In a recent sales meeting in Johannesburg, a prospective client asked us what value add MMS creates in the first three months from getting a purchase order signed off?
I thought this was a good question worth writing up for our community as IT projects can become a never ending mess with little of the promised value ever becoming a reality for its end users.
As background, MMS is an engineering technology company, offering technology and consulting services to the minerals processing industry. Our software product, WIRE, is a powerful and flexible platform which provides a reliable, simple ‘cradle to grave’ business intelligence tool for managing and organise large quantities of metallurgical and production data.
The MMS WIRE system integrates various data sources to build its foundations. Once standardised and centralised, one then has the ability to analyze all of a plants data in one place, in near real time enabling better informed management decisions to take place.
Our team consists of a group of process and metallurgical engineers out in the field with our clients, backed by a competent team of developers at our head office in Cape Town, South Africa. Having a talented engineering team on all of our projects is what provides MMS the advantage to hit the ground running and add value to our clients from the get go.
At the beginning of a project, our engineers collects all the existing metal accounting documents, most likely nested Excel spreadsheets, and studies the metal accounting, process philosophy, flow diagrams, etc. in order to understand how to implement it on WIRE. This process indirectly leads to a metal accounting and data audit, allowing us to highlight gaps in the setup of the mass balances, automated measuring equipment, sample mapping and sampling equipment, etc. Performing this scoping from site also provides our clients with experienced engineers at their disposal to consult with any process related challenges. Our engineers closes off their site visits with a feedback report to the site management of our findings of the indirect audit and any additional advise of how to improve the quality of their data.
As an example, on one of our implementations, we noticed that the client was measuring total metal grade on a daily basis and only analysed soluble metal grade on a weekly basis. The ratio between the total and soluble grade was used to convert the daily total metal grade to a soluble grade. Our recommendation was to convert this process to the inverse and analyse soluble metal content on a daily basis and total metal on a weekly basis to update the ratio. Not only is the test for soluble metal content simpler, faster and cheaper to perform, but having more accurate soluble grades in metal accounting allows for much better control on the processing plant.
Another example was when we fixed a major sampling error for another client during the first month of implementing. We noticed the recoveries were very low and the processing team were working endlessly at improving the recoveries, spending a lot of time and energy on solving this issue. Our team analysed the metal accounting balance set up around this section of the plant and despite making minor corrections to the balance, the recoveries still reflected very low. So our team started investigating the metal accounting process from the start to end and found that there was a major flaw in the sampling and sample preparation technique of the feed stream. The feed stream to the leach tanks being subjected to raffinate and already leaching was sampled in a bucket, left standing a few seconds before taking a solution sample from the top and then decanting the rest of the solution. The slurry at the bottom is then taken to the lab and put into a pan to dry before analysing for copper. Decanting the solution is a common mistake made with sampling as it concentrates the ore at the bottom. A lot of gangue material like talk, floats in the solution while the denser metal containing particles settles faster. Decanting some solids in the solution potentially increases the copper content of the solids left in the bottom. Another factor impacting the results were the fact that the solid containing slurry was dried "as is", without washing and filtering it. Already dissolved copper in the solution contained in the slurry will crystallize when dried and reflect as copper contained in the solids when analysed in the laboratory. Combining the copper in the solutions and the solids then leads to an overestimation of copper in the feed stream and hence low recoveries on paper which is impossible to improve in the field. Our team were so nice as to also write up an SOP for the client on the correct sampling procedure and provided quick training.
At the previous mentioned client, our team also identified a drawback in the process philosophy which led to a lot of down-line negative impacts on the SX plant. The client was aware of the impact this decision had on their down-line process, however they were weary of changing the process to what we recommended due to the lag effect it would have on production. Our engineers did a quick simulation of what effect the change would have on their production which resulted in a very short production dip of only 12 hours, much less than what management anticipated and a small enough impact so that the advantage of stabilising the SX plant could easily justify this small decrease in production, as the more stable SX plant would allow them to easily catch up with the loss in a few days.
Further more to our value add on site from our engineering team, WIRE is also delivered in phases and the client starts getting the advantage of WIRE possibly from the second month when data starts reflecting in the system. Although the mass balances will not yet be finished after the first month, importing data from the laboratory and SCADA systems are quick and users can start trending data and setup dashboards of actual and historical data as soon as its available. WIRE being a cloud based system allows users to start using the data while our team are still configurating the final solution behind the scenes from head office.
On a management level, our presence on site and us auditing the metal accounting and data systems, subconsciously instills a higher level of integrity, occurrence and accuracy with operators when capturing and reporting data from the start of the project.
To summarise, on a recent implementation the following benefits were taken to production within 3 months:
Centralising lab, scada and manual data entry points into one place
Offering managers the ability to trend live data to solve problems
We reduced the degree of manual data capture by more than half in 3 months, with a further halving achieved in month 4 to free up time (ie manual capture reduced by c. 75%)
Identifying areas of the plant that require more sensors, manual logging, de-bottlenecking
Identifying and reporting in week one, sampling methodology improvements that is quick and easy to implement to improve accuracy of data
To date we have learnt that our initial engagement and the final scope of the engagement can differ quite significantly, often increasing our scope of works. How quickly we are able to show that we have a competent team of problem solvers who are willing to dive in and fix things is very important to the longevity of our business and we hope that we are able to define the specific benefits a client is able to receive from MMS technology and consulting services for every three months that we are engaged onsite in perpetuity.