Dry Flocculant Mixing and Feeding Design Considerations

This is a guest post by Bill Hancock, President of Zeroday Enterprises

Dry Flocculant Mixing and Feeding Design Considerations

Dry flocculant wetting, dissolving, mixing and solution feeding must be done under very specific controlled conditions that account for the flocculant’s unique physical and chemical characteristics. Failure to ensure proper polymer solution preparation and feeding can result in mix-feed system plugging and erratic operation, process control issues and wasted polymer.

Key flocculant characteristics that must be considered for proper flocculant mixing and use are summarized below:

1)    Flocculant powders are hydroscopic. Storage and dry polymer feeding systems must ensure minimum air contact as the particles will adsorb moisture which initiates flocculant dissolution. Dissolving particles are very sticky and consequently will aggregate into larger pieces and chunks. These larger pieces and chunks dissolve slower and often can plug equipment causing mix system and even process operational disruptions.

2)    Water wetted flocculant particles can aggregate into masses. Since flocculant particles dissolve proportionately to exposed surface area, particle aggregates that have stuck together result in significantly reduced dissolution rate during mixing. If the flocculant aggregates do not fully dissolve within the set system residence time, these partially flocculant masses will pass through the mix system and process unused. And possibly plug equipment. Note: flocculant particles/aggregates will hydrolyze throughout into a clear gel which refract light differently than water, these masses are called ‘fish eyes’ because can predominantly see the light refraction, not the mass itself.

3)    It is very important to initially wet each flocculant particle. The mixing system must be designed in the first step of the mixing process to wet each particle individually and immediately, and subsequently ensure these wetted particles do not aggregate or agglomerate. There are two main mix system flocculant particle wetting categories.

  1. Augering flocculant particles into a funnel with plenty of water flowing in the funnel followed by some motive dispersive force to ensure any particles that might stick together will be pulled apart.
  2. The flocculant particles are air blown from an auger into a large diameter hose to the top of the mix tank where cascading water inside a tube wets the particles which enters the mix tank and impeller.

4)    Flocculant dissolution time variable. Flocculants dissolve at different rates, primarily dependent on the following factors.

  1. Type of polymer charge
  2. Flocculant charge level
  3. Water temperature and chemistry

Required mix times can range from 30-90 minutes are designed into a mix system.

5)    Flocculant solutions are viscous. Dissolved long chain flocculants introduce solution drag that is expressed as viscosity. The amount of viscosity is dependent on the flocculant charge, charge level, temperature, concentration and molecule chain length. More viscous solutions require more mixing power. To ensure the flocculant molecule chains are not broken, balancing the amount of power in mixing and the type of mixing are crucial for minimizing dissolved flocculant chain damage.

6)    Low shear pumps must be used for flocculant solution transfer and feeding. The two more predominate low shear pump types are progressing and diaphragm. More specifically, examples of pumps that are acceptable include progressive cavity, peristaltic, gear, lobe and air operated diaphragm.

7)    Flocculant solutions typically provide best performance at ≤ 0.1% concentrations. To optimize flocculant mixing system sizing, flocculant solutions are often designed to be mixed to 0.25-0.50% maximum concentration. Once dissolved, the flocculants will dilute readily with teed in water down stream of the flocculant feed pump to obtain the final target 0.1% concentration.

Flocculant mixing and feeding is not highly complex. But the unique flocculant characteristics accounted and designed into a mixing-feeding system to ensure optimum preparation and minimized consumption.

Bill Hancock is an internationally recognized expert in mineral processing technologies, technical marketing management and water treatment. Hancock founded and owns Zeroday Enterprises which supplies chemical mix-feed systems, LTM conductive slurry level monitoring probes, peristaltic hose and tube pumps, mixers and flocculant and coagulant chemicals. He also founded Argo Consulting—a technical and technical marketing consulting practice focused on providing mineral processing, water treatment and technical marketing consulting services to the mining industry.

Accurate Slurry and Pulp Level Measurement

This is a guest post by Bill Hancock, President of Zeroday Enterprises

Accurate Slurry and Pulp Level Measurement

Accurate Slurry and Pulp Level Measurement when there is a froth or foam on top of the flotation cell, mixing tank or sump can be challenging under many conditions. Reasons for pulp level monitoring and measurement include:

  1. Mechanical measuring devices such as float balls and ultrasonic targets can become covered with solids causing the device to hang up, become heavy and sit in the slurry deeper and/or the slide mechanism gets jammed and stuck preventing smooth operation.
  2. Slurry density (% solids) fluctuations cause float-ultrasonic and pressure differential devises to vary. Changing slurry apparent specific gravity will cause the float ball to ride higher or lower in the slurry even if the slurry level stays constant. Pressure differential devices, such as bubble tubes and pressure differential electronic sensors, measure based on slurry weight above the device so will provide proportional pulp level readings as slurry densities change.
  3. Basic froth mechanics, particularly in flotation cells, where bottom layers of the froth bed will be quite wet because fine bubbles coursing upward to the froth will push entrained slurry into the froth. As the fine bubbles coalesce into larger bubbles and rise to the top of the froth bed, this slurry drains back into the cell. When froth characteristics or operating conditions change, the amount of water and slurry in the bottom layers of the froth will vary and make proper froth-slurry interface depth measurement more problematic.

Point #3 is worth dwelling on because this is often overlooked or not well understood. A rough representation of a mineral flotation froth cross section is provided below. The fine bubbles generated by the flotation cell impeller rise to the bottom of the froth bed and coalesce into larger bubbles as these rise in the froth. The values are upgraded as the bubbles coalesce because the bubble surface area decreases with the result being less particle carrying capacity. Probabilistically the weakest, least hydrophobic particles are released and drain back into the cell.

slurry and pulpThere is a massive amount of air in a flotation cell, typically 12-25% of a float cell’s total volume, which rises enmass to the froth layer as fine bubbles. Much slurry is pushed into the lower froth bed which is held in the voids between the bubbles until the slurry can drain back into the cell. As illustrated in the figure, there is more slurry in the lower froth bed than higher due to drainage.

This slurry in the void spaces between the bubbles must and will drain to the float cell. However there will be some slurry holdup before draining which can make the pulp-froth interface indistinct and difficult to define depending on the amount of slurry held in the froth. The amount of slurry carried into the froth can significantly vary.

Mechanical and pressure differential slurry level measuring techniques can have difficulties consistently and precisely monitoring the pulp-froth interface level under these conditions. However, electrical conductance pulp level measurement techniques can more effectively and consistently define the froth-pulp level interface height.

The conductive LTM pulp level monitoring probe technology dramatically reduces the complication of slurry level interface monitoring under a wide range of froth and flotation conditions. Because the probe is quite sensitive and measures at very low conductance levels, the probe capably and consistently measures at very low slurry (e.g. water) concentrations.

It is possible to define the slurry-froth interface level as the precise point where there is distinctly very low conductance due to a lack of slurry, at the depth where there is a predominance of air. In essence this is an electrical circuit on-off signal where the LTM pulp level monitoring probe identifies the depth where the froth is sufficiently drained preventing electrical current transmittance. From a logical reasoning standpoint this is a practical and effective measure. And is the slurry level interface level the LTM probe monitors.

Bill Hancock is an internationally recognized expert in mineral processing technologies, technical marketing management and water treatment. Hancock founded and owns Zeroday Enterprises which supplies chemical mix-feed systems, LTM conductive slurry level monitoring probes, peristaltic hose and tube pumps, mixers and flocculant and coagulant chemicals. He also founded Argo Consulting—a technical and technical marketing consulting practice focused on providing mineral processing, water treatment and technical marketing consulting services to the mining industry.

Could Deep-Sea Mining Be Canada’s Next Gold Rush?

deep sea miningCould Deep-Sea Mining Be Canada’s Next Gold Rush?

Traditionally, mining has been a prolific source of income for Canada and other countries throughout the world. With land-based deposits becoming increasingly scarce, mining companies have had to seek out other sources that could be mined, including ocean floors. Vastly covering two-thirds of the Earth’s surface, oceans have been largely unexplored until now. However, the ocean floors are known to possess abundant mineral resources.

This is exciting news for the mining industry in Canada. With the longest coastline in the world and access to three different oceans, Canada has great potential for deep-sea mining resources. So much that we need to ask, will deep-sea mining be Canada’s next gold rush?

The Ocean is a Rich Source of Minerals

The ocean floor is covered in aqueous vents, which are geothermal fissures that cut deeply into the earth’s crust. These vents spew minerals from deep inside the Earth into the ocean that settle in rock deposits known as massive seafloor sulfides. 

Massive seafloor sulfides consist of coveted rare earth metals, including copper and platinum. These deposits are of high quality because they are newer than dry-land deposits and have not had a chance to degrade or disperse. Many of the dwindling copper deposits on dry land feature copper with a 0.6 grade, while deep-sea copper deposits have been shown to be as high as 7.2.

Deep-Sea Mining Methods Differ from Traditional Methods

Deep-sea mineral deposits cannot be extracted through traditional mining methods. Many of these deposits are found at depths that make manual extraction impossible. Moreover, because these mineral deposits are located underwater, most established mining methods would not apply.

In order to bring these minerals to the ocean’s surface, mining companies are developing remotely operated robots to do the work for them. These robots are connected to ships floating above the mineral deposits that are used to operate the machines and collect the minerals that are extracted. Much of this technology is still in the early stages of development, but it appears to show promise.

Worries of Possible Environmental Impact

Many critics have warned of the potential environmental impacts of deep-sea mining. Little is known about the complex ecosystems located on the seafloor and scientists worry that deep-sea mining operations could cause irreversible damage.

Proponents of deep-sea mining argue that it could actually be more environmentally friendly than surface mining. Surface mining has had a significant negative impact on the environment by causing polluted waterways, devastated habitats and displaced communities.

Deep-sea mining does not require companies to drill into the Earth’s surface. As a result, it does not produce the same waste that surface mining does and there is less disruption to surrounding ecosystems. Additionally, human communities are not displaced, as the mineral deposits are not located in habitable areas.

What Deep-Sea Mining Means for Canada

Canadian companies are leading the charge in developing deep-sea mining technology. Toronto-based Nautilus Minerals is the first company in the world to be granted a deep-sea mining lease in 2014. This 20-year lease is located 30 kilometers off the coast of Papua New Guinea on a site known as Solwara 1. Nautilus plans to start operations within the next five years.

Though other deep-sea projects are in development in Europe, Nautilus Minerals’ Solwara 1 operation is set to become the first active deep-sea mining site in the world. With Canadian companies on the cutting edge of deep-sea mining, Canada is poised to be a leader in this exciting new industry. 

Business Risks That Threaten the Mining Industry

mining industryBusiness Risks That Threaten the Mining Industry

No industry is immune to business risks that threaten its members’ ability to continue operating efficiently and cost effectively, while remaining competitive within their market. It is no secret that the mining industry has been especially hard hit with challenges as it has sought to expand during the past decade. Increased regulation, economic instability, price volatility and political unrest throughout the world are just some of the factors behind the following business risks that are threatening the mining industry in 2015.

Risks that Have Remained Consistent for the Mining Industry

As participants in the mining industry sought opportunities for growth at any cost during the past decade, their overall productivity has significantly declined as a result. While some have tried to address this loss with cost-cutting measures, this has continued to increase losses due to productivity. The enormity of this problem calls for solutions that transform how companies are doing their business overall, including:

  • Increasing automation
  • Reassessing their mining methods
  • Updating and reconfiguring their equipment fleet
  • Changing their mine plans

As credit markets tighten, capital allocation and access remain a business risk to both major and junior entrants in the mining industry. While major producers are in the best position for continued growth because of their increased commitment to capital discipline, new or junior entrants to the industry often find their access to capital limited. This inability to raise equity will put many into survival mode or force them to leave the industry entirely. As a result, smaller companies may be forced to:

  • Seek to be acquired by larger companies
  • Consolidate with other small companies to pool their resources
  • Halt exploration, which limits potential business growth
  • Institute lay-offs and operate with minimal staff

Emerging Challenges to Watch for in the Mining Industry

The mining industry’s access to water and energy is essential for many of its operations and projects. Rising energy costs and unreliable power supplies are a growing threat. This threat further increases in countries where these resources are in limited supply, including those with emerging economies. This puts the industry at odds with governments and communities who are struggling to function with these limited resources, in addition to their environmental concerns. In order to deal with this risk, the industry needs to:

  • Become more sustainable by taking advantage of renewable energy sources
  • Switch to more resource-efficient operations that will lessen their environmental impact on communities
  • Develop solutions that will reduce their dependence on water

Of growing importance for those in the mining industry is to maintain their appeal to not just their shareholders, but also all stakeholders in general so that they can maintain a social license to operate (SLTO). Increased environmental awareness can threaten project acceptance by means of protests, violence and sabotage in communities that maintain a high SLTO. This can lead to blocking or significantly delaying projects if this license is lost. Therefore, it is important to ensure that the right controls are in place to promote stakeholder acceptance, including:

  • Acting responsibly by maintaining commitments and acknowledging the community’s concerns
  • Sharing an equitable amount of the benefits obtained from the project with the community
  • Addressing employee concerns concerning wages, safety, imported labor and job security

As with any industry, risks are always to be expected, as it is just the nature of doing business. However, the mining industry can benefit by taking a proactive stance against these risks that threaten its existence, instead of remaining in a consistently reactive state.

Reclaiming Oil Sands

oil sand reclamationReclaiming Oil Sands

Canada’s oil sands have always been controversial. Despite their economic benefits, critics are concerned over the environmental damage the oil sands cause. Alberta’s oil sands are surrounded by pristine wilderness, and development has caused what is considered irreversible damage.

However, a number of Canadian companies are working to return the area to its natural state. With companies such as Syncrude pumping up to $60 million a year into researching land reclamation techniques, Canadian oil field companies are on the cutting edge of oil sands restoration efforts.

The Challenges of Land Reclamation

Alberta’s oil sands are located under an area covered by dense Boreal forest and wetlands. In order to extract the petroleum from the ground, large swaths of forest must be cleared to make way for open pit mines, or steam must be pumped into wells to separate bitumen from the soil. The waste water generated by these processes is stored in highly toxic “tailing ponds,” which account for about 25 per cent of the area disturbed by oil sands development. These ponds are one of the largest problems for environmentalists.

To be certified as reclaimed, any traces of man-made impact must be removed, and the land must be capable of generating native plant and animal life. This makes reclaiming wetlands complex, due to the diverse mix of life contained therein.

Can a Forest Be Rebuilt?

A number of companies operating in the oil sands region are doing their part to ensure that disturbed areas are restored to their native Boreal forest.

Collaboration between industry heavyweights such as Shell Canada, Suncor Energy, Nexen Energy and Husky Energy has resulted in 2.5 million trees and shrubs being planted. The project has replanted about 700 hectares of land disturbed by industrial development.

Replanting these areas rather than allowing them to regrow on their own ensures that the areas are not overtaken by invasive plant species and that animal habitats are not disrupted.

Cutting-edge Techniques

Completely restoring the wetlands disturbed by oil sands development is the greatest challenge of land reclamation. Syncrude’s Sandhill Fen research project, however, is making strides.

The purpose of the project is to create a sustainable wetland environment and share successful techniques with other companies and organizations. This has resulted in a 50 hectare, man-made pollution-free watershed built from tailing sands. Although no animals have been reintroduced to the area – as it is still part of an active mine site – some animals have begun to return on their own.

Other projects, such as Suncor Energy’s Nikatonee Fen, have achieved similar success.

Cleaning up Tailing Ponds

The removal of tailing ponds is another key priority in restoration efforts. The most important development in this aspect of cleanup has been Suncor’s centrifuge plant. The centrifuge returns the water from tailing ponds to its natural state by spinning it rapidly to remove the solid pollutants. The plant became operational in early 2015 and is expected to reduce tailing ponds by 50 per cent.

Robotic Mining Equipment: Are We Ready for Automation?

mine operator safetyIs The World Ready For a Fully Automated Mine? 

In the last few years, mining operations have taken advantage of robotic mining equipment to perform some of the more dangerous and repetitive tasks the industry requires. However, despite their high costs, is it possible that a fully automated mine is on the horizon?

There are three reasons why it might be.


Mining is an inherently dangerous industry. After all, it entails using large machines to drill holes in the Earth, pack them with explosives, and blow them up. Even with the most stringent safety protocols in place, the rate of workplace injuries is higher than most other industries.

However, there are other reasons why safety is compromised in the mining industry. Many of the less dangerous tasks are repetitive and mind numbing, a good example being driving haulage trucks. The job consists of driving from point A to point B and back again. Human drivers are susceptible to boredom and attention drift. That lack of attention is what makes a safe, routine task one where two people are killed every year.

In the mines, robotized mining industry equipment can perform the routine and repetitive tasks, in order to save employees for important tasks.


Robotic mining industry equipment doesn’t need the same kind of breaks that people do. To be sure, they are subject to maintenance, but that can often be done on a predictable schedule, which isn’t true of human labor.

It goes beyond that, of course. Automation allows operations to get closer to the text book optimums for load size and frequency while also allowing for shifts in load sizes due to potential short-term fluctuations.

The use of robotics in scouting for locations offers another opportunity for efficiency. While a manned helicopter could cost as much as $2000 per hour to operate, a drone with a camera costs a mere $500 per hour, meaning drones can cover four times as much territory for the same cost in the same time frame.


Robotic mining industry equipment can operate in more dangerous locations, perform repetitive tasks with less loss of efficiency, and aren’t subject to the same workplace laws that humans are. But these are only the most obvious ways they are more productive.

Mining is not an industry that can pick and choose where the job gets done. The job goes where the raw materials are, and if there is a sizeable population of experienced miners, it will be more successful. However, if the area is remote, the operation is faced with either shutting down at times because there are not enough able workers to do the job on a full time basis, or bringing in workers from outside the region. Bringing in workers helps to keep the mine open, but comes at a substantial additional cost.

By performing many of the most repetitive and dangerous tasks, robotic mining industry equipment might actually lower the number of human employees necessary for an operation. Where this is not the case, robotic mining industry equipment will allow organizations to shift their workforce to safer jobs that require a less specific skillset.

In addition, automation would eliminate the need for all workers to be on site, which would allow an organization to place its workforce closer to a population center to eliminate or reduce the need to bring in workers from elsewhere.

A fully automated mining operation is not yet a reality, but with an increasing number of mining tasks being automated every day, it’s only a matter of time before a fully automated operation is possible.


Magnetic Separation in the Mining Industry

mining industryWhy Magnetic Separation Matters for the Mining Industry

One of the greatest challenges facing the mining industry is the separation of unwanted material generated by the extraction process from the valuable material. Mining, whether done through open seam or underground means, creates a huge amount of waste product in the form of worthless or low value minerals and unusable man-made materials. These materials can be extremely difficult to separate from the valuable materials miners are after. Perhaps the most efficient way of separating these materials is through magnetic separation.

What is Magnetic Separation?

Magnetic separation is the process of using magnetic force to remove metallic or ferrous materials from a mixture.

Magnetic separation machines consist of a vibratory feeding mechanism, an upper and lower belt and a magnet. The bulk material is fed through the vibrating mechanism onto the lower belt. At this point, the magnet pulls any material susceptible to magnetic attraction onto the upper belt, effectively separating the unwanted metals from the rest of the bulk.

How Magnetic Separation is Useful

Magnetic separation has been used in the mining industry for more than 100 years, beginning with John Wetherill’s Wetherill Magnetic Separator, which was used in England in the late nineteenth century.

Magnetic separation is most commonly used in the mining industry to separate “tramp ore,” or unwanted waste metals, from the rest of the bulk material. Tramp ore typically consists of the man-made byproducts created by the mining process itself, such as wires from explosive charges, nuts and bolts, nails, broken pieces from hand tools such as jack hammers and drills or tips off of heavy duty extraction buckets.

Magnetic separation machines are usually placed at the beginning of a mine’s materials processing line to remove tramp ore before it can cause harm to “downstream” equipment such as ore crushers and conveyor belts, which can be easily damaged by metal shards or other sharp objects.

Most magnetic extraction systems are designed to be easily retrofitted onto existing production and conveyor systems, so major equipment relocation is unnecessary.

Types of Magnetic Separators

The type of magnetic separator used by a mine depends on what material they are extracting and how much tramp ore is generated by their process. As a result, separators of different magnetic flux, or power, can be used. There are 2 types of magnetic separators; electromagnetic and permanent.

Electromagnetic separators generate a magnetic field by switching power from alternating current to direct current. Electromagnetic separators are useful for removing large pieces of tramp ore from the bulk material. These separators are typically suspended over a conveyor belt and draw the unwanted material upward. Electromagnetic separators are easy to clean as removing the tramp ore that they separate from the bulk is as simple as turning off the power that creates their magnetic field.

Permanent magnets consist of materials that generate their own magnetic field. Though not as powerful as electromagnetic separators, permanent magnets are better at attracting strongly magnetized materials such as nickel, cobalt, iron and some rare earth metals. Some permanent magnets are now being made with rare earth metals that have the ability to attract even stainless steel, which is typically not susceptible to magnetic pull. In order to clean permanent magnets, a stainless steel scraper must be used to remove any metal parts from the magnet’s surface.


The Benefits of Mining Automation

mining automationThe Benefits of Mining Automation

Making Mining Safer Through Automation

Human safety is one of the primary concerns in the mining industry today. Many industry players are now addressing safety issues by automating processes previously done by humans to help ensure the protection of workers.

Automation, or the use machines and other control systems to achieve tasks otherwise carried out by people, is becoming commonplace in mines around the world. Automation gives mines greater control over their production processes and, as a result, allows them to produce a higher quality finished product. Most importantly, automation is making mining safer for workers in a number of ways.

Safer Mining Through Better Oversight

Mines can be dangerous environments; poor air quality, confined spaces and lack of structural integrity are just a few examples of safety hazards faced by mine workers every day. However, there are a number of ways in which the use of automated processes can reduce or mitigate these dangers entirely.

Automating mining processes allows the mine environment as a whole to be more tightly monitored. In doing so, the previously mentioned hazards, such as air quality, can be assessed quickly and with a great degree of accuracy, if and when dangers to workers arise.

In addition, automation allows for the machines themselves to be monitored more closely for issues such as signs of wear and tear. These problems can then be diagnosed and resolved before they become potential safety hazards to human workers.

Environmentally Friendly Mining

The adverse effects of mines on their surrounding environments, such as water contamination and air pollution, are well documented and have been a contentious issue for the industry. However, the greater degree of control over the mining process offered by automation allows mines to assess their environmental impact more accurately.

By more closely controlling the production process, some environmental effects can be reduced or eliminated altogether. Limiting waste produced by the mining process and reducing emissions caused by the unneeded operation of equipment are just a few of the ways in which automated technology can help mines to become greener.

Fewer Hazards for Workers

When parts of the mining process are automated, fewer human workers are required. As a result, fewer workers are exposed to the potential hazards found in a mine. Automation also ensures that tasks are completed correctly and consistently every time. As a result, the “human error” factor caused by the incorrect operation of a machine or a lapse in attention can be eliminated.

In the past, single machines may have required multiple human operators, greatly increasing the chance of human error. However, by automating many of the same tasks, fewer operators are needed, the risk of injury is lessened and operation itself becomes much simpler.

Drones: A Versatile Safety Tool

Automated technology such as remote controlled drones and robots can be sent, in place of workers, into hazardous areas to assess safety hazards. Drones equipped with cameras can look for potential hazards such as cracks in rocks. Furthermore, these drones can be used to gain access to areas not easily accessible to humans, such as flooded or confined spaces.

Drones can also be used for emergency purposes. Robots can be used to find trapped workers in the case of tunnel collapses and in some cases, are designed to carry food and supplies to these people and even to transport casualties to safety.

Automated technology can serve the mining industry in many ways. Perhaps most importantly, automation allows mines to increase the safety of their employees. Whether by lessening a mine’s environmental impacts, simplifying the operation of machines or aiding in search and rescue operations, automation addresses the issue of worker safety in mines and helps to improve overall operations.

Smartphones Monitoring Mining Equipment

smartphones monitoring mining equipmentUsing Smartphones to Monitor Vibrations in Mining Equipment

Mining is a massive, highly competitive industry with many operations running twenty-four hours, seven days a week. Such continuous operations are dependent on large, complex machines that are expensive to repair and expensive to replace. In this industry, an organization’s ability to minimize downtime can provide a substantial competitive advantage.

To decrease operational downtime many mining companies have scheduled preventative maintenance. Because preventing a malfunction is cheaper than repairing one, the impact of preventative measures to the bottom line is often substantial.

However, scheduled preventative maintenance also has its limits, with some studies suggesting that as much as 30% provide no benefit, and an additional 30% actually decrease performance. With such programs costing nearly 50% of an organization’s operating costs, even a relatively small improvement could provide a significant benefit to the bottom line.

Condition-based maintenance is the idea that machinery can be monitored—primarily but not exclusively for vibration—and once a baseline has been determined, variations highlighted for human investigation. Such programs attempt to replace parts after they have begun to hamper performance, but before an outright failure.

Condition-based maintenance programs are, however, expensive. Mining operations are seldom small, but neither are they entirely stationary. The sheer number of sensors is large, and the effort to continuously monitor them and adjust their locations every time the machinery is moved is significant.

Enter the ubiquitous smartphone, in the form of smartphones monitoring mining equipment. Vibration monitoring via smartphone based systems offer the potential to dramatically reduce the costs of condition-based maintenance and provide the same cost saving measures.

In the ideal, a technician could take a single sensor on a predetermined route, attaching the sensor to places on the machinery that need to be monitored, then removing it and moving to another location, and another, and so on. Monitoring doesn’t have to take place twenty-four hours a day to be effective. The sensor would gather data and communicate it to a smartphone app via Bluetooth. The smartphone would then communicate with the Wi-Fi enabled cloud to compare the new data to the baseline for that location. If the new reading is not in line with the baseline, the technician could potentially perform any number of actions ranging from replacing the part immediately to notifying the appropriate department to order a replacement part.

The advantages over a full-scale condition-based maintenance program are many. Primarily, fewer sensors are required and parts aren’t replaced until their useful life is exhausted. If desired, the smartphone application could even be used to reduce technician training time and the likelihood of error, by displaying a video of how to replace any part in question.

The implementation of a program of this nature would not be cheap, but with the costs of maintenance being high, and the costs of downtime being higher, such a system would offer enormous savings potential, proving it’s worth.

Drones in Mining

drones in miningDrones in Mining: The Future of the Mining Industry?

The future is here, and the drones are driving.

In Australia, hundreds of driverless trucks haul iron ore from mines. At the same time, company headquarters use touch screens to monitor operations worldwide.

Drones are capable of exploring areas no human could safely reach. They come equipped with scanning and analysis technology, lower costs, and robotic accuracy. And they are transforming the mining industry.

In many cases, using drones keeps employees safer, by saving them from dangerous and sometimes mind-numbing tasks. By assigning monotonous work to robotic drones, companies can use their personnel resources for more important projects.


In Canada, many companies use drones or robotized drilling rigs to blast ore free. Human workers are responsible for planning the dig, and loading instructions to the drilling rig. An operator stands by to make sure nothing goes wrong, but the drilling is all automated.

Long-hole drills take the place of rote work, drilling rod-to-rod without the need for human involvement. It saves an operator the dull business of loading a new rod over and over, with little break in their schedule.

Cleanup Operations

One of the earliest forays of automated robots into the mining industry was to help clean up the highly-irradiated Three Mile Island. To keep people away from the high levels of radiation, recovery teams sent in robots equipped with video feeds and the ability to bring back valuable information in the form of core samples. Other robots handled cleaning, tearing apart walls and scrubbing debris.

Shotcrete Sprayers

Not yet completely automated, shotcrete sprayers spray their reinforcing concrete without human interaction. A human operator is still needed to get the spray boom into mines, but from there, the sprayer works automatically to ensure an even coating on the mine walls. Where there are human limitations in terms of working angles and tough-to-reach spots, robotic sprayers have much greater flexibility.


Driverless trucks take a boring job and automate it. Your average haul truck driver might work 12 hour days driving back and forth, and as they tire and get bored, they become more likely to be involved in an accident. Robots stay alert all day long, which can save lives.

So far, only a tiny fraction of hauling trucks worldwide are drone-operated, and Canadian and American mines have yet to try out driverless trucks.

One hesitation is due to the cost, as a new automated hauler is 3 to 5 million dollars to purchase. When the alternative is employees who have relatively cheap wages, the switch is hard to make. But in certain countries, like Australia, driverless trucks are replacing their human-driven counterparts quickly. Australian Rio Tinto’s driverless trucks have already moved 140 million tonnes of material.


An obvious use for mining drones is in surveying; using lightweight unmanned aircraft to get the most out of land.

One reason drones are used in surveying is because they’re about 90% less expensive than using a manned helicopter. Another reason is their ability to map a variety of terrain by flying close to the ground and gathering more data than workers in helicopters are able to. Additionally, drones are capable of surveying even in cloudy conditions so no time is wasted waiting for particular weather conditions.