Company owners and managers are exposing their sites to a hidden risk with the rising pressure to increase resource processing rates in all of Australia’s mining and quarrying regions. The bulk handling capacities of processing plants are being pushed to the extreme, a situation that is exacerbated with site owners having never tested their technologies at these levels.
Engineering and design company, Soto Consulting says the digital simulation environment is the ideal test platform for plant owners and managers to foresee any complications.
Managing Director Mr Frank Soto explains that the fastest and most accurate approach is to review operational limitations of their plant using digital simulation means. This approach is applicable to both old plants as well as new ones that are constructed with conflicting performance requirements to that originally planned during the design specification phase.
According to Mr Soto, a rather common example is that of mine processing plant owners aiming for a demanding 14,000 tph from their conveyor systems, which is a very fast rate and will almost certainly lead to new operational and maintenance issues that will impact on the operating cost of the plant.
Pressures to increase rates are also taking existing plants into extra periods between shutdowns in operations, which extend the time frames between scheduled repair sessions. However, the biggest cause for concern is that many plants are being tested under actual operating conditions with a high level of trial and error, turning into guesswork which parts may or may not work under the untested, increased workload.
Mr Soto adds that premature failure and breakdown can be expected when plants reach their maximum operating capacity and start to go beyond the original specifications. The peak performance and throughput may be negated due to extended breakdowns and outages that reduce overall plant throughput and increase operational expenditure.
Soto Consulting reasons that it is best to review a plant and assess it properly in the digital simulation environment before exposing it to a potentially crippling risk by taking chances on the fly. Soto uses proven digital testing and prototyping methods to work out whether the additional uptime, throughput and capacity can be achieved at the processing plant.
Soto Consulting believes this approach is a form of operational expenditure (OpEx), which optimises a mine’s capital expenditure. Using rapid prototyping and simulations, it enables identification of areas where modifications to an existing plant can increase throughput, reliability and maintainability. Sometimes this approach even unearths safety issues, improving access and safety for employees.