Researchers at UMR are making road maps for mining and mill operations by developing guidelines to increase efficiency, productivity and communication. This work could result in a significant energy savings for the U.S. mining industry.
The guidelines and protocol will be structured to be altered easily and applied to other industries. The road maps can be used as a "stepping stone in the entire work process," says Dr. Leslie Gertsch, assistant professor of geological and petroleum engineering and senior research investigator at the UMR Rock Mechanics and Explosives Research Center.
"The ultimate goal is to come up with a protocol, a set way of doing things — not a specific computer program — and a way to get the right data to the right person in time," says Gertsch.
Receiving more than $3 million in funding overall, Gertsch is developing what she calls a Total Ore Process Integration and Management (TOPIM) to create this detailed guide for industries to follow when certain situations arise. Currently nothing like this is in place in the industry, says Gertsch. The Department of Energy’s Industries of the Future Program is contributing more than $600,000 over a three-year period. The remaining amount is from in-kind support supplied by several industries.
Using TOPIM in the U.S. mining industry would result in a 10 percent yearly savings in the energy used for crushing and grinding. This savings could pay electric bills of residents of Phelps County, Mo., where UMR is located, for the next 30 years, says Gertsch. "The guidelines will allow mine and mill personnel to optimize the entire mineral processing stream in rapid response to upstream and downstream changes," says Gertsch. The mineral processing stream is the complete sequence of processes that must be applied to raw geologic materials to produce a usable mineral product. One of TOPIM’s goals is to make this process visible to everyone in the industry so that problems can be pinpointed more quickly.
Gertsch and her research team — which includes Dr. Norbert Maerz, assistant professor of geological and petroleum engineering at UMR — are gathering detailed data on all aspects of mining operations, such as drilling, blasting, mucking, crushing and grinding. They then measure control factors to develop a model for similar situations. Each situation requires measurement strategies, methods to model and communicate the data, and a set of control actions, Gertsch says. The information gathered is combined, analyzed and listed as a guide for each situation. This forms a protocol for mining and milling operations to follow when problems arise. For example, if the team found that a specific energy level is required to drill, then the blasting powder needs to be regulated to ensure the crushing energy is controlled. Gertsch and her team are gathering and testing their findings at two mines in the Mesabi Iron Ranges in northern Minnesota.
"The idea is to collect all the data that is needed by everybody in the process and make it available so that when they need it they have it and they aren’t guessing."
According to Gertsch, current communication between mine and mill workers is lacking. This set of guidelines will help prevent problems before they even arise. "A lot of time is wasted troubleshooting," Gertsch says. "Also, when the problem is solved, the person may not even know how or why the problem got fixed."
"As it currently stands in most mines, some data is collected, but it seems apparent in many operations information is incomplete," Gertsch says. "We study the process for what they are lacking in data and data accessibility, and work out some way to include communication and information technology so that whoever needs information can get it."