Production targets are the basis for almost every decision made by operations personnel in the daily operation of a concentrator. It is the production targets that determine how the plant is operated and therefore determine its efficiency. However, to achieve maximum plant efficiency production targets must be relevant to the process and achievable.
In Rosebery's case, for many years, production targets were taken from budget data which, with the exception of mill feed tonnes and grades were carried forward from the previous budget. The zinc concentrate grade target was fixed at 57 per cent Zn, a long-term average; it was the accepted ‘standard' for Rosebery. Historical data showed this target was never consistently achieved and plant efficiency was highly variable.
Investigations into the possible causes for the variable performance ruled out plant and mechanical issues. Despite the Rosebery concentrator's age the plant and equipment are more than serviceable and reliable. The mineralogy of the ore and specifically the iron content of the sphalerite was found to be the most significant determinant of zinc concentrate grade. It was found with increasing frequency that the zinc grade of the sphalerite in the ore was below the zinc concentrate grade target. Consequently on these occasions attempts to meet the required concentrate target destabilised the process resulting in plant inefficiencies.
Using the correlation between iron and zinc, data modelling was able to accurately predict the maximum zinc concentrate grade achievable for any ore type. By using on stream analysis instrumentation the operations personnel are now provided with constantly updated concentrate grade targets. By knowing the mineralogical limits of the ore at the time it is being treated process stability is maintained allowing plant efficiency to be optimised. This has resulted in a step change in plant performance and a significant increase in revenue.
G R, 2012. Developing and implementing ore-specific targets for the Rosebery
Concentrator, in Proceedings 11th AusIMM Mill Operators' Conference, pp 321-324 (The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy: Melbourne).