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Conference Report: Process Systems in the Metallurgical Industries 05

The global scenario marked by decreasing profit margins forces the mining and metallurgical industries to reduce their operating costs, while simultaneously having to find ways to maintain or increase product quality. This becomes all the more difficult with the trend towards more complex, large-scale configurations and plant-wide integration, as well as the tendency to run processes closer to their operational limits, despite a lack of experienced operating staff, owing to increased personnel turnover and downsizing, or lack of adequate training for operators.

As a result of these conditions, the use of advanced process engineering tools for improved process operations is fast becoming sine qua non. Such methodologies are related to corporate long-term planning, process optimization, scheduling, and short-term planning, supported by myriads of tools like soft sensors, data historians, relational databases, dynamic simulators, unit monitoring systems, advanced process control, etc. Moreover, owing to the huge variety of applications and smaller production volumes, future process engineering applications are likely to adopt new technologies developed in other markets, so that innovation is often driven by targeted applications, rather than any hot, new technology.

These were some of the issues that were discussed at the Process Systems for the Metallurgical Industries ’05 symposium held in the Mount Nelson hotel in Cape Town, South Africa - a venue that gave ready access to some of South Africa’s premier tourist attractions to the delegates hailing from among other Australia, Belgium, UK, USA, South Africa, Ethiopia, Finland and Sweden and Denmark.

The two-day conference, sponsored by Limn (David Wiseman Pty Ltd), started off with an introductory poster session, where six papers were presented. These 10-minute presentations dealt with a wide range of topics, including the design of network-controlled manufacturing systems, the design and simulation of a novel chemical vapour deposition reactor, dynamic modeling of furnace operations and the application of phase space methods to dynamic systems, as well as a review of metallurgical accounting on smelter sites.


Pictured at the Cape Town Waterfront are Peter Hand, South African agent for Limn, Barry Wills of MEI,
Dave Wiseman of Limn, the sponsor of the event, and conference consultant Chris Aldrich.


The poster session was followed by four technical sessions, viz. Process Fault Detection and Identification, Process Modelling and Design, Process Improvement and Optimization, as well as Advanced Control and Smart Sensors. In the first session, papers were presented on the use of artificial immune systems, support vector machines for fault diagnosis in complex systems, as well as the monitoring of mills in real time. The second session focused on some interesting applications in pyrometallurgy in particular, as well as a paper on a novel approach to generic process simulation. The third session started on the second day of the conference and detailed three applications towards improving process performance in industry, followed by another three papers on process simulators for gold heap leaching, and process optimization via process level information systems and simulation tools.

The final session contained four papers, three of which focused on advanced control systems, among other based on the use of neural networks and fuzzy logic. All these conference sessions were punctuated by lavish tea and coffee breaks and the exquisite lunches that the Mount Nelson hotel is renowned for. This provided ample opportunity for an informal exchange of ideas among delegates from academia and industry, leaving them with fresh insights, while looking forward to attending the next symposium in Process Systems in the Minerals Engineering International series.

Chris Aldrich, University of Stellenbosch, South Africa, ca1@sun.ac.za



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