Global minerals processing, material and cement giant FLSmidth is using Electra Mining Africa both to excite customers with the power of digitisation in its new technology and inspire a stronger partnership with mines by taking more responsibility for process efficiency in plants.

As a symbol of both its technologies and its innovative business approach, the FLSmidth exhibition stand will feature a 1:20 scale model of its REFLUX classifier (RC) modular plant, already operating for a customer on an outcomes-based toll treatment model.

“This is a good example of FLSmidth providing a specific integrated solution to a meet a customer’s requirements. It demonstrates the insights and expertise that makes us more than just an equipment supplier,” says FLSmidth commercial manager Terence Osborn.

“Our focus is to bring the value of our technical knowledge base – along with our range of advanced product offerings – directly to bear on improving customers’ sustainability and profitability.”

This article first appeared in Mining Review Africa Issue 8 2018

According to Osborn, Electra Mining Africa is always a good opportunity to engage with operations-level customers, listening to feedback and sharing ideas about the kind of solutions that help them achieve their goals and targets.

“While many of our customers are dealing with commodity processing as their core business, the equipment they use is just a means to an end,” he says.

“Our role is increasingly to provide total solutions that package our expertise and equipment for the customer’s benefit.”

The RC modular plant on show, for instance, can take a waste product – tailings – and recover additional valuable metals and minerals as a saleable product for customers, without them undertaking added workload or risk.

“Tailings facilities are increasingly regarded as liabilities, with at least one tailings dam failing somewhere in the world each year,” he says.

“We are now presented an opportunity for mines to reduce that liability, while at the same time earning a return.”

The novel transactional model on which this plant is currently operating is comparable to innovations in other sectors. In the airline industry, for example, large components like turbine engines can now be leased rather than purchased from OEMs by the aircraft manufacturers.

“We have adopted a similar model with our REFLUX classifier, where the focus is to provide the customer with uptime, availability and efficiency improvements – rather than a product,” he says.

“Our staff operate and maintain the plant, which realises previously untapped economic potential in the beneficiation process and presents to the customer a no-risk value-add to their operation.”

Osborn highlights that FLSmidth’s solution-focused approach aims more broadly to partner with customers by ensuring the effective integration of equipment into an existing infrastructure.

“Our service means that the customers are not left alone with the task of integrating new or replacement equipment or having to engage a third party to manage this,” he says.

“Rather, FLSmidth takes responsibility for a broader set of obligations that ensures a fit-for-purpose installation.”

A key aspect of FLSmidth’s technical advancement in making these solutions more valuable is in the fields of automation and digitisation.

The RC plant is an expression of this progress and is operated by an FLSmidth-designed control system to which the customer also has remote access.

“Both FLSmidth and the customer can observe and assess the key operational parameters of the plant in real-time in their respective head offices anywhere in the world,” says Osborn.

“Our smart instrumentation in the plant gathers large amounts of data and creates the foundation for making well-informed decisions about optimisation and maintenance.”

FLSmidth’s Expert System automation software – essentially a super-controller on top of the plant controller – optimises operating parameters to safely take the plant to its maximum capacity.

These systems monitor vital data from the plant so that performance can be pushed as close to the edge of the envelope as possible without risking the sustainability of equipment.

“One of the reasons behind FLSmidth’s market reputation is our conservative design philosophy, allowing owners to generally achieve better output that their baseplate capacity,” he says.

“This maximised production has significant impact on payback models.”

He emphasises that the future for minerals processing holds great promise for opportunities like in-line chemical analysis, which can potentially report real-time plant performance and trigger automated adjustment of equipment settings.

These digital interventions are quickly becoming cost effective despite relatively high initiation costs currently.

“This is a high priority area for FLSmidth, reflected by our appointment in May this year of a chief digital officer at global group executive level, focusing on our digital efforts to leverage solutions with the technology now made available by the fourth industrial revolution,” he says.

“This is key to our corporate strategy going forward and customers will see increasing levels of bottom line benefit arising from this direction.”

The future, then, is about business intelligence, digitalisation, optimisation, and data gathering and analysis – all allied topics that are underpinned by the ability of equipment to ‘mine’ data from the processing plant.

You can read the full digital magazine here or subscribe hereto receive a print copy