Assay Laboratory Design and Operation

Hall, Stephen H.
Organization: Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration
Pages: 13
Publication Date: Jan 1, 1986
INTRODUCTION At some point in the design and development stage of a mineral venture, the assay laboratory building, its interior layout, and major pieces of analytical equipment must be specified for construction or purchase. Even the most experienced chemist would have difficulty in proposing useful specifications without a good deal of investigation into the kinds of analytical tasks that the laboratory will be expected to address, the probable workload, and the operating time constraints. This chapter will provide a logical approach to laboratory design that starts with such an investigation. Specific examples throughout the chapter are drawn from the author's tenure as Chief Chemist at Barrick Mercur Gold Mines, Mercur, Utah, from 1982 to 1985. It is necessary to understand the nature of a modern production laboratory, and to recognize that its operations bear more resemblance to its parent processing plant than to a research, teaching, or custom analytical laboratory. The assay lab is a processing facility unto itself, where samples and reagents are the raw materials, and assay results are the final product. Its most efficient operating mode is as an assembly line, treating samples in a nearly continuous flow. Nevertheless , there are important differences between the lab and the process plant. The products - assays - are individually unknown quantities until they are "produced.' This can vastly complicate quality control compared to the process plant. Capital costs are general 1 y small compared to the plant, but the ratio of operating costs to capital costs for a laboratory is often very much higher than for the plant. This is due to the labor intensive nature of analytical work. For instance, during Fiscal Year 1984 at Barrick Mercur Gold Mines, labor costs for the laboratory staff represented about five percent of the total labor budget, while the laboratory building and equipment represented only about six-tenths of one percent of the original start-up capital. Failure to recognize both the similarities and differences between laboratory and plant operations is the foremost cause of difficulty encountered in designing a laboratory. The
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