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Mineral Process Modeling, Simulation and Control
Laurentian University, Canada, 6-7 June 2006

The conference was part of a series of related events over the week, two pre-conference: short course on ‘Using Excel in Mineral Processing’ and ‘Forum on Advanced Process Control’ (which is reviewed separately by Dr. D. J. Sandoz); and two post conference: field trip to local mineral processing plants and short course on ‘Control of Mineral Processing Systems’.

This is the second conference held at Laurentian University (the first was in 1994), organized by Professor Turgut Yalcin, this time aided by Professor Helen Shang. In this reviewer’s mind Sudbury is the sort of location where mineral processing conferences should be held, giving opportunity for the local engineers and operators to attend - and they did, with forty (of 124) participants from the Sudbury area. The registration fee was modest ($575) and included breakfast, lunch and dinner. I suggest this is another advantage of Sudbury over larger centers.

The conference aimed to cover a range of topics, notably:

  • Mathematical modeling, simulation, optimization and control of unit operations and circuits
  • Data mining, expert systems, neural networks
  • Automation and robotics; hard and soft sensors
  • Process mineralogy, geometallurgical modeling
  • Image analysis, liberation
  • Sampling; off-line or on-line chemical, surface and particle size analysis

The meeting opened with a keynote address, ‘the evolution of intelligent machines in the mining industry’ by one of its leading proponents, Professor John Meech, University of British Columbia. The presentation showed the speaker’s passion for the subject and took us through some of his latest endeavours, especially with student teams creating robots for various tasks. It was gratifying to hear that mining students often lead these teams.

To get through the 45 papers two parallel sessions were held. This led to the inevitable juggling of interests and in one case the reviewer missed a planned paper when a schedule change was made. This is a common problem and other than shortening each talk to a 10 minutes, and most presenters then feel short-changed, parallel sessions are inevitable.

The opening papers focused on simulation noting the difficulty of simulating solids processing (compared to chemical process) and consequently the limited number of simulation packages of use to mineral engineers. Applications ranged from improving mine to mill, optimizing truck-shovel mining operations to developing business cases.

Chemical, surface and particle size analysis tools occupied the next sessions. The subjects extended from basic science (design of reagents), to interpreting mineral activation effects, defining mineral ratios in ores and metallurgical accounting.

On-line analysis, automation and control papers followed. Plant practices were reviewed and the prospect for predictive control in column flotation was the subject of two talks. Estimation of grinding mill volumetric charge, simplified models to improve grinding circuit performance and ore characterization completed the session.

Flotation was represented by experiences with mini-plants, air distribution strategies in banks of cells, froth imaging for mineral content and a novel idea to close a flotation column with a hydrocyclone to recycle the coarse and overcome their naturally shorter residence time.

The conference closed by literally trying ‘to bringing it all together’, with papers discussing challenges applying new technology and planning, managing and financing technology.

The presentations were the usual mix of excellent and so-so. Too much information on slides is still a recurring irritation. There were a couple of ‘no-shows’ but the organizers managed to limit the impact.

There were 124 participants, with 103 from Canada (40 from Sudbury as noted) and 21 from 11 countries. Again indicating the advantage of the location, 86 participants were from industry, with the balance 29 academics and 9 students. It would have been welcome to see more students.

Published proceedings were available at the meeting, representing 35 of the 45 technical papers presented. The proceedings are well prepared, in soft cover (499 pages) and CD versions and available from the editors (hshang@laurentian.ca or tyalcin@laurentian.ca).

Altogether this was an excellent 2 days in mining country and thanks go to the organizers, participants, sponsors (Barrick, City of Sudbury, Endress+Hauser, Falconbridge, Fednor, Inco, Invensys, Laurentian University, Mansour, Scotiabank) and the exhibitors (ABB, BESTECH, Emerson/Lakeside Process Control Ltd., Endress+Hauser, JKTech Pty Ltd., SGS Minerals Services, Siemens) for making it a success.

J.A. Finch, McGill University, Canada. Email: jim.finch@mcgill.ca




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