From a volatile commodities market to financing, safety, and employment issues, the pressure on mining companies to be efficient, productive, and profitable has never been greater. In this post we’ll examine a few of the major dilemmas the industry is grappling with, as well as some of the technologies that may be able to help.
Many experts agree the largest issue facing mining is productivity. With most of the easily-accessible high grade ores almost tapped out, companies are faced with the challenge of either mining low grade ore bodies or mining in difficult or remote regions.
In the case of low grade ore bodies, it is very important to remove as much of the desired ore from the mined material as possible in order for the mining operation to remain economically feasible. Miners must not only monitor the incoming material to maximize the extraction process, but the waste material must be monitored just as closely to ensure that none of the valuable minerals are lost. The higher grade ores that are still minable are often located in regions of the world that are difficult to access because of climate, altitude, or unstable political situations. Emerging solutions to the cost and risk of transporting and housing employees at these sites include fully-automated sampling, preparation, and analysis instrumentation that require fewer personnel to operate.
On a larger scale, mine site automation is quickly gaining the attention of the industry. Remote monitoring and control of equipment allows miners to conduct blasting, drilling, and transportation operations from miles away while achieving more efficient, continuous operations, improved communications, and reduced infrastructure.
Other operational efficiencies can be gained in the areas of lab automation, information management, and data analysis. The need for rapid data capture and timely, accurate analysis of sample data to determine ore boundaries and drilling targets is a huge challenge in mining. Modern mining companies rely on sophisticated laboratory information management systems (LIMS) for quality control, increased productivity, data management, and compliance with product and environmental safety standards.
Variation in the ore body at a mine site can create extraction issues. A constant raw material analysis is needed to maintain accurate process control because if the composition of the ore body changes, the extraction process will need to change just as quickly.
Traditional mining sample analysis often involves a costly and time consuming process of sending samples to off-site laboratories and waiting for the results. Field-portable x-ray fluorescence (XRF) analyzers can provide fast, laboratory-grade sample analysis for immediate feedback during drilling operations. When combined with confirmatory data from laboratory-based XRF instrumentation, miners are able to make defensible decisions about grade control, quality assurance, and other operational decisions.
However, elemental analysis may not provide enough information to maintain accurate and consistent process control. Mining processes often require a combination of elemental and phase analysis requiring both XRF for elemental composition and x-ray diffraction (XRD) for phase identification. Like XRF, XRD is a versatile, non-destructive analytical technique. Phase analysis with XRD can identify impurities and improve ore beneficiation. Instrumentation combining the two technologies is being used by mining companies to optimize process control to recover the most valuable minerals.
Mining processes produce large volumes of waste, some of it highly toxic. This waste can result in acid mine drainage and groundwater contamination, and needs close monitoring to ensure that it has been neutralized before being returned to the earth. As the regulations governing the disposal of mining waste materials become stricter, elemental analysis is becoming more important in the effort to reduce the release of harmful chemicals. XRF analyzers can be used to monitor elemental contaminants at mine sites and in waste streams, in addition to being used for exploration and mining applications. XRF analyzers quantify a wide range of elements, including sulfur, lead, and arsenic–all indicators of hazardous waste material.
Mine sites normally operate around the clock to stay profitable, so they rely on a variety of robust tools and technologies than can keep pace with the complex demands of modern mining operations. Explore more solutions for every facet of the mining industry.