The San Cristobal mine, located in southwestern Bolivia, is one of the world’s largest silver-zinc-lead development projects. The ore is extracted from the open pit by conventional truck and shovel operation and transported from the pit to the primary crusher. The crushed ore is then transported by a 1.7 kilometer overland conveyor to an ore stockpile. A reclaim system moves crushed ore from the stockpile for grinding in a semi-autogenous (SAG) and ball mill circuit. The ore is then processed by a selective flotation process in which lead is first floated and zinc is suppressed to produce a lead-silver concentrate, and then zinc is floated and lead is suppressed to produce a zinc-silver concentrate. Concentrates are then filtered, loaded into containers and transported by rail to the port in Mejillones, Chile, and then by ocean vessel to smelters and refineries around the world.
Achieving integration and automation
To keep the company strong from a technology perspective, Minera San Cristobal began an investigation into the ways it could automate its laboratory processes so that data capture was more timely and more accurate. Minera San Cristobal sought to ensure real time access to accurate data, avoid manual errors, produce the highest quality in the control process of samples, methods and results, and save personnel time and costs as a result. The company selected a laboratory information management system (LIMS) to automate processes and improve quality and methods in the chemicals laboratory located next to the plant.
Phase One of the project successfully integrated the lab, from sample registration to sample report. The following benefits were achieved:
- The chemical laboratory has now certified five test methods, as well as other tests of impurities, to the Bolivian Accreditation Organization (IBMETRO).
- The volume of paper records and other physical documentation has been dramatically reduced and it is expected that by Phase Two, all paper records will be completely replaced by electronic records produced and stored within the LIMS database.
Next Steps – Phase Two
Once the LIMS was fully operational within the chemicals laboratory, management began exploring new opportunities for improvement in the daily operations of the San Cristobal mine. For example, in an effort to reinforce the analytical services provided by the chemicals laboratory, it is critical that new instrumentation is integrated across the laboratory, and the LIMS in place at the San Cristobal mine has demonstrated this capacity. Another key component of the production process at Minera San Cristobal is the testing of minerals deployed by the chemicals laboratory, including the exploration and production of minerals and the exportation of products from concentrated minerals. Management plans to extend the testing services provided by the chemicals laboratory to other mining units and internal clients whose focus is environmental control, occupational health and maintenance of equipment. Phase Two will also include configuring the LIMS so that it becomes a fully integrated system to support production planning and control. Finally, laboratory managers at Minera San Cristobal will be use their LIMS to help meet ISO 17025 requirements throughout Phase Two. Read ISO 17025 Compliance Automatically, with a Laboratory Information Management System to learn more about how LIMS are used to achieve ISO 17025 compliance.
- Read the complete Minera San Cristobal case study
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