This paper explores the importance of operators in the overall efficiency of mineral processing plants. With the potential of future control configurations becoming more remote, it is time to review the implementation of control and utilisation of operators. This paper is based on a preliminary review of operators and control room operations and clearly shows that, in the minerals industry, operations are typically run in a reactive mode (with a focus on ensuring equipment operation), rather than in a proactive mode (with a focus on optimising the process performance). The primary reason for this misguided approach is the short sighted thinking applied to the challenges of designing technology and organisational tools capable of addressing the essential operational needs: an approach which inevitably results in a disconnect between people and technology. Contrary to the popular approach of replacing operators with expert systems, the thesis of this paper is that the shift to more complex circuits, with higher demands on processing capability and control, will require the actual upskilling of operators. Experience in mineral processing and other industries indicates that expert systems cope well with small changes but are typically unable to respond to major changes in feed material and this is where the expert operator becomes crucial. Providing operators with ongoing high level training in process understanding, and restructuring how they interact with the plant and interface with the control system is the approach being proposed here – an approach surprisingly underutilised and often absent in the minerals industry today.
Li, X, Powell, M S and McKeague, W, 2012.
Unlocking processing potential by empowering our operators, in Proceedings
11th AusIMM Mill Operators’ Conference, pp 333-340 (The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy: Melbourne).