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Minerals Engineering 22 (2009) 519529

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Minerals Engineering
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Column otation simulation and control: An overview

Jocelyn Bouchard a,1,2,3, Andr Desbiens b,1, Ren del Villar c,*,1, Eduardo Nunez a,3
Xstrata Process Support, 6, Edison Road, Falconbridge, Ontario, Canada P0M 1S0
LOOP (Laboratoire dobservation et doptimisation des, procds Process Observation and Optimisation Laboratory), Universit Laval, Pavillon Adrien-Pouliot,
Dpartement de gnie lectrique et de gnie informatique, Qubec, Qubec, Canada G1V 0A6
LOOP (Laboratoire dobservation et doptimisation des procds Process Observation and Optimisation Laboratory), Universit Laval, Pavillon Adrien-Pouliot,
Dpartement de gnie des mines, de la mtallurgie et des matriaux, Qubec, Qubec, Canada G1V 0A6

a r t i c l e i n f o a b s t r a c t

Article history: Even after having been used for several years in mineral processing plants, the full potential of the column
Received 9 August 2008 otation process is still not fully exploited. There is obviously more than one reason explaining this, but one
Accepted 3 February 2009 important contributing factor is certainly the under usage of available control capabilities. Researchers and
practitioners have been interested in column otation simulation and control for more than two decades.
This paper provides an overview of the literature focused on these specic elds of research. It also dis-
Keywords: cusses some future investigative issues and how the current industry may benet from past developments.
Column otation
2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Process control


1. Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .... . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 520

2. Process description. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .... . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 520
3. Modelling . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .... . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 521
3.1. Prediction of recovery . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .... . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 521
3.2. Dynamic behaviour . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .... . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 522
3.3. Soft sensors . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .... . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 522
4. Process control . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .... . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 523
4.1. Intermediate level control . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .... . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 524
4.2. Control strategies based on metallurgical objectives . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .... . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 524
5. Current practice, research trends & future applications . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .... . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 524
5.1. Current practice and challenges . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .... . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 524
5.2. Steady-state simulation: metallurgical performance . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .... . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 524
5.3. Sensor development and applications . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .... . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 525
5.4. Dynamic modelling and simulation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .... . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 525
5.5. Process control myths and reality. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .... . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 526
6. Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .... . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 526
Acknowledgement . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .... . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 527
References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .... . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 527

* Corresponding author. Tel.: +1 418 656 7487; fax: +1 418 656 5343.
E-mail addresses: (J. Bouchard), (A. Desbiens), (R. del Villar).
Partially supported by NSERC (Canada).
Partially supported by FQRNT (Qubec).
Tel.: +705 693 2761x3427; fax: +705 699 3431.

0892-6875/$ - see front matter 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
520 J. Bouchard et al. / Minerals Engineering 22 (2009) 519529

1. Introduction depressants and pH modiers). These chemicals are added in a

preliminary stage, i.e. the pulp conditioning, and/or directly to
The introduction of otation columns in mineral processing the otation cell, and have obviously an important impact on
plants caught the attention of many researchers in the last two the metallurgical performance. However, as the type and concen-
decades of the twentieth century. Column otation simulation tration of most of the reagents may be determined off-line in lab-
and control progressively became prevailing elds of investigation. oratory and strongly depend on the duty, they are not considered
Almost twenty-ve years after the installation of the rst commer- in this paper.
cial otation column in the Western world (Finch and Dobby, 1990), Specic variables characterize a otation column operation,
it is worth examining where these studies have led, what are the namely: the froth depth also called froth layer height and corre-
current research interests, and how the current mining industry sponding to the complement of the pulp level (or pulpfroth inter-
and practitioners may benet from past developments. This paper face position) , bias, gas hold-up, and bubble surface area ux.
aims at complementing the last published review (Bergh and They are explained hereafter.
Yianatos, 2003). It provides an overview of the literature dealing Froth depth. The froth depth (H) denes the relative height
with column otation simulation and control, and discusses re- of the cleaning and collection zones. Consequently, it determines
search trends and industrial application issues. the mean solids residence time in the column, partially affecting
Emphasizing the operating variables, Section 2 gives a the recovery in both the pulp and the froth.
description of the process. A summary of relevant with respect Bias. Dened as the the net downward ow of water through
to simulation and control publications dealing with modelling the froth (Finch and Dobby, 1990), the bias may be qualitatively
considerations are presented in Section 3. The discussion is orga- interpreted as the fraction of the wash water ow used for froth
nized according to three research areas: the prediction of the cleaning. It is worth noting that the on-line dynamic measurement
recovery, the analysis of the process dynamic behaviour and the of the bias (J b , expressed as a supercial velocity) still presents a
development of soft sensors. Section 4 focuses on process control difculty (see Section 3.3).
aspects and reviews most of the published applications. Finally, Air hold-up. It represents the gas volume fraction within the col-
Section 5 discusses industrial practice, research interests and fu- lection zone. The air is often considered as a otationreagent and
ture developments required to meet the present industrial needs. practitioners have been interested in monitoring the gas dispersion
within the column using the air hold-up (g ).
2. Process description Bubble surface area ux. The collection of mineral particles by
bubbles greatly depends on the amount of bubble surface avail-
A schematic representation of a otation column is given in able. Therefore, a more adequate way of tracking the inuence
Fig. 1. A typical unit has three input streams (conditioned mineral of gas to the otation process is to use the amount of bubble sur-
pulp feed, air, and wash water), and two output streams (the con- face per unit time and unit of column cross sectional area instead
centrate and tailings). Under normal operating conditions, the col- of the gas hold-up. This becomes obvious when comparing the
umn volume is split into two distinct regions according to their air otation performance of similar volumes of air in the form of a
content (volume fraction): a collection or pulp zone (less than 20% swarms of small bubbles (large specic area) or a swarm of fewer
of air) and a cleaning or froth zone (more than 70% of air). larger bubbles (smaller specic area). The resulting bubble sur-
To perform a otation separation, several reagents are gener- face area ux, or Sb , may be evaluated from the bubble ow rate
ally required: collectors, frothers, and regulators (activators, (nb ), the bubble surface, and the cross-sectional area of the col-
umn (Ac ). Assuming a suitable mean bubble diameter (db ), it
can be estimated with

nb db p 6J g
Sb 1
Ac db

where J g is the gas supercial velocity. Fig. 2 illustrates the bubble

surface area ux concept. However, industrial bubblers usually pro-
duce a broad bubble size distribution, making the use of a single
mean value rather inacurate, since this same value could be ob-
tained from quite different size distributions.
Finch et al. (2000) presented a discussion on gas dispersion
characterization. Using data from literature, they suggested a qua-
si-linear relationship restricted to the range of calibration be-
tween g and Sb . Heiskanen (2000) criticized the work of Gorain
et al. (1995a,b, 1996, 1997, 1999) on the gas dispersion in otation
machines, with respect to measuring methods for gas velocity and
bubble size. According to him, further studies on the linear rela-
tionship between the otation rate constant (k) and the bubble
surface area ux proposed by Gorain et al. (1997) are also required.
Deglon et al. (1999) were also critical about the linear kSb rela-
tionship. Based on the results of a simulation study, they claimed
that the near linear region corresponds to a transition from the pre-
dominance of the sub-process of particlebubble attachment to that of
particlebubble detachment in mechanical otation cells (Deglon
et al., 1999).
General instrumentation issues for on-line monitoring of col-
umn otation operation are discussed by Bergh and Yianatos
Fig. 1. Flotation column. (2003) and Bouchard et al. (2005b).
J. Bouchard et al. / Minerals Engineering 22 (2009) 519529 521

etc.). Later on, the same research team used this dynamic simulator
to design a methodology for selecting a control strategy for a col-
umn otation unit (Lee et al., 1991).
Cruz (1997) made a further step and proposed a fully dynamic
simulator of column otation metallurgical performance. Her
work, notably based on fundamental considerations, included a
comprehensive description of complex phenomena, such as bubble
coalescence in the froth and bubble loading, and considered parti-
cle and bubble size distributions as well as a particle composition
distribution. The design was based on the application of a popula-
tion balance to a vertically distributed volume mixers-in-series
framework: a perfectly mixed aeration zone, a perfect-mixers-in-
series lower collection zone, a single perfectly mixed feed zone, a
perfect-mixers-in-series upper collection zone, the interface, and
three plug ow volumes for the froth (stabilized froth, wash water
addition zone, and draining froth). Notwithstanding improvements
Fig. 2. Sb concept.
in column otation simulation, being impossible to carry out dy-
namic ow rate variations signicantly narrowed the extent of po-
tential control applications. In fact, operating conditions were xed
3. Modelling off-line and stayed constant throughout the simulation. The pro-
cess was then driven from an initial to a nal state as dened by
For process control purposes, research work dealing with col- the simulated operating conditions. Gas hold-up and solids ow
umn otation modelling can be organized in three categories rate changes were computed, but the dynamic variations of froth
according to their aim: prediction of the recovery, analysis of dy- depth were not considered. Despite this limitation, Cruz neverthe-
namic behaviour and development of soft sensors. less achieved a major breakthrough, even though it seems that this
work remained unnoticed by the mineral processing community.
3.1. Prediction of recovery Recently, Bouchard et al. (2006) made a new attempt to develop
a dynamic fundamentally-based column otation simulation
Besides works for scale-up purposes (e.g. Finch and Dobby framework, but only preliminary results were presented.
(1990), Rubinstein (1995), Alford (1992) and OConnor et al. Using a more global approach, Kho and Sohn (1989) obtained a
(1995)), other studies aimed at predicting the recovery of column predictive model for talc recovery based on empirically estimated
otation operations were presented but considering control and rate constants and residence time distributions for the liquid and
optimisation applications. solids.
Pioneering efforts started in the eighties. Luttrell et al. (1987), Luttrell and Yoon (1991), noticeably inspired by research work
proposed a static simulator based on a population mass balance supervised by Finch (Finch and Dobby, 1990), developed a static
(air bubbles, unattached solid particles, and bubbleparticle aggre- simulator based on hydrodynamic principles, aiming at predicting
gates). Mass transport was considered in the model using uid the recovery of a column otation operation. In 1993, they pro-
ows and particle buoyancy, while the bubbleparticle rate attach- posed a scale-up procedure (Luttrell et al., 1993). Besides vessel
ment was evaluated using rst principles. Some processes, such as geometrical characteristics considerations, their discussion
the bubble loading and mixing properties, were explained under emphasized on air spargers and wash water distribution systems.
pre-specied operating conditions, using a semi-fundamental ap- The column diameter was determined from the maximum froth
proach requiring the calibration of two empirical coefcients. The carrying capacity, while the rate constant and mean particle reten-
simulator attempted to predict the recovery of a specic column tion time were used to obtain its height. The effect of axial mixing,
otation operation for design, control, optimisation and scale-up air hold-up, and gas and liquid ow rates were also considered in
purposes. the procedure.
At the same time, Sastry and Lofftus (1988) also developed a Following similar ideas, Alford (1992), from the JKMRC in Aus-
simulator using a similar approach, but considering the dynamic tralia, gathered the results of many researchers to develop a col-
mass balance equations. The resulting tool opened the door to umn otation static simulator. The model was global (exhibiting
time-dependent investigations, which are very useful to study pro- only a single zone) and was considered a useful tool to study ow
cess control strategies. The assumption of constant air and water sheet congurations and scale-up of industrial units, assuming an
hold-up, along with the impossibility to analytically solve the gen- appropriate calibration.
eral model, represented the greatest limitations of their work. Tuteja et al. (1994) published a review of the most relevant
The addition of air and water mass balance equations to a ve models for the prediction of recovery under a clear classication:
well-mixed zone approximation instead of the three zones model kinetic models and non-kinetic models, i.e. completely empirical
of Sastry and Lofftus (1988) made the simulator proposed by Pate regression models.
and Herbst (1989) a more exible tool. Their approach also re- teyaka and Soto (1995) were interested in the modelling of the
placed the axially dispersed plug ow model with a distributed recovery of negative bias column otation operation. Neglecting
volume mixers-in-series approximation to increase computational the effect of the turbulence within the vessel, the model was based
efciency. The air mass balance was however considered on a sta- on the probability of recovering a given particle to the concentrate.
tic basis according to the assumption that air hold-up is subject to Gupta et al. (1999) also worked on this topic, focusing on phos-
very fast changes compared to water volume. Particles could be of phate otation. In order to nd some relationships between rate
any size and were divided in three classes: free valuable mineral, constants and operating variables, they suggested a hybrid model
free gangue and locked. Similarly to above-mentioned simulators, combining rst principles and neural networks. Once calibrated,
the proposed model exhibited certain empirical features regarding the prediction of the effect of frother concentration, particle size,
the calibration of rate constants and the description of some phe- air ow rate, and bubble diameter on phosphate recovery was
nomena using correlations (water entrainment, water drainage, made possible.
522 J. Bouchard et al. / Minerals Engineering 22 (2009) 519529

It must be emphasized that for industrial applications, calibrat- ux) to the metallurgical performance of otation columns (grade
ing any model is a tedious process, and the difculty increases with and recovery) is another interesting issue. Empirical graphical rela-
the number of parameters. The more the model relies on empirical tionships were presented by Nesset et al. (2005), Hernandez-Agu-
data the more its validity is compromised as process conditions ilar et al. (2006) and Bartolacci et al. (2008). Work by Alexander
exit the range of calibration. However, requiring a calibration et al. (2005) and Schwarz et al. (2008) showed the use of Sb ; g ,
should not preclude the use of a given model since many sensors froth recovery (Rf ), entrainment and drainage parameters (n and
commonly utilized rely on calibration (e.g. on-stream analyzer, d), and the ore oatability parameter Pi to predict otation perfor-
density-meter, etc.). mance from simulations.
Other researchers approached the issue of modelling of the
recovery from a more particular point of view. For instance, Yiana- 3.3. Soft sensors
tos et al. (1998) developed a semi-empirical model to predict the
froth recovery in an industrial otation column, as a function of Modelling efforts also targeted improving the instrumentation
the main operating variables (air and water supercial velocities for otation columns. The pulp level has attracted considerable
and froth depth). Neethling and Cilliers (2001) suggested a com- attention through experimental work to improve pressure- and
prehensive fundamental model to study the effect of wash water conductivity-based techniques (Finch and Dobby, 1990; Bergh
on froth performance. Many complex phenomena were incorpo- and Yianatos, 1993; del Villar et al., 1995a,b, 1999; Maldonado
rated in their description: bubble coalescence, liquid drainage, par- et al., 2008a).
ticle settling and particle dispersion. In the past few years, noteworthy prototypes have also been
New developments and studies dealing with characterizing presented for the air hold-up, even though no commercial applica-
hydrodynamic properties will help improving current models and tions seem to be reported in the literature. As for the froth depth,
simulators. A revision of underlying assumptions commonly used sensors using pressure gauges were rst suggested (Finch and Dob-
previously is to be expected as macroscopic behaviours are better by, 1990), but the more accurate conductivity probes constitute
understood. the current research trend (Gomez et al., 1995; Tavera et al.,
1998; Prez-Garibay and del Villar, 1999; Tavera and Escudero,
3.2. Dynamic behaviour 2002; Nez et al., 2006a). In fact, as shown by Nez et al.
(2006a), the assumption of a constant slurry density may introduce
Despite the validity of the approach initiated by Sastry and Loff- some inaccuracy problems with pressure-based sensors. A unique
tus (1988) and pursued by Pate and Herbst (1989) and Cruz (1997), solution to the gas holdup monitoring problem is also offered by
the dynamic modelling of column otation based on rst principles CiDRA Corporation with the SONARtrac . OKeefe et al. (2007,
has not yet been successful to stand out as a solution to practical 2008) reported successful applications of this multivariable uid
problems. These attempts were eventually dropped to focus on velocity/gas hold-up sensor, based on a passive sonar technology,
empirical techniques (transfer functions, state-space or fuzzy mod- in a variety of mineral processing facilities. Despite a great deal
els) to model the behaviour of process variables such as froth of work, on-line estimation techniques for the bubble surface area
depth, air hold-up, and concentrate grade. Noteworthy results ux and the bias have not reached the same degree of maturity,
were obtained with linear models for restricted ranges of operation although work is ongoing at Universit Laval and McGill
(Pal and Masliyah, 1990; Pu et al., 1991; Bergh and Yianatos, 1994; University.
Bergh et al., 1995; del Villar et al., 1999; Bouchard et al., 2005b). Bubble surface area ux monitoring issues are related to bubble
However, some limitations were identied when considering size estimation. Off-line devices for bubble size estimation have
wider operating regions (Carvalho et al., 1999) as the linear behav- been developed by Randall et al. (1989), at McGill University (Finch
iour assumption does not hold anymore. Desbiens et al. (1998) and et al., 1999; Chen et al., 2001; Hernandez-Aguilar et al., 2002; Go-
Milot et al. (2000) tested gain-scheduling and multi-model mez and Finch, 2002, 2007), by Grau and Heiskanen (2002, 2003),
schemes to overcome these problems and cope with nonlinearities Schwarz and Alexander (2006a) and also by Rodrigues and Rubio
in a straightforward manner. (2003). For fully on-line applications, only an indirect method
More recently, Vieira et al. (2005) proposed a fuzzy modelling based on the so-called drift ux theory (Dobby et al., 1988; Yianatos
strategy to obtain a MIMO (multiple inputs/multiple outputs) rep- et al., 1988; Xu and Finch, 1990; Zhou et al., 1993; Banisi and Finch,
resentation of the behaviour of froth layer height, bias and air hold- 1994; Ityokumbul et al., 1995; Li, 2003) seems conceivable at the
up. Despite a good agreement between the model and process, moment. However, recent advances in bubble size distribution
their work illustrates fairly well the main difculty associated with estimation and modelling are promising for accurate on-line com-
empirical-based representations attempting to stand as fully gen- putation of mean bubble diameter (Maldonado et al., 2008b).
eral tools: the empirical cost. In fact, the accuracy of black-box Soft sensors developed for bias estimation have always been
models relies almost exclusively on the information contained based either on conductivity or mass balance calculations, direct
within the experimental data. The more complex is the behaviour or indirect (i.e. through calibrated empirical relationships such as
to be modeled as a result of the number of independent variables, neural networks or regression models), and assumed a steady-state
interactions and nonlinearities the more data are required for operation (Uribe-Salas et al., 1991; Bergh et al., 1995; Prez et al.,
calibration purposes. In practice, following the example presented 1996; Carvalho et al., 1999; Bouchard et al., 2005b). It is only re-
in their paper, empirical nonlinear models must be restricted to cently that Maldonado et al. (2008c) proposed a way to monitor
relatively narrow range of operations. Other researchers followed the transient state of this variable at least in a two-phase (water
a hybrid path to overcome such a problem. For instance, Dumont and air) laboratory application. The innovation comes from an esti-
et al. (2001) used two models of the froth depth behaviour essen- mation of the dynamics through a change of conductivity below
tially based on rst principles to demonstrate how mixing the the interface. It is worth mentioning that this is the rst attempt
empirical approach with the fundamental one, using basic physical ever showing some potential for industrial applications. However,
laws (Newtons second law, ideal-gas law, Archimedes principle, the method is yet not adapted for slurries and the required calibra-
etc.), leads to more general tools which require less experimental tion is likely to put a curb on sustainable use in a plant unless it
data for calibration. could be performed in a laboratory-scale column.
The development of dynamic relationships linking operating Persechini et al. (2000) also developed and tested three soft sen-
variables (froth depth, bias, air hold-up, and bubble surface area sors to monitor froth depth, bias and air hold-up for a simplied
J. Bouchard et al. / Minerals Engineering 22 (2009) 519529 523

two-phase system. The latter process variables were inferred using ing. An optimisation refers to the objective search for the
only two ow-meters (air and wash water) and two pressure best solution, based on a process model, between all possi-
gauges mounted on the column side. The proposed approach is cer- ble cases in a given range and considering input and output
tainly interesting but would require further developments. A few constraints. An improvement consist in nding a better sit-
reservations that are worth mentioning are: uation than the base case.

 simplistic models were used to make up for the absence of pulp For industrial applications, advanced control strategies gener-
owmeters (ow rate proportional to the voltage at the pump ally require data validationestimation stages, such as massbal-
terminals), ance reconciliation (e.g. Bilmat Real-Time ), observers (e.g.
 the instrumentation would need to be adapted for a slurry appli- Kalman-like lters), and fault detection and diagnosis (Berton
cation, which represents the ultimate objective, and and Hodouin, 2003), for more robustness and accuracy. It must also
 reliability and validity of the bias and gas hold-up measure- be emphasized that the success of any advanced control strategy
ments were not assessed, even for the steady-state operation. strongly relies on the regulatory control layer. Upgrading from a
lower to a higher level should be considered only if the lower level
In a previous study, Hyma and Salama (1993) suggested a sim- is fully and sustainably implemented. Robustness, reliability and
ilar approach, but only preliminary results were presented. simplicity should be the primary focus regarding any choice of
instrumentation and control algorithm.
4. Process control Finch and Dobby (1990), Bergh and Yianatos (1993) and Rubin-
stein (1995) have presented general discussions about column o-
Column otation process control objectives may be structured tation control. Process and instrumentation issues are covered, but
according to a three-level hierarchy. conclusions drawn about the controllability of the process and the
ability of conventional feedback control algorithms to handle it
(1) This is the basic regulatory control layer. Above all, it aims at (Bergh and Yianatos, 1993) are not in line with multivariable con-
a steady operation for the column inputs (slurry feed if trol practice, nor with other results found in the literature as ex-
upstream uctuations are damped in the pump box, air, plained below.
wash water and reagents), but refers in general to all control A physical analysis of the system shows that there are multi-
elements (valves and pumps, including that of the tailings). ple interactions between the input (independent) and output
From a process/design standpoint, the rst level also (dependent) variables. The computation of the RGA (relative gain
includes damping feed ow-rate disturbances as much as array) matrix allows to quantify this level of interaction for the
possible using the surge capacity of a pump box. steady-state. Persechini et al. (2004) have thus shown that for
(2) The intermediate level aims at maintaining process variables the froth depth bias gas hold-up system, respectively con-
having a strong inuence on metallurgical results (grade and trolled using the wash water, tailings, and air ow rates, the
recovery), namely froth depth, bias, froth parameters, air RGA matrix is almost an identity matrix. The process would thus
hold-up or bubble surface area ux, in a bounded region, exhibit low interactions and therefore, be a good candidate for
i.e. an acceptable operating zone where it is possible to han- decentralized control strategies. Similar observations were also
dle the process and reach production objectives. This level is made by Maldonado et al. (2007a). Even if this result is obtained
often called stabilizing control (Finch and Dobby, 1990; for a simplied two-phase system, it is difcult to imagine that
Kosick et al., 1991; Hyma and Salama, 1993; Bergh and the result for a slurry operation would be substantially different.
Yianatos, 1993; Bergh and Yianatos, 1995; Rubinstein, It should be emphasized that tuning decentralized PIDs is trickier
1995; Bergh et al., 1998; Bergh and Yianatos, 1999). Process than tuning PIDs for completely independent processes. Good re-
and security constraints should normally be included at this sults are difcult to achieve without an understanding of multi-
level. This could include handling a circulating load in a variable feedback control theory (see Skogestad and
cleaning circuit for instance. A model-based predictive con- Postlethwaite, 2005). For TITO (two-inputtwo-output) decentral-
troller (MPC) can manage such constraints very easily. The ized control schemes, Desbiens et al. (1996) presented a PID tun-
alternative when only PID controllers are available is to ing technique.
use either an override or a pseudo-cascade scheme (Lestage The critics of the control performance of standard feedback con-
et al., 1999). trol techniques are difcult to understand since useful results were
(3) The third layer involves the determination of metallurgical obtained by some researchers at least for restricted ranges of oper-
targets according to an economic criterion. From these tar- ation using PI controllers alone (del Villar et al., 1999; Persechini
gets, operating set-points for the subordinate level are et al., 2004; Bouchard et al., 2005b, linear predictive controllers
found to drive the process or the circuit from its current Pu et al., 1991; Chuk et al., 2001; Maldonado et al., 2007b), and
state to a new one in order to achieve the economic objec- multi-model schemes (Milot et al., 2000; Bouchard et al., 2005b).
tive. Finch and Dobby (1990), Kosick et al. (1991), Hyma It must be emphasized that the controllability of any process re-
and Salama (1993) and Rubinstein (1995), among others, mains unaffected by uctuating operating conditions as long as
refer to this upper level as optimizing control. The term manipulated variables are unsaturated and the dynamic behaviour
supervisory control is also commonly used when other tasks does not vary signicantly (compared to the model used for the
such as data validation, fault detection, security or limiting controller design). However, uctuating operating conditions add
conditions are also carried out (Bergh and Yianatos, 1993; a challenge that cannot be neglected. This can even lead to the fail-
Bergh et al., 1998; Bergh and Yianatos, 1999). However, ure of a given control strategy if the limitations are not clearly
when based on the rigorous resolution of a quantitative understood and properly dealt with, no matter what control algo-
optimisation problem, the control community rather refers rithm is being used. In fact, the vast majority of industrial control
to real-time optimisation (RTO). Supervisory control structure issues come from instrumentation problems (type, design, location
are often based on fuzzy rules, trying to emulate the best and/or condition), control strategy (pairing, objective, etc.) and
possible operator. The main difference between the two controller tuning. Very seldom they are inherent to the control
schemes is one aims at optimising, and the other, at improv- technique per se.
524 J. Bouchard et al. / Minerals Engineering 22 (2009) 519529

4.1. Intermediate level control Concentrate grade control in a zinc cleaning column using fuzzy
logic was reported by Hirajima et al. (1991). The control rules were
SISO control strategies have been suggested for secondary con- obtained by interviewing skilled operators. The strategy was
trol objectives. The most widely used in the industry is froth depth mainly based on manipulating the air ow rate to reach concen-
control using the tailings ow rate. Mauro and Grundy (1984) al- trate grade objectives.
ready reported the early application of such a strategy at Lornex Karr (1996) discussed the possibility of using a column otation
Mining Corporation. A few years later, Nicol et al. (1988) tested it neural network model within an adaptive control architecture.
with a pilot-scale unit, and Moys and Finch (1988b), using a labo- Simulation studies have also been conducted. Bergh et al.
ratory-scale unit. Desbiens et al. (1998) proposed a gain-scheduled (1998) presented a hybrid system combining expert and fuzzy lo-
technique to cope with nonlinearities. Barrire et al. (2001) tested gic for the supervision of a decentralized PID control strategy (froth
two nonlinear controllers based on semi-physical models devel- depth, wash water, and air ow rates). Chuk et al. (2005) suggested
oped by Dumont et al. (2001). Another version of pulp level control a supervising expert system to prevent froth collapse.
is based on the wash water ow rate (Moys and Finch, 1988a;
Finch and Dobby, 1990). An application at Les Mines Gasp was re-
5. Current practice, research trends & future applications
ported by Cienski and Cofn (1981).
TITO strategies have also been tested to achieve intermediate le-
Previous sections have shown that considerable effort has al-
vel control objectives. They all involve the froth depth and another
ready gone into developing column otation models and designing
variable, the bias or gas hold-up. Ameluxen et al. (1988) intended a
suitable process control strategies. That being said, one can now
froth depth and bias control, using the wash water ow rate and the
tailings ow rate respectively, at Southern Peru Copper Corporation
(Cuajone Division). Using a two-phase laboratory-scale column, del
 How the current industry could, from a practical point of view,
Villar et al. (1999) tested a decentralized control structure, but
benet from these developments?
using the wash water ow rate to control the bias, and the tailings
 What are the needs for further investigations?
ow rate for the froth depth. Slurry operation pilot-scale results
were presented by Bouchard et al. (2005b) for the same TITO sys-
This section examines these issues according to four topics,
tem. Milot et al. (2000) used a two-phase application to test a mul-
tivariable nonlinear predictive controller (GlobPC Global
Predictive Control) also to control froth depth and bias.
 steady-state simulation of metallurgical performance of column
Pu et al. (1991) proposed a predictive controller (DMC Dy-
namic Matrix Control) for a slurry laboratory application involving
 dynamic modelling,
the froth depth and gas hold-up. Process variables were estimated
 sensor development and applications, and
using three pressure-transducers. Using a similar approach, Chuk
 process control.
et al. (2001) and Nez et al. (2006b) tested a GPC (Generalized
Predictive Controller) and a GlobPC (Global Predictive Control),
respectively. 5.1. Current practice and challenges
Persechini et al. (2004) and Maldonado et al. (2007a) tested
decentralized strategies for bias, froth depth, and gas hold-up (sim- Performance of industrial column is still often limited by design
plied two-phase water-air system). Another strategy, combining a and maintenance issues. Air sparger or nozzles require recurrent
PI controller for the froth depth and a predictive controller for the cleaning to cope with water accumulation in air lines (if the air
bias and gas hold-up was also proposed for the same system by supply is not pre-dried) and plugging with slurry (from the col-
Maldonado et al. (2007b). umn). Such problems must be diagnosed by monitoring the pres-
Other researchers and practitioners have tried more qualitative sure at every air injection point and dealt with rapidly because
techniques. Kosick et al. (1991) reported the implementation of an they prevent a steady gas ow-rate and proper aerodynamics con-
expert system at Doe Run Viburnum (Misouri, USA) and at Nerco ditions in the column.
Con Mine (Yellowknife, Canada). Carvalho and Duro (2002) tested Another common issue with column otation operation is the
a fuzzy logic controller for the froth depth, bias, and gas hold-up on uneven wash water distribution. Wrong design and fouling of the
a two-phase laboratory-scale unit. wash water tray are the main causes. Correcting the design is gen-
erally relatively easy, by adding bafes and/or feeding the water to
4.2. Control strategies based on metallurgical objectives the tray at more than one point for instance. Fouling issues are
more difcult to cope with because they require a lot of diligence
Examples of column otation control based on metallurgical for periodic cleaning.
objectives are scarce in the technical literature. Generally, the pro- Pinch valves are commonly used for tailings ow control. Even
posed schemes try to improve the performance in terms of the though they provide a satisfactory performance, they remain rela-
metallurgical efciency of an individual unit or a circuit and cope tively high maintenance control elements. Recent experiences (e.g.
with irregular or undesirable situations. at Xstrata Nickel Raglan) show that ceramic ball valves can nowa-
Expert systems were implemented by McKay and Ynchausti days be considered for long term and low maintenance operation.
(1996) to supervise column operation by manipulating froth depth, In large column circuits, splitting a feed evenly into several
air ow rate, and wash water ow rate set-points. Other applica- gravity fed parallel units in order to fully utilize the processing
tions have been presented by Bergh and Yianatos (1996) (El Te- capacity is challenging. Unfortunately, designing suitable pulp
niente, Codelco-Chile), and Bergh and Yianatos (1999) (Salvador, distributors does not seem to be straightforward and has to be
Codelco-Chile). Besides illustrating the benets of improving con- dealt with on a case-by-case basis.
trol strategies, the latter papers show the overall work associated
with industrial implementations, including a pre-diagnosis step 5.2. Steady-state simulation: metallurgical performance
to detect and correct operation and maintenance problems. Ven-
dors like Metso Minerals and SGS Minerals Services also propose Based on recent experimental developments, a new Windows-
expert systems to handle column otation operations. based version of JKSimFloat, a otation simulator commercialized
J. Bouchard et al. / Minerals Engineering 22 (2009) 519529 525

by JKTech, is available. Harris et al. (2002) described how the soft- the shape of the bubble size distribution, which must be estimated
ware incorporates new ideas and models, and discussed practical on-line from sequential bubble size data points (Maldonado et al.,
and specic issues related to design and optimisation studies. 2008b).
JKSimFloat V6.1 is the tangible result of a collaborative research Supervision methods based on multivariate image analysis
project involving the Julius Kruttschnitt Mineral Research Centre (MIA) are promising options for froth characteristic monitoring.
(JKMRC) at the University of Queensland (Australia), the Mineral For certain applications, MIA could complement on-stream analyz-
Processing Research Unit at the University of Cape Town (South ers (OSA) and help to overcome their limitations (e.g. time delays,
Africa), and the Mineral Processing Group at McGill University need of sampling systems, maintenance, calibration, etc.). For in-
(Canada). Previous outcomes of this project were the development stance, Duchesne et al. (2003) proposed an application of MIA for
of measuring devices and procedures for the diagnostic performance concentrate grade prediction. In this case, the grade predictions
evaluation of otation cells and circuits, a methodology for modeling could either be used to ll in gaps between OSA analyses or to
the performance of otation circuits for optimisation studies, and a monitor extra concentrates without upgrading the sampling and
methodology for modeling the performance of otation pilot-plants multiplexing systems. Liu et al. (2005) presented a novel method
for design studies (Harris et al., 2002). Application case studies to extract textural and color information related to the bubble size
were presented by Schwarz and Alexander (2006b). distribution, and the presence and amount of clear windows (or
The software could become a powerful tool for process engi- black holes) on otation froth bubbles. Liu and MacGregor (2008)
neers to choose operating points for secondary-objective variables presented how the scores of the MR-MIA (multiresolutional multi-
(e.g. froth depth, gas hold-up, etc.) in order to reach metallurgical variate image analysis) features could be directly used in froth con-
objectives. As part of an off-line or real-time optimisation strategy, trol. Froth image analysis based on MIA could become the
the determination of column operating conditions could then be alternative to some instrumentation problems of otation col-
made on a quantitative basis. However, establishing explicit rela- umns, for instance, to monitor water entrainment. If froth color
tionships linking the metallurgical performance to the pulp level, and/or texture is related to water content, it is possible to build a
bias, gas hold-up and/or bubble surface area ux is still an inexact regression model linking froth image characteristics to the water
science. The software raises high expectations: applications in hold-up of the concentrate. As in any image analysis application,
industrial optimisation studies will show if they can be fullled. conclusions would be drawn using only surface features. Therefore,
As a part of a comprehensive design methodology, the software even if the technique may provide a valuable information, the local
also aspires to become a key scale-up tool for otation units and nature of the results should never be forgotten (the state of the
circuits. bubbles even one layer below the surface remains unknown). A
more detailed discussion on numerical image analysis potential
5.3. Sensor development and applications for the monitoring of froth characteristics was presented by Bartol-
acci et al. (2006).
Over the past two decades, new measuring devices have been Commercial froth imaging systems are available to monitor dif-
proposed although industrial applications remain scarce. Indus- ferent froth parameters such as velocity, bubble size, stability and
trial-academic partnerships could be of great benet for better pro- colour intensity (e.g. Metso Minerals and SGS). They are widely
cess supervision. In fact, equipment and service suppliers have the used in otation plants and there is a growing demand both for
technical and practical expertise to design robust and reliable new and existing column installations.
products, whereas the universities have the facilities and mandate Another challenging area for future developments is the on-line
to develop theoretical concepts and explore new avenues. The joint evaluation/modelling of the bubble size distribution (BSD). The use
work of JKMRC and its commercial branch JKTech is one example of the BSD for control purposes could lead to great metallurgical
of a successful combination of fundamental and industrial and benets, particularly if it can be matched to the prevailing particle
R&D. By taking advantage of the best of both worlds, nearly mature size distribution feeding the otation unit. Work is presently
technologies like conductivity-based probes for froth depth and underway regarding this matter at Universit Laval.
gas hold-up could then rapidly become standard devices.
Froth depth determination based on conductivity exhibits a 5.4. Dynamic modelling and simulation
very good accuracy in laboratory- and pilot-scale units. Unlike
oat- and pressure-based techniques, it is unaffected by any uc- Above all, dynamic models are required for process control pur-
tuations in the pulp density or by air hold-up. The evaluation of poses. Laboratory- and pilot-scale studies have shown a high po-
the conductivity prole across the froth could also allow an on-line tential for the use of linear empirical models (transfer functions
monitoring of the bias. However, a comprehensive trial in a plant and state-space models). However, such a black-box approach
environment is yet to be performed. It is only then that a valid has a limitation: it is restricted to conditions found in the data used
comparison with commonly used methods (i.e. oat- and pres- for calibration (operating points, ore characteristics, conditioning,
sure-based) will become possible. etc.) and, therefore, may require frequent recalibration. To over-
The standard addition method developed by Prez-Garibay and come this drawback, to better understand the interacting process
del Villar (1999) for gas hold-up monitoring has also been tested involved and to obtain more versatile controllers, phenomenolog-
by Arizmendi-Morquecho et al. (2002) for solids hold-up measure- ical model development should be the focus of researchers. After
ment. Such a technique could become a low-cost and safe substi- the rst attempts in the late eighties (Sastry and Lofftus, 1988,
tute for nuclear densimeters. 1989), Cruz (1997) made signicant progress in column otation
Current industrial use of bubble surface area ux (local refer- dynamic simulation. Combining the latest work on froth modelling
ence) is nowadays for operation diagnosis, but opportunities for (Neethling and Cilliers, 2001; Neethling and Cilliers, 2002a; Neeth-
process control to achieve a target metallurgical performance ling and Cilliers, 2002b; Neethling, 2008; Stevenson et al., 2003;
could originate from the development of accurate and robust Stevenson, 2007; Nguyen et al., 2003) with the approaches pro-
on-line estimation method. Unfortunately, important information posed by Cruz (1997) and Bouchard et al. (2006) will probably pro-
related to the shape of the bubble size distribution, such as mul- vide the next generation of column otation dynamic simulators.
ti-modal, narrowness and tail behaviour is completely lost when Fundamental dynamic models may be used to build robust sim-
using a mean bubble diameter as with Sb . Therefore, formal control ulators. For process control engineers, dynamic simulators are use-
strategies should take into account the Sb value in conjunction with ful tools since:
526 J. Bouchard et al. / Minerals Engineering 22 (2009) 519529

(1) they allow the development and study of control strategies monitor concentrate ow-rates if the velocity requirements are
without upsetting production, met. It must be emphasized that the steady-state assumption can
(2) they allow pre-tuning before the actual implementation become acceptable when considering a sufciently long time oper-
hence reducing the commissioning period, and ating window. Moreover, mass-balancing technique using mean or
(3) they can be used directly as a process model in predictive reconciled (using Bilmat Real-Time for instance) values over the
controllers as suggested by Henson (1998). moving window would greatly improve accuracy.
On-line stream analysers are widely used to monitor the metal-
Desbiens and Bouchard (2004) and Bouchard et al. (2005a) pre- lurgical performance. However, only seldom an explicit grade or
sented novel predictive control formulations to make use of this recovery closed-loop control is achieved. Off-the-shelf expert sys-
latter concept. tems are available to do so, but a common plant practice is to man-
It must be emphasized that simulator calibration and recali- ually adjust reagent addition when not ratio controlled from the
bration requirements can become overwhelming and therefore, circuit head grade and/or manipulate gas rate and froth depth
the number of empirical parameters should remain reasonable. (for instance at Xstrata Nickel Raglan and Strathcona concentra-
The range of validity and robustness can be extended typically tors). The effect of wash water does not seem to be as clearly under-
by including fundamental knowledge (i.e. physical laws, conserva- stood even though the wash water ow-rate is often monitored.
tion principles, etc.) into the models, hence minimizing the depen- The use of simple correlations obtained from in-plant empirical
dence over empirical parameters and the data used for studies (using design of experiment approach) is not a panacea, but
calibration to explain the behaviour. Moreover, general trends it may partly make up for the lack of measurements and provides a
are more important than the actual accuracy for advanced process rst quantitative basis to guide process operation improvements.
control applications, particularly when the aim is to control low The same idea may also be used to link critical operating variables
frequencies or steady-states (e.g. grade and recovery). to the metallurgical performance. If the limitations of such an ap-
proach are well understood, for instance regarding the validity
5.5. Process control myths and reality range and the necessity of recalibration, it may be used in off-line
or even real-time optimisation strategies. Lestage et al. (2002) pre-
Column otation control is often seen as a problem that cannot sented a RTO application for a grinding circuit based on linear
be handled by standard feedback control techniques. Such a vision empirical models. Such a successful methodology could be trans-
certainly put a curb on a major breakthrough in column control. posed to otation columns.
Most of column otation control issues are instrumentation Implementing a rigorous optimisation plan requires invest-
matters, related to the lack of commercial sensors to monitor key ments involving nancial (purchase of a simulator, hiring of a con-
process variables. Obviously, any linear control law is restricted sulting rm, etc.), human and time resources (for implementation
to a certain range of operation, but it does not automatically pre- and the strict minimum maintenance). However, the reward, as-
clude their use for processes exhibiting some nonlinear behaviour. sessed in terms of
In fact, column otation should be classied under the category of
quasi-linear systems with different operating points. Therefore, it  lower production costs (reagent consumption, etc.),
is not different from any other industrial process where standard  better metallurgical performance (grade and recovery),
feedback control techniques have been successfully implemented.  lower product quality variability,
Moreover, if a wide operating region must be considered, using  benets on personnel (availability, training on new technolo-
gain-scheduling and multi-model schemes may enlarge the range gies, etc.)
of applicability of the controllers (Bouchard et al., 2005b).  fewer environmental impacts,
To solve many column otation control problems, simple and  etc.
effective control techniques are already available as discussed by
Bouchard et al. (2005b). At the very least, pulp level control should may exceed original expectations and the payback period tends to
always be implemented. PID controllers are well suited for such an be much faster than in the case of major capital investments (few
operation and inexpensive commercial on-line pulp level measur- weeks to few months). This last point can partly be explained by
ing devices are already available (pressure gauges or oat coupled the fact that tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars of
with ultrasounds). Even though there is still room for improve- computer equipment, controllers, DCSs, PLCs, and sensors are
ment, plant practice shows that this is actually no longer a critical already available in mineral processing plants and, in most cases,
issue since most of industrial applications involves froth depth only their simplest features are being used and the most powerful
control. If, in addition, air ow-meters are used, the effect of the ones are often left on the shelf, mainly due to the lack of human
air ow rate can easily be implemented to ensure a wider range resources. In other words, many control wares have already been
of operation (Desbiens et al., 1998). A tight froth depth control pro- paid off, but their potential has not been fully exploited.
vides several possibilities to improve column operation. For in- More advanced control and supervision techniques may even-
stance, it greatly helps operators to reach production objectives. tually be used to improve otation column operation. For instance,
It also provides a better environment to conduct experiments for nonlinear controllers based on phenomenological models could
studying the effect of operating conditions on metallurgical results, enhance the range of validity, performance, robustness, and per-
since steady-state operation is more easily reached and main- haps reduce the recalibration needs of control systems. Multivari-
tained. From a plant practice standpoint, a steady pulp level oper- ate statistics could also be used to enhance monitoring and
ation also relates to a great extent to using surge capacity to diagnosis capabilities for otation column operations as recently
attenuate high frequency throughput uctuations wherever suggested by Bergh et al. (2005) and Bergh and Acosta (2008).
Bias and gas hold-up are generally not supervised with great
accuracy. The passive sonar technology recently introduced in 6. Conclusion
mineral processing plants (OKeefe et al., 2007; OKeefe et al.,
2008) seems to be mature enough now to solve the gas hold-up The modelling and control of column otation has received par-
monitoring issue. The technology also offers a great potential for ticular attention from the mineral processing community since al-
bias steady-state estimation since it can be adapted as well to most three decades. An overview of the literature pertaining to this
J. Bouchard et al. / Minerals Engineering 22 (2009) 519529 527

eld shows that much has been achieved, but also that some tech- Bouchard, J., Desbiens, A., del Villar, R., 2005b. Recent advances in bias and froth
depth control in otation columns. Minerals Engineering 18, 709720.
nologies still remain to be transferred to industry. A signicant ef-
Bouchard, J., Desbiens, A., del Villar, R., Chirinos, J., 2006. Column otation
fort to bring modelling capabilities to process engineers is the simulation: a dynamic framework. In: International Conference on Mineral
development of a commercial Windows-based simulator. Follow- Process Modelling, Simulation and Control, Sudbury, Ontario, pp. 259275.
ing the example of JKMRC and its commercial branch JKTech, fruit- Carvalho, M.T., Duro, F., 2002. Control of a otation column using fuzzy logic
inference. Fuzzy Sets and Systems 125, 121133.
ful collaborations between academics and practitioners should Carvalho, T., Duro, F., Fernandes, C., 1999. Dynamic characterisation of column
help speed up developments in other areas such as on-line sensors otation process laboratory case study. Minerals Engineering 12 (11), 1339
and process control. For many plants, important gains can be made 1346.
Chen, F., Gomez, C., Finch, J., 2001. Bubble size measurement in otation machines.
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Automatic Control (IFAC) Symposium on Automation in Mining, Mineral and
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