Gaining market penetration for new technologies and solutions can be a challenge in a largely conservative mining industry.

Nonetheless, this can always be overcome if that solution delivers on the benefits it promises.

Most recently, this has been demonstrated with FLSmidth’s REFLUX Classifier (RC) modular plant, first launched in 2017, and successfully installed and commissioned for one of South Africa’s largest PGM producers, director of technical support and engineering TERENCE OSBORN tells LAURA CORNISH.

This article first appeared in Mining Review Africa Issue 5, 2020
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The second half of 2019/beginning of 2020 saw mining and cement processing technology specialist FLSmidth install and commission its second REFLUX Classifier modular plant solution since introducing the concept to market some three years back.

Although this is three years into its launch, Osborn believes this new application represents a pivotal moment in gaining market penetration.

“The operating success we have achieved to date, which started during the commissioning phase is largely as a result of the commitment we have shown in showcasing this plant’s capabilities to treat waste material and of equal importance, the learnings we were able to apply following the installation of our first modular plant,” Osborn starts.

The RC modular plant – capable of processing 100 tph of waste material or 350 m³/hr of slurry material – was determined by FLSmidth to be the ideal solution to helping and educating industry on how an RC works and consequently the processing benefits it has to offer.

To ensure its effective delivery – FLSmidth can deliver the RC modular plant through BOOT model – and in doing so ensures the plant operates optimally and is properly maintained.

The plant itself is ideally suited to processing PGM UG2 material to extract chrome which, in most cases, would be left untreated as a waste product but it will also work in extracting coal, iron ore and mineral sand fines.

“On the back of our first RC modular plant installation and operation (which we did for three years as part of a BOOT contract also secured to treat PGM UG2 material to extract chrome), we were able to gain considerable learnings in how to enhance the performance of our plant,” Osborn states.

FLSmidth was awarded its second contract to supply a modular RC plant late in 2018 and started cold commissioning work towards the end of 2019. With a one-year period between contract and start-up (the same was achieved on the first plant), the time benefits associated with the plant is obvious.

There were some ramp-up teething problems, which is not unusual in any mining application, and saw the company move into full hot commissioning towards the middle of January this year. “Almost immediately, we started achieving product grade,” Osborn states.

Lessons learnt

One of the primary learnings Osborn refers to saw FLSmidth incorporate and provide the necessary auxiliary infrastructure to support the RC plant – which specifically included a thickener that delivered the plant with sufficient process water necessary to run the plant, together with process water tanks, pumps, etc., all tying into existing infrastructure on site.

“We also implemented fine screening on the plant, using an aperture size of 350 microns. This was necessitated following an assay-by-size analysis to determine the different size fractions of the silica waste material and the chrome.

“Incorporating a fine screening element into the plant eliminated this challenge which we had experienced on our first plant created due to the courser PGM UG2 material received are PGM production rates,” Osborn reveals.

“Our client is also benefiting from the new B-BBEE technology partnership we have established for our RC technology,” Osborn highlights.

In February last year, the company launched its cooperation agreement with black-owned fabrication and minerals processing operations company Linhleko Projects.

The agreement entails a 50:50 profit-sharing arrangement, in which Linhleko uses FLSmidth’s RC technology to enhance chrome recovery for the project.

Under the terms of the agreement, Linhleko, which has guaranteed access to the RC technology, will build, own, operate and eventually transfer the RC modular plant to the client.

“FLSmidth will continue to provide technical expertise to the project as well as fulfilling our financier partnership role,” Osborn notes.

Based on the success achieved to date, which has seen the plant deliver, product grade of up to 42% chrome (just below the theoretical maximum product grade that can be achieved of 44% chrome), Osborn says the company and the plant has continued to ramp up to full production (although it has not been operational during South Africa’s COVID-19 lockdown period).

“We are managing our water balance well and the plant has proven to be stable and easy to operate. We are removing further chrome material after the spiral circuit which has the same objective.

Read more about platinum group metals

“Subsequently, we have already started discussions on how we can optimise the plant further and we’ll start by conducting another assay-by-size analysis which might see us reduce the aperture size on the screen further.”

Having implemented a digitisation capability to the plant, Osborn is confident this technology will open up further opportunities to enhance the plant’s performance.

“On the back of the continuous learning about the technology, FLSmidth is expecting the momentum it has been driving around its RC modular plant technology to elevate quickly,” Osborn says.

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“As a result of our first installation, we were able to generate sufficient data about the plant and technology in order to improve our plant’s performance moving forward, which we have done,” Osborn concludes.