Leveraging Expertise to Optimise Productivity & Process Plant Design

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Leveraging Expertise to Optimise Productivity & Process Plant Design

Following MECHVAC’s recent receipt of an SA Resources Industry Award, Byron Burridge (MD) was interviewed by Austmine (the peak industry body in Australia for the mining equipment, technology and services sector) about MECHVAC’s unique and competitive positioning of technology and innovation in mining and resources.

This highly valuable Q&A covers such questions as:

  • How having a holistic approach to the design of process plant can help improve process plant productivity. 
  • How an appropriate use of simulation and pilot plants can mitigate demand on capital expenditure and assist in minimising losses. 
  • How lessons on lean manufacturing from other industries can be translated to the mining industry to improve productivity.

 … and more …

You can view this important interview here.

You can view more of what sets MECHVAC apart in the mining and resources sector here.

You can view case studies of MECHVAC’s work in the mining and resources sector (and other industries) here.

Declining ore grades have put pressure on miners to improve their process plant operations. How can having the right plant and equipment in place help in nullifying this issue?

MECHVAC always strives to provide a holistic approach to the design of process plant. If a process has manual operations integrated within it then the plant should always be designed around the operator to maximise their productivity and around operator ergonomics to eliminate WHS issues. An automated plant should be designed around minimising downtime and product damage or losses in transit. A process should not just be designed around maintenance concerns as this invariably neglects all other considerations. Whilst maintenance access is important it shouldn’t compromise productivity, safety or quality. With these principles in mind, MECHVAC can redesign existing plant (which can often be done at minimal cost) to improve the process efficiencies and therefore the bottom line.

Safety is one of the most important issues in the mining sector, especially with the return of black lung and stricter OH&S standards. What specific technologies can be used to improve conditions, especially underground, and how important will these be for the sector moving forward?
Dust and fume extraction is of vital importance for these environments for minimising WHS issues. Unfortunately, it is often seen as a grudge purchase as it doesn’t contribute directly to process capability, but it is an insurance policy against WorkCover claims down the line. MECHVAC offers a full range of capabilities in our air handling design and construct services for dust and fume extraction, but also for heating, ventilation and air-conditioning which also contributes to operator comfort and therefore productivity.
Mine site expansions and potential projects involve huge amounts of capital expenditure and can generate significant losses if they are entered into without correct information. What role can simulation and pilot plants play in this field?
Process simulations are very useful at feasibility stage for testing material handling methods and any queuing issues for de-bottlenecking. Small scale pilot plants are very useful for testing chemical process design, equipment design, new technologies and process capability before going full scale. MECHVAC has design experience in both areas which we use extensively in our mining work.
Collaboration is becoming a key to survival and sustainability in the current market and cooperation between miners and METS can produce mutual benefits. How can METS companies embrace and utilise collaboration and what specific examples are there of successful collaboration stories for MECHVAC?
Collaboration with a customer is very desirable in the feasibility / planning stage of a project or in a R&D environment such as a pilot plant. This enables the customer to access outside expertise from a METS supplier which they may lack. For example, MECHVAC has a highly successful relationship with Bureau Veritas Minerals in the design and continual development of their minerals processing pilot plants which are being used to validate a proposed mine site expansion. In this project our clients combined their chemical engineering expertise with our plant process and equipment design skills to design the plant from a clean sheet. MECHVAC then successfully manufactured and installed the plants on a strict budget and project timeline.
Mining companies have begun to look towards other industries for lessons on how to improve productivity and enhance operations. Lean manufacturing has been identified as one particular areas of interest. What are the requirements of lean manufacturing and how can these translate into the mining industry?

Lean manufacturing principles are centred on the minimisation of process waste and maximising value added operations, which can be applied anywhere. What started with the Toyota Production System in the automotive industry has been successfully applied to other manufacturing industries and even to banking and government operations. Rio Tinto has a track record of implementing lean processes at its aluminium smelters. MECHVAC has a long track record in lean manufacturing plant layout design which started in the automotive industry and has since evolved into providing the same service in other industries including Manufacturing, Food, Defence and Mining. In the mining industry, MECHVAC has worked in close collaboration with our clients to design, manufacture and install an ore crushing and blending plant at Bureau Veritas Minerals to replace an existing process that delivered the following improvements;

  • Productivity improvement of 66%
  • Reduction in floor area of 56%

These improvements resulted in a payback of less than 2 years on the CAPEX expended on this project.

Significant improvements can be readily made for existing or new operations with a lean process design approach that MECHVAC is ready to assist with.

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