Tech-based solution allows experts to continue plant inspections amid COVID-19 restrictions

24 June 2020
JKMRC Senior Research Fellow Lizette Verster

Mineral processing experts from the Sustainable Minerals Institute’s (SMI) Julius Kruttschnitt Mineral Research Centre (JKMRC) have embraced 21st Century technology to maintain site engagement and delivery of research outcomes to mineral processing plants amid COVID-19 restrictions.

Surveying, diagnosing and identifying improvement opportunities for processing plants generally requires teams to travel to a mine site, often in remote locations, and undertake hands-on testing alongside mine personnel − a difficult feat considering ongoing travel and distancing restrictions.

Faced with these challenges, JKMRC experts have developed a remote survey coordination method which allows them to engage with site personnel and facilitate the same procedures through the use of video streaming.

JKMRC Senior Research Fellow and process performance specialist Lizette Verster said the novel approach offered a flexible, robust and practical alternative to the conventional method.

“Usually when one conducts a survey like this, it would involve a team of researchers travelling to a site, staying there for a minimum of a week, and working closely with site personnel,” she said.

“In this case, rather than us having a representative attend the site who coordinates the work, Glencore nominated an on-site representative who took responsibility and worked with us to ensure they had the information required to perform the survey.”

“We set-up a video link between Glencore’s Mount Isa Mines copper processing team as well as the metallurgical laboratory so we could observe and direct the test work as it was being performed.”

“The most important aspect of this is establishing a safe mobile link that is in line with the site’s safety requirements. All remote viewing equipment allowed for hands-free operation and was protected against dust and water exposure.”

“We opted to mount a smartphone on a hard hat or, alternatively a chest harness, that allowed site personnel to freely move around the plant while continuously streaming audio-visual data, and allowing for two-way communication”

“We are definitely pursuing this method going forward as it allows for the effective remote coordination of site work. It also provides greater flexibility of survey timing which means one can make better use of operational windows for successful survey execution that doesn’t have to be pre-determined weeks in advance.”

“The key to success is communication and lots of upfront planning and we are fortunate to have a close relationship with Glencore and are working with them on a number of projects.”

Glencore’s Mount Isa Mines Senior Process Engineer Roxanne O’Donnell was suitably impressed with the ease in using video streaming to enable the remote testing.

“This approach minimised the need for people to come onsite, and proved very effective in streamlining the analysis of our mineral processing operations,” said Roxanne.

“At Glencore, we recognise that collaboration is the key to unlocking innovations and improvement opportunities and we were really pleased to work with the team at the Sustainable Minerals Institute’s Julius Kruttschnitt Mineral Research Centre.

For more information contact Lizette Verster at