Laos.” However, when mining companies go overseas they have to deal with issues of sovereignty and politics over which they have little control.

The alternative is to become much more efficient at locating, extracting and processing ores in Australia – but to do that the industry must innovate. Hence the creation of METS Ignited, one of six Industry Growth Centres set up by the Australian Government to improve the nation’s industrial competitiveness.

The six Growth Centres are dedicated to food and agri-business; medical technologies and pharmaceuticals; oil, gas and energy resources; advanced manufacturing; cybersecurity and METS.

These Growth Centres are charged with facilitating better links between scientists and researchers; to harmonise regulations that control industry; to make better use of human capital – the workforce and management of companies; and to get better access to global supply chains. “These centres are led by industry, but are government-funded,” adds Sullivan, who served as Australia’s Consul-General in Lima and who worked for the Australian Trade Commission in Chile where he led a team that worked on developing business opportunities for Australia.

Launched in October 2015, METS Ignited is preparing a 10-year strategic plan to promote Australian mining innovation and support stronger collaboration between companies and research organisations. The plan should also ensure that Australian mining technology companies – the firms that build the sensors, drill heads, pipes, trucks and other machines that make mining possible – hold a strong position in global supply chains.

“The mining industry is on the cusp of a transformation, and where there is change there is opportunity,” says Sullivan.

services boom

During the early years of the 21st century, the Australian mining industry – fuelled by demands from China for our ore and minerals – went through an extraordinary boom.

It was “one of the largest shocks to the Australian economy in generations”, says Peter Tulip, senior research manager at the Reserve Bank of Australia.

Average incomes across the country rose substantially, while the boom triggered a large appreciation of the Australian dollar.

More importantly, Australia’s deposits of iron, gold and copper were aggressively mined.

The output of these mines has declined significantly since the boom, and operators now have to use 70% more energy because they have to dig deeper to access deposits.

Despite the extra effort, mine output has continued to decline. In 2000, goldmines produced 3 g of gold for each tonne of basic ore. By 2010, they produced under 2 g. “Productivity was already declining at the turn of the century,” says Sullivan. “The boom just masked it.”

Today Australia, which depends heavily on its mineral wealth, is expending more and more energy to dig up less and less iron, gold and other ores and minerals. Given the massive importance of mining to the Australian economy, this is cause for concern. The problem is that more than 80% of Australia’s mineral production comes from mines that are more than 30 years old, says Professor Richard Hillis, CEO of the Deep Exploration Technologies CRC (DET CRC). “We haven’t found new mines to develop – which is why we’re mining our old ones so severely.”

The situation is summed up by Elizabeth Lewis-Gray, Chair of METS Ignited: “The mining industry is facing challenges – deeper mines, lower grades, community opposition and more remote operations.” At the same time, there has been a relentless drive to cut costs.

“These challenges require solutions,” adds Lewis-Gray, who is also co-founder and chair of Gekko Systems, which specialises in designing and manufacturing mineral processing equipment.

One approach is to focus on exports of Australian mining technology, says Lewis-Gray. At present, this market is worth about $15 billion. The aim of the METS Growth Centre is to double the exports so they reach about $30 billion by 2030. “This is one of the reasons for branding the centre with a new METS Ignited Australia,” says Lewis-Gray.

What is needed, says Sullivan, are more sensors in mines, and more data, robotics and analysis of the total operation of finding, extracting, transporting and processing of minerals.

But this will require considerable investment. “The good news,” says Sullivan, “is that much technology already exists in other industries. If you look at the manufacturing or aerospace industries, materials and activities are sensed and analysed to maximise activity. The mining industry is just beginning to implement this sort of technology.”

services boom

Australia is ranked highly for its research in mining technology. Consider the example of the work of Hillis with DET CRC. It devised a system to simplify the lengthy process involved in cutting a rock core and sending it for analysis to an assay laboratory.

DET CRC’s researchers developed sensors that lie behind the drill bit and can analyse, in real time, the material that is being dug up, and assess if it contains worthwhile amounts of gold or copper. “It means you can stop drilling immediately if you find a deposit is worthless, without having to wait months for the assay report,” says Hillis. This is impressive, and gives an indication of the innovative quality of Australian R&D in mining technology.

Less auspicious, however, is Australia’s reputation for commercialisation. This a key factor to improve the industry focus and commercial rate of Australian mining innovation.

Sullivan points to the example of the Anglo-American mining corporation, which is holding open forums with NASA experts and advisers in advanced manufacturing and other industries to stimulate ideas. “A mine operating in a remote desert has a lot to learn from a NASA program placing robot vehicles on Mars,” he says.

Many mining innovations have already made it, of course. Caterpillar trucks are fitted with sensors that can tell when a driver is fatigued. Other devices can monitor tyre pressure, and can tell when a bucket is unbalanced because it has a huge rock inside it.

But not enough care is taken to study the data to create patterns revealing routes to further innovations. “The data is not being pooled and so cannot be optimised,” says Sullivan.

“It’s not rocket science. It’s really just a matter of getting the mining industry to aggregate the data it acquires so it can learn and go on to develop new products that will improve efficiency and cut costs.”

METS Ignited’s main challenge is finding a way to change the mining industry’s perception of itself as ‘a fast follower’; an industry that lets others experiment and take the risks before it then adopts the successful outcomes.

Such an approach means that, at its heart, the industry is reluctant to innovate. The function of METS Ignited is therefore going to involve helping the Australian mining sector make choices that will put it on the road to success.

“It’s a challenge, but it is certainly an achievable one,” says Sullivan.

– Robin McKie

detcrc.com.au