Sampling and Testing

Spedden, H. Rush ; Ananthapadmanabhan, K. P. ; Bergstorm, B. H. ; Brison, R. J. ; Cooper, H. R. ; Harper, R. W. ; Hellyer, W. C. ; Hellyner, W. C. ; Herbst, J. A. ; Hopstock, D. M.
Organization: Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration
Pages: 129
Publication Date: Jan 1, 1985
Scope of Section The physical characterization of an ore or mineral mixture in such detail that mineral processing may be effectively applied to create more useful products is one part of the technology of sampling and testing. In addition, the evaluation of the multitude of separation processes, both physical and chemical, combined with ancillary opera¬tions and performed on samples at a laboratory scale, is another part of the testing procedure. Although analytical techniques provid¬ing quantitative determinations of elemental compositions are an im¬portant and necessary supplement to any testing program, that field of endeavor is a well-developed, separate entity beyond the scope of this Section. Sampling procedures cover the practice of selecting representative quantities of test materials in the field to evaluate mineral deposits, and extend to techniques of obtaining process samples in slurry and bulk ore as part of process evaluation. The same techniques are appli¬cable, of course, to standardized methods of metallurgical accounting. Sampling is also an important facet of successful on-line measurement of slurry properties such as assays and particle size in the practice of automation. However, the sampling methods in this case can be different from those needed for precise testing and accounting pur¬poses. Sampling was well defined in Taggart's Handbook as "the opera¬tion of removing a part convenient in size for testing, from a whole which is of much greater bulk, in such a way that the proportion and distribution of the quality to be tested (e.g., specific gravity, metal content, recoverability) are the same in both the whole and the part removed (SAMPLE). The conditions of the more stringent definition, that the sample shall be completely representative of the whole as regards all aspects save bulk, are practically never fulfilled when heterogenous mineral mixtures are sampled." Taggart's Handbook of Mineral Dressing, Section 19, "Sampling and Testing," continues to be a very useful compendium of principles and techniques, particularly as applied to manual methods for han¬dling samples. In the intervening years since its last revision, substan¬tial progress has been made in both the theory and the techniques; thus, this current contribution is designed to be an extension of the earlier work, yet complete enough to provide procedural guidelines to methods of continuing validity. Although basic principles of testing remain unchanged, the meth¬ods of applying those principles have undergone great change. New testing equipment has become available, yielding a greater precision of results. Testing methods have been refined which, in many cases, allows for a valid scale up of flowsheet designs without the necessity of costly pilot or prototype plant development. Justification for a Sampling and Testing Program* The proper evaluation of a mineral property is a complicated process. It often is done on a team basis with the exploration geologist, mining engineer, mineral process engineer (extractive metallurgist), economist, and product utilizer (ceramist, chemical engineer, chemist, metallurgist, etc.) all represented. The mineral processing engineer is a key member because he can provide a go no-go answer to the question, "Can this ore be processed economically?" In addition, his judgment on the response of even the initial sample to processing can be an invaluable guide to the proposed process and its mutations. Since the capital investment and operating costs are so sensitive to the type of process used, the judgment of the mineral processing engineer forms an important part of the early evaluation of the profitability of a new mining venture. This early estimation of the processing approach is all the more important since, for some metalliferous ores, the capital investment for mill, smelter, water supply, and tailings disposal exceeds the cost of the mine. At present, for commodities such as coal, the reverse is true. There is a smaller capital investment for the coal preparation plant than for the mine. In general, both the capital and operating costs escalate very rapidly in the following order: gravity concentration of alluvial deposits (e.g., dredging), gravity concentration of lode ores, flotation, simple hydrometallurgical processes, and complicated hydrometallurgical and pyrometallurgical processes. The latter two processes may cost 100 to 1,000 times more per ton treated than processing of a simple alluvial deposit. This dictates that the valuable mineral be concentrated as much as possible to minimize the total tonnage treated in the more expensive operations. Within each of these ore-processing categories there is a wide range of process sophistication and hence of capital and operating costs. Perhaps the greatest variations are in the chemical processing of ores. These range from the simple leaching of a copper waste dump to very sophisticated hydrometallurgical processing of ores in increasing order of cost. Because the overall cost of a mining venture is so sensitive to the process selected, it is essential that the mineral¬ processing engineer evaluate the ore in the initial stages of the development of an ore body. As better samples become available, he must continually revise his estimate of the process to be employed. The sampling and testing process must be a necessary and continuing activity throughout the life of a project. One fundamental aspect of nearly all mineral deposits is the inherent variability of the mineral assemblage and composition. A utopian goal of any processing plant is to have the process so flexible and so well-defined that an automatic process control system can optimize the economic recovery at all times. Since this is rarely possible, a continuing or at least a periodic testing program is desirable. Variables to be considered are: 1) Ore body inconsistencies. 2) Zonal variations. 3) Feed variations from mining plan or methods. 4) Variable performance of processing units due to wear. 5) Seasonal or other changes affecting processing conditions such as water quality, temperature, etc. 6) Changing market conditions for product quality or byproducts. 7) Technological advances in processing methods or equipment. 8) Increasing demands for environmental control. 9) Changing economics of competitive processes, of supplies, of capital investment vs. labor costs, etc. Sampling Procedures Preliminary Guidelines for Sampling Ore Deposit Studies. t At a very early stage, it is essential that the mineral processing engineer receive a sample of the ore. This may be a portion of the diamond drill core or a split from the trench, pit, churn drill, channel, or sheet sample. Even a grab sample may have some value, but it should be selected by the mining engineer or exploration geologist to be as representative of the ore body as possible within his best judgment. The sample delivered to the process engineer should have been subjected to as little prior crushing as is practical since fine sizes are difficult to concentrate. In addition, finely ground ores are readily oxidized and thus may give misleading test results. Furthermore, ground samples may make it impossible to eval¬uate either the comminution or the coarse-gravity concentration pro¬cesses. For an initial evaluation, a good deal may often be learned from a sample of only a few pounds if that is all that is available. To obtain the maximum information from a sample, its selection should be carefully discussed with the mineral processing engineer. In addi¬tion to being as representative as possible, the mineralogically distinct samples should be carefully segregated rather than composited. Since drastically different processes are often needed to process samples of differing mineralogy, considerable care and time must be exercised during this sample collection step. The segregation of samples showing gross mineralogical differences, such as the oxide caping on a sulfide deposit or a laterized zone, is easy. It is the more subtle changes in mineralogy that can often elude the field man. Yet these differences are often sufficient to dictate that an entirely different type of process be used. Obviously, the selection of these initial samples for ore testing and mineralogical studies requires that it be done by a man of consider¬able experience and judgment. While the mining engineer or field geologist is collecting these samples, he should also note and convey to the processing engineer such details as water quality and availabil¬ity, terrain, potential mill location, tailings-disposal areas, case of transportation, etc. As the property is developed with additional drill holes, adits, etc., larger and more representative samples will be required to develop the ore-processing flowsheet more adequately. If pilot-plant studies are required, a very large sample may be necessary. Though the type and amount of sample collected for flowsheet development investigations vary widely, gathering a representative sample of the ore body is a prime requisite for any process development effort. The process developed for any given ore body is only as reliable as the sample on which the flowsheet was based¬
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