A NEW ALGORITHM

Since 2004, the author has implemented the algorithm that the performance of a processing plant comprises: • • • ⅓ equipment performance ⅓ operators’ competence, and ⅓ mining chemicals used

Give credit to our maintenance colleagues, equipment invariably operates at 95+% efficiency! The only room for improvement lies in the settings of flotation cells in terms of parameters such as submergence and operational speed and direction (Figure1). These are all cosmetic and can be rectified in three hours.

Figure 1: Flotation cells that might require cosmetic adjustments Operators’ competence in countries like Zambia and DR Congo is between 50 and 75%. The drawback being “older” supervisors’ reluctance to pass on experience and knowledge to the younger workforce, for fear of losing their jobs! A concerted effort is needed in this area is international standards are to be met. A well trained labour force will make the supervisor look competent anyway, as he is the one who interacts with management and is the recipient of the praise, or criticism?

The field of mining chemicals leaves a lot to be desired. We are all aware of the huge sums of money spent on research and development of new mining chemicals by the manufacturers. They fund research at their own laboratories, at university research facilities and at independent laboratories. This is in addition to providing testing reagents to mines free of cost, or at best, at reduced cost. Does industry endeavour to make use of such research? I fear not! Consider the simple concept of reagent addition to a flotation circuit. Because a conditioner is installed at the head of the flotation circuit, 80-90% of plant operators add all of the reagents to that conditioner. This concept is archaic and it is what we were taught at university 40 years ago! The modern concept is staged addition. By adding all of the collectors to the conditioner, a thick, scummy and uncontrollable froth is obtained which yields a low grade concentrate. Often, because of the entrained insoluble minerals in such concentrate, it is unmarketable. This could have severe cash flow implications on the business unit (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Thick, scummy froth resulting from adding all of the collectors to a conditioner at the head of the flotation circuit. Because of the entrained insoluble minerals, the grade is inevitably low and often unmarketable

An approach the author has adopted since 1987 has been the staged addition of collector. The rationale being:

• •

During the milling process, minerals which are naturally hydrophobic will easily and readily float when fed to a flotation cell. To take advantage of this phenomenon, a “starvation dosage” of collector, say 30% of total, is added at the head of the flotation circuit. In the middle of the circuit, where the bulk of the floatable and liberated minerals, need to be recovered, add the bulk of the reagents, say 55% of total. Towards the tail end of the circuit, just add an insurance dosage, say 15% of total. This is compounded by the fact that the preceding flotation cells have been acting as conditioners/reactors in series. The ensuing reagent profile will be as shown in Figure 3.

Reagent addition in a flotation bank
60 50 40 % 0f total 30 20 10 0 1 2 Addition point 3

Figure 3: Profile showing staged addition of collector to a flotation circuit

By implementing this methodology, a high grade product which is low in insoluble minerals is obtained (Figure 4). Such product is much sought after by smelters to be used as a “sweetener” for more refractory concentrates.

Figure 4: High quality product as a result of staged addition of collector, much sought after by smelters to “sweeten” refractory concentrates

Due to their inherent natural floatability, knowing the way sulphide minerals segregate in a froth column (Figure 5) helps to: • • • Produce a cleaner concentrate Reduce reagent cost, and Enhances total metal recovery

Although known by plant operators, they often overlook this basic principle. Even graduate metallurgists, they studied such phenomenon as the “flotation rate constant (k)”, hardly pay attention to such natural segregation.

Reagent manufacturers offer: • • • • Promoters Collectors Depressants, and Frothers

All aimed to make this important task, easier and more manageable.

Figure 5: Natural segregation of sulphide minerals in a froth column. A fundamental principle often overlooked by plant operatives Ramoutar (Ken) Seecharran Consultant

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