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A CASE FOR FORGED MILL BALLS

By Ramoutar (Ken) Seecharran (MEIZ)


Plant Superintendent, Frontier Sprl, DR Congo
FIRST QUANTUM’s ACTIVITIES
PLACEFIX MAP SHOWING FRONTIER MINE
BRIEF HISTORY OF FRONTIER MINE

The deposit was known to exist, but not fully quantified

The Japanese had shown interest during the Gecamine era


but depressed copper price and high project cost curtailed
project implementation

First Quantum was operating the Lonshi mine to the south east
of this deposit, in the Pedicle, so logistically, it was easy for
us to carry out extensive drilling

Once quantified, the board was committed to our development


of copper deposits in this part of Africa, and approved the project

The project was implemented at a cost of $US226m


For the valuable mineral(s) of an ore to be economically separated
from the waste, host rock (gangue), the ore has to be broken down
to a small enough size (comminuted), to “liberate” it (them) from the
rock matrix. Comminution represents the most expensive part of a
plant’s circuit. At this point, we minerals engineers use our knowledge
of the properties of the various minerals to exploit noticeable differences
in those properties, between the valuable mineral(s) and their gangue
counterparts.
These differences in properties could be:
• Difference in specific gravity
• Difference in solubility in a suitable dissolving chemical
• Difference in magnetic susceptibility or,
• Difference in surface properties

BEFORE THESE DIFFERENCES CAN BE EXPLOITED, WE MUST


PRESENT THE MINERALS TO THE SEPARATION STAGE IN
AS UNIFORM A SIZE AS POSSIBLE, IDEALLY, ALL OF THE SAME
GRAIN SIZE….OR AS NEAR TO THE SAME SIZE AS POSSIBLE
So once broken, the grains of minerals in the ore must be sized.
Those which meet this size requirement progress to the separation
stage, those failing, are given another chance to be broken.
Therefore, the ideal sizing machine should be some form of a screen,
however, the huge tonnages we treat these days will not make screening
feasible. Hydrocyclones are used as a practical compromise.
A hydrocyclone utilises drag force to remove the fines through the vortex
finder in the middle of the cone while the coarser particles are acted
upon by centrifugal force and forced outwards towards the wall. They
then migrate downwards under gravity and get another chance to
be broken.
THE NEED FOR COMMINUTION
POLISHED SECTIONS OF FRONTIER’s ORE

FREE CuFeS2 LOCKED CuFeS2


POLISHED SECTIONS OF CONGOLESE/ZAMBIAN Cu ORES
Traditionally, comminution in a concentrator plant was carried out in a
few well defined steps, namely:

• Primary crushing….underground or on surface


• Secondary crushing….on surface in the concentrator plant
• Tertiary crushing….in the concentrator plant, and in closed circuit with
a screen
• Ball milling….in the concentrator plant

• Before the refinement of tertiary crushing, this function was performed


by rod milling. Rod mills became unfashionable in the early 1960’s
as crusher bowl and mantle profile research enabled ore to be crushed
successfully to a size below 10mm without causing metal to metal
contact between the crushing faces.

• Crushing and screening plants had numerous operational problems


such as Bogged crushers, Blinded screens and Blocked chutes. A
phenomenon we plant operators called the three B’s!
FRONTIER’s OPEN PIT
In the past three decades, high maintenance costs, coupled with
ever rising labour costs, led to the development of Autogenous (AG)
and Semi-autogenous (SAG) mills. Such mills performed the functions
of secondary and tertiary crushers and rod mills….in a single unit.

Here, we utilise the ore to break itself, as opposed to squeezing


it between metal plates, or hammering it with solid steel rods.
It is obvious that rock-on-rock crushing is more efficient. The SAG
mill is assisted in carrying out breakage by the addition of a small
amount of large diameter, >100mm steel balls.

Today, one will be considered to be an anachronism if one is to


design a concentrator plant and not consider AG or SAG milling.

HOWEVER, SUCH MILLS DO POSE TECHNICAL CHALLENGES


TO PLANT OPERATORS.

This presentation addresses one such challenge.


PROCESS DESCRIPTION AT FRONTIER

• Run of mine ore is primary crushed and stockpiled


• Crushed ore at a size of 80% smaller than 112mm is fed to a
Semi Autogenous Grinding (SAG) mill
• SAG mill product is fed to a cluster of hydrocyclones (sizing device) where
the fine product progresses to the separation stage and the coarse fraction
is routed to a ball mill and given a second chance to be broken, the ball mill
product is fed to the same cluster of hydrocyclones, in order to close the circuit
• Separation of valuable mineral from waste is carried out using froth flotation
• The copper minerals recovered is thickened and filtered to produce a solid
cake containing about 9.5% moisture
• The waste rejected (tailings) is thickened and disposed of in a responsible
manner in a tailings impoundment
• All water used in the plant is recycled in the process
GYRATORY CRUSHER AT FRONTIER
CRUSHED ORE STOCKPILE
SAG and BALL MILLS AT FRONTIER
INSIDE THE SAG MILL
SEPARATION UTILISING FROTH FLOTATION
People being exposed to SAG milling for the first time often
underestimate the crushing forces present in these mills. They
are normally of >32 feet in diameter. So the crushing force at
the toe of the crop load, the cataracting end, is phenomenal.
Some studies suggest pressures as high as 20 bars are present.

Due to the shortage of suitable grinding media in Sub-Saharan


Africa, we were forced to start our plant with sub-standard
grinding media in October 2007. Time was of the essence as we
were faced with an entirely new work force and on-the-job
training had to be expeditiously carried out.
POROUS CAST BALL- INVITING DISASTER
POROUS BALLS AFTER 20 Hrs OPERATION
A WEEK LATER!!!!
EVEN THE BETTER QUALITY CAST BALLS
HAD THEIR OWN PROBLEMS
….caused by the intense pressure in the SAG mill
BROKEN BALLS ARE DETRIMENTAL TO SAG MILLING OPERATIONS

They take up useful space that could be occupied by ore. Being


streamlined, they do not get flushed out easily

They are too light to have enough kinetic energy to break rock

They add to power consumption, by their weight and being pinned


to the mill shell, they get carried up to a point beyond which a whole
ball leaves the shell on its trajectory, thus adding more load to the
motor

They add to steel consumption, Fe ions are detrimental to flotation.


Sulphide minerals get depressed

When hammered against the discharge grate, they cause peening.


Peening reduce the flow through a mill

They act as a cushion against which rocks are hammered by balls,


so breakage is less effective
Cast balls are not suitable for a SAG mill

The outer crust is hard, typically in excess of


Brinell hardness 450. This quickly diminishes
towards the centre of the ball.

It is for this reason, when you open a SAG mill,


in which cast balls were fed, you see balls of
predominantly one size.
DATA I COMPILED FOR ZCCM IN 1989
under a different incarnation

BRINELL HARDNESS ACROSS BALL

500
450
400
350
300
250
200
150
100
50
0
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
PICTURE FROM INSIDE KANSANSHI’s SAG MILL
NOTE BALLS OF ONE SIZE
EFFECTS OF SOFT CENTRE OF A CAST BALL
uneven wear
EFFECTS OF SOFT CENTRE OF A CAST BALL
dimpled ball
WHAT WAS THE SOLUTION?.....FORGED BALLS
The bar from which a forged ball is made is cut into shots, reheated
and hammered at least 30 times. Compacting and hardening it. The
initial hot rolling of the bar followed by rapid cooling, reheating and
subsequent hammering, also changes the microstructure from one
resembling pearlitic to that closer to martensitic. The steel’s grain
structure aligns and stretches in the forging process, thus creating a
stronger, more compact steel. The balls are then quenched and
reheated for tempering and stress relieving, respectively.

We therefore then get a ball which is of uniform hardness and


weight. A ball which can withstand the harsh conditions in a SAG mill.
The difference in weight between a well forged ball and an excellent
cast counterpart could be about 9%

Here networking helped us. ECLIPSE foundry in South Africa was


helpful. I knew Humphrey, their Zambian representative for many
years, and studied at university in the UK with Jacob, their ex MD
in South Africa.
PHOTOMICROGRAPHS OF STEEL

PEARLITIC MARTENSITIC
ECLIPSE FOUNDRY’s FORGED BALL
Although proved to be successful, the volume
of forged balls we required, ECLIPSE was
unable to supply.

So, armed with valuable information gathered from the


ECLIPSE trial, we went to the European Union, from
where our sister plant in Mauritania was sourcing their
SAG mill balls.

Long lead time and transport logistics remain a nightmare.

I was informed that ECLIPSE has plans to expand their


production capacity, we welcome such a symbiotic move.
FORGED MILL BALLS FROM SPAIN
HAND FORGING IN CHINA
MILLING INFORMATION SHOWN ON THE COMPUTER
EMPHASIS ON CENTRE HARDNESS
AERIAL VIEW OF THE PLANT
FINISHED PRODUCTION
CURRENT MILL BALL PROFILE
BENEFITS

• We have found that throughput has increased, as grinding


is now more efficient

• The quality of the ground ore has improved

• Steel consumption has decreased, due to less


ball breakage and a more competent ball

• Grinding cost has decreased, steel consumption dropped


from about 550 g/tonne of ore milled to about 450.
It is currently running at about $US 1.15 per tonne of ore milled
we are confident that this will reduce as the circuit is optimised
MILL BALLS WORLDWIDE
ANY QUESTIONS????
HARDNESS TESTING

BRINELL - A hardened ball of specified diameter is impressed


into the material’s surface, at a known pressure. The Brinell
hardness number results from calculations involving the load
and the spherical area of the ball’s impression.

ROCKWELL – This method involves measuring the depth a


hardened steel ball or a diamond penetrates into the material
being tested, under controlled loading.
STEEL MANUFACTURING PROCESS
microstructure
STEEL MANUFACTURING
HARDNESS OF MARTENSITE WITH CARBON CONTENT
FRONTIER’s FLOWSHEET
BEST EVER DAY’s RESULT
FIRST QUANTUM’s PRODUCTION PROFILE
15 YEAR COPPER PRICE
OROGENESIS, MINERALS FORMATION
Cu PRICE IN JAN 2006 cents
NORMAL RUNNING and OVERLOADED MILL
PEENING OF DISCHARGE GRATES
HYDROCYCLONES
HYDROCYCLONE OPERATION