Metallurgical Process Concept Development – Bridging the Gap
The start of a new metallurgical plant project is always exciting. The industry plays a vital role in the advancement of humanity. Unfortunately, there have been a number of unnecessarily challenging smelter projects in recent years. One reason for project difficulties is a poor understanding of the responsibilities of the different role-players. Likely the most crucial orphan responsibility is the development of the metallurgical process concept (MPC). The tasks involved in developing the MPC are shown in Figure 1.
Figure 1: Metallurgical process concept tasks.
The focus of this post is not on describing what MPC development entails, but rather on who is responsible. However, to ensure that the remainder of this post makes sense, I will summarise what the objectives of the MPC development are. In broad terms, the MPC should ensure the (1) production of a saleable product, (2) that the process can be contained within the reactor, and (3) that the products can be effectively removed from the reactor.
Equipment suppliers are experts at designing equipment and executing projects. Although they usually employ skilled and experienced process engineers, their role is not to develop the MPC, but rather to ensure that the equipment and flowsheet support the process. It is also not guaranteed that the equipment supplier will be involved in the project from the conceptual phase when a lot of the process decisions are made.
The only party that is guaranteed to be involved in the project from start to end is the owner. As the party with the most to gain and the most to lose, it is the owner’s responsibility to ensure that the MPC is developed properly and that the necessary information is conveyed to the equipment supplier.
However, unless the project owner is simply duplicating a similar operation, chances are that they do not have access to a specialist resource that is able to develop the MPC. Such a resource, therefore, needs to be sourced from outside the owner company. This is illustrated in Figure 2.
Figure 2: Role player strengths during front-end loading.
Our interests at Ex Mente have over the years developed into a suite of services that allows us to regularly become involved in development projects across a range of commodities. Although we are bound to secrecy regarding the details of these projects, both ethically and contractually, these projects have given us significant insight into the process fundamentals and the behaviour of materials.
The work we do at Ex Mente is therefore well-suited to support development efforts for new projects since we focus on improving understanding. We do this by rigorously following the scientific method, applying a structured research approach, and using the correct tools. This reduces uncertainty, and therefore risk, and ultimately provides project owners with the best possible chance of seeing their project reach its goals.