THE minerals industry – including exploration, extraction and processing – is a major contributor to Australia’s income, investment, high-wage jobs, exports and government revenues.

The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (the AusIMM) was formed in recognition of this, to promote and protect industry health while providing support services to Australia’s minerals professionals.
It was founded in 1893 and has since grown to represent more than 13,500 minerals industry members.
In the first week of September, AusIMM will present its 12th Mill Operators’ Conference. Hosted in Townsville, Queensland, Mill Operators 2014 will focus on developments and rising issues for mineral processing in Australia.
Since the inaugural event in Mt Isa in 1982, the Mill Operators’ Conference has run every two to three years to promote knowledge sharing and collaboration in operating practices for mineral processing plants – including extractive metallurgy, process control and environmental issues.

Mill Operators 2014
Mill Operators’ Conference chair David Hunter said that with the current mining boom drawing to an end, Mill Operators 2014 was working to help processing plants maintain productivity and profitability in coming years.

“The aim of Mill Operators 2014 is to support Australian processing throughout the transition,” Mr Hunter said.
“Australasian operations have seen increasing operational costs and skills shortages with lower grade and more complex orebodies. This, combined with increasing competition from low-wage countries, indicates that we need to lower our cost of production even further.

“The 12th AusIMM Mill Operators’ Conference will provide the opportunity for plant operators, metallurgists, engineers and operational staff to learn, share and network with others in the minerals industry to help survive the lows of this current cycle.”

The theme ‘Doing more with less’ will be explored throughout the event, whichincludes a three-day technical conference with keynote speakers, a sponsored exhibition component, three onsite refinery tours, and several workshops dedicated to professional development.

“‘Doing more with less’ as a theme is a reflection on the current climate we’re operating in,” Mr Hunter said. “When the North Queensland branch
offered to host this conference, we decided doing more with less was really the crux of what we wanted to explore – not just because companies have less money now than they have done in the recent past, but also they have fewer numbers of skilled staff.

“Regarding the minerals that are mined out of the ground – we’ve got less grade and fewer new deposits are being found in general. “In response, we’re trying to get more recovery and more throughput, to achieve more with the fewer resources available.”

Conference and keynotes
Providing a theoretical background for attendees, Mill Operators 2014 will feature four keynote speakers presenting new research in the mineral processing field.

Respected keynotes will include Outotec South East Asia Pacific sales solutions head Tom Hunter; University of Queensland Mineral Research Centre professor Julius Kruttschnitt; RungePincockMinarco executive processing consultant Andrew Newell; and Glencore process control and EIT-program XPS-consulting manager Philip Thwaites.

Each speaker will present opening comments to the conference’s four technical topic assignments – citation, grinding, process control and continuous improvement.

“There used to be a lot of secrecy and confidentiality in this industry; we weren’t allowed to share information with similar sites. Now, however, the industry is a lot more open to sharing that information,” Mr Hunter said.

“We will have about 50 papers in the conference and our four keynote speakers discussing rising issues.”

Mr Hunter said Mill Operators 2014 would also provide an arena for networking, enabling industry professionals to learn about their colleagues’ processes and projects.

“From a delegate point of view, a primary aim is to learn more about what’s happening in the industry, the latest technologies, and what other sites are doing,” Mr Hunter said.

“People will be able to speak more candidly about what they’re doing – more so than what they might want to officially say when they’re presenting a paper. This allows people to speak about any issues or problems they’re having at the site, within an informal environment, off the record and with other people.”

Site tours
A highlight of Mill Operators 2014 will be the three site and refinery tours, offering attendees a hands-on experience in minerals processing. The refinery tours are scheduled for Thursday 4 September and will be hosted near Townsville.

The first site tour will visit Glencore Xstrata’s copper refinery. With a capacity of 300,000t per annum, it is the largest copper refinery in Australia, and one of the world’s leading electrolytic copper refineries.