Laboratory Testing & General Mineral Processing Engineering

Laboratory Testing & General Mineral Processing Engineering 2017-03-23T09:50:31+00:00
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Capital Efficiency Hype (14 replies and 1 comment)

JohnnyD
1 year ago
JohnnyD 1 year ago

Why are seminars advocating increasing capital expenditure to improve efficiency when our spend budgets are cut?

Over recent months there has been a surge in "optimization" conferences and seminars -so much Capital Efficiency Hype. To my horror there are many of these that discuss new capex for existing processing plants. This search for new efficiencies is clearly because targeted end product market prices are currently very low. Suggestions to spend money are, in the main, unaffordable as there is no money available - everyone is in austerity mode. let's look at current equipment adjustments FIRST. I know that many vendors already have these suggestions (some proven, some not) in hand - so I welcome any vendor to advise us all, through this forum, what are some of the "big ticket" items that can assist mineral processing plants without additional costs.

Maya Rothman
1 year ago
Maya Rothman 1 year ago

Your comment suggests the mineral processing industry has come to a sad state where operators lack the initiative to initiate their own investigations in to reducing operating costs using all the resources available to them. The resources include their in house personnel, equipment vendors, other operations and technical literature e,g. operator conferences. Generally information is freely provided in our industry but someone needs to address the right questions to the right resources.

Vendors have a vested interest in selling equipment. Some are not very well versed in operating or maintaining their equipment as used in a particular plant, or operating the plant where it is installed. They may not be the correct people to do a full audit. They might be able to bring a new face to the table.

Large capital projects also often take years to pay back, making them compete for rare capital dollars in the corporation.

I use the simple one year payback as a yardstick to define projects that don't necessarily need a capital appropriation to be installed. They can possibly be hidden in operating costs by good managers. These are continuous improvement type projects that bring benefits to the bottom line almost immediately in good times and bad.

Truth be told, if your operating and maintenance managers don't have a list of these ideas as long as your arm ready to go, you hired the wrong people. Let these people do their job.

Return on investment may range from a one year payback to infinite for methods changes that cost nothing to implement. Every plant I've been in has them. Some of the ideas are small, some have very large benefits for very little cost. All of them add up. All try to help you do better with what you have.

And, as a wise old superintendent once told me, "If you don't fail once in a while, you aren't trying hard enough."

These are the types of things the seminars miss.

Tony Verdeschi
1 year ago
Tony Verdeschi 1 year ago

Thanks for the comment!
It was just the level of conferences/seminars that were pushing capex solutions when there are so many vendor improvements/solutions to explore first - some of these are totally free.

I think that the guys at the mineral processing "coal face" could/should ask vendors to do "audits" to detect opportunities that can be discussed. Especially the vendors that you DON"T use... Give them some failed past targets to aim at?
You will agree that, "To do things, as you have always done them, will always give you what you always got".
it is also an opportunity to check high consumable spends and high maintenance spends and ask several alternate suppliers what are their alternative products to reduce costs. Valves continue to improve and the right valve in the right place, used correctly, will reliably save on regular spending. An example of this is using a gate valve for throttling where as a "rotary disc" valve is specifically designed for this with high wear material flows. A valve not very well known in this region. Ceramic liners in cyclones etc.
I agree that many conferences seem to relate "optimization" with spending on "improvemtn" or "lean" projects. There is also the approach of tracking your current expenditures and measuring the return from them and then reallocating. Also many items are looked at as stand alone items, when they obviously are not.

Tony Verdeschi
1 year ago

You did remind me of another missed opportunity between operational people and vendors - that badly used word: "partnership". In truth, this is just consistently good communication between the parties. However, you people in this forum are already way past knowing that. The last straw in my patience with seminars was one that included "that perhaps you need a new mill". Oh dear me! or being content with nameplate rated throughput. Most of us know that this is usually just the starting point!
One of my favorite tasks is sitting around a table with the mill management and discussing how we can "smash" throughputs or move the whole grind graph lines across for a better and consistent grind - no capex here and a new dedicated free team is born.

Bob Mathias
1 year ago
Bob Mathias 1 year ago

Firstly, the problem with optimization is that it’s sometimes addressed when it’s too late. Most operations adopt the policy to “make hay while the sun shines”! And that’s OK providing you are planning and implementing a strategy to survive and prosper when the storm sets in.

Good operations maximize process efficiencies continually. These efficiencies contribute to great bottom lines in the good times and responsible profits during bad commodity climates. Other operators tend to concentrate their efforts in the peak times and will “cross that bridge” when the downturn eventuates. Essentially, if you wait until the optimization conferences and seminars to provide advice, then it’s generally too late. These events are very good at telling you what you should have done. But the horse had already bolted, the capex budget is written off and now austerity measures have taken over.

Secondly, vendors do have a wealth of knowledge they can share with the operators to improve the process. As a long term vendor into the industry, I was always making suggestions and providing alternatives for process options which created great relationships amongst the EPCM’s, consultants and the mining companies, but often did not translate into sales.

Unlike consultants and engineering companies, OEM’s and equipment distributors do not get paid for suggestions and advice but make our money on the sale of equipment. However, we provide advice in the hope of generating some loyalty.

Finally and with apologies to the event companies, the bombardment of emails inviting us to these conferences and seminars seems to be ever increasing and one has to wonder who is really making money on this.

Maya Rothman
1 year ago
Maya Rothman 1 year ago

When you have so many years of first hand dealings with this industry - it is impossible to walk past an error that you might catch first-hand (in your specialty) and not be able to rest until you do the right thing and point it out, with a solution. Media breakage is one of my pet hates, big or small scale, it is all important.

Bob Mathias
1 year ago
Bob Mathias 1 year ago

Agreed, it is very hard not to point out an error or a potential problem. It's what responsible vendors do and loyalty goes both ways. In my second point I mistakenly used past tense.

Alan Carter
1 year ago
Alan Carter 1 year ago

In my opinion both options need to have risk assessment approach before the financial evaluation. The assessment in many cases may need to involve vendors input. Partnership, help and develop each other will lead to Win to win results.

Maya Rothman
1 year ago
Maya Rothman 1 year ago

Great timing! I had just written an email to a potential South American mineral processor suggesting to him to get involved firstly with an exchange with our company to explore his priorities. As we do "risk free" trials as well - subject to work practices and the data updates. Over the last couple of years we have changed for some customers replacing a contract with an agreement which enables customers to stop our supply on a "no reason" basis. This was done as vendors must prove themselves every day, not just offer better arrangements at contract time. 

Vendors are, in general, great to partner with - but the partnership must be a two way street with the alliance prime target being to reduce the bottom line cost of the user. 

To catch that elusive "win - win" you mention.

John Koenig
1 year ago
John Koenig 1 year ago

The issue with no improvement means you will eventually become the "weakest link". The parallel I use is the airline industry: using old, less efficient aircraft has caused many airlines to close.

With respect to continuous improvement, you are absolutely right. The challenge frequently is that Management will not spend the money when they should/can and then get into the catch up mode when they can least afford it. The attitude of management is crucial to the performance of the business. If there is no strong technical/production influence at the top, it becomes a struggle.

Bob Mathias
1 year ago
Bob Mathias 1 year ago

You touch on an important factor in the mix which is management itself. The driver(s) they often respond to greatest is in respect to KPI's and personal objectives set by the board and / or shareholders. Needless to say their bonuses are tied back to KPI's which may blur their version.

John Koenig
1 year ago
John Koenig 1 year ago

I fully appreciate your frank views. On these matters of instrumentation and plant control, I personally feel after one starts running the plant, use only instrumentation to measure, get a good plant audit and I am sure such a well structured audit will give leads to improve plant performance and then let control systems take over. Periodical plant audit at critical points in the plant should be a culture for good plant practices. 

Bad times are the best opportunities to evaluate systems; this does not really cost much but would be good for future. During "Boom Times" , we do not generally pay attention to process improvements because of profits.It is a peculiar approach in Mineral Industry.

They perform well to their KPI's in the good times until the effluent hits the rotary device. At that point, they generally leave and some other poor schmuck has to try and get by. The companies with a long range view are generally the ones that spend consistently and even invest in bad times as that is when contractors give good prices simply to get the work. They also get the "A" team and end up with a good quality plant. Then, when the cycle turns, they are in position to cream it. Pity that most companies are not like that, but that is life.

Tony Verdeschi
1 year ago
Tony Verdeschi 1 year ago

Great comments forum team.
I had an instance just today that confirms our concerns; a customer was ready to test but their team suffered cutbacks and did not then have the staff to do the full assessment. We did suggest that there was only one piece of information that we were really interested in - Yes or No?
When times are tough things may well need a change as: to do what you have always done, will always give you what you always got! If that is not good enough look at other options.

Helena Russell
1 year ago
Helena Russell 1 year ago

You are quite right. There are numerous courses out there that are based on increasing economics. Do you have any courses in mind, and what they can address, which will suit you more?

Tony Verdeschi
1 year ago
Tony Verdeschi 1 year ago

This actually came up on another forum too. Just my opinion, but there must be two active channels of development.

  1. Feasibility discussions for greenfield project to correctly assess what equipment they decide on.
  2. The benefits now available for existing equipment.

After all after circuit construction one is usually stuck with that decision but are always interested to hear about new designs that are applicable to that capex commitment.

David Kano
1 year ago
David Kano 1 year ago

I agree with most of the comments so far; we mineral processing people are so fortunate that we have machine variables and process variables in our hands to play with; a minimum of two variables for each machine and three for each process . If we count the machines and process phenomena in each plant, we can make small changes for a short while, learn and improve plant performance. I do not think metallurgy or mining has so much flexibility to play with.

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