More and more mining operators are recognising the value of early-stage geometallurgical studies for smart mine planning – and at the same time, advanced technologies like machine learning (ML) are enabling more sophisticated insights than ever.

Experts James McFarlane, Limited Technical & Operations Director from Tungsten West, and AMC’s Principal Geologist Ian Lipton and Principal Geometallurgy Michelle Helm discuss how geometallurgy is helping operators get the most out of their mines.

The benefits of early-stage data collection in smart mining 

One of the first principles of metallurgical studies is to start early, explains Lipton: “As soon as you’ve discovered something that looks like it has the qualities that will make it a viable ore body, you should start orienting your data collection,” he says. “It’s important that you take the maximum value for every meter that you drill.” 

Early detection avoids mining operation challenges down the track

Early-stage data collection enables the best planning decisions to be made. It avoids challenges later down the line, since a lot of the valuable data that can be collected at this stage can be far more difficult to access later. While operators have traditionally been reluctant to spend money early on, more and more operators are recognising just how much data is produced by their mines and how valuable it can be – and it’s never been more important to be informed. 

Metallurgical studies identify a mine’s strengths and weaknesses 

“There’s a trend whereby we’re having to process more complex deposits,” adds McFarlane. “This is why people need to start thinking about it early. In retrospect, it’s always more difficult.” 

The information collected in metallurgical studies enables operators to identify both strengths and weaknesses of the mine, enabling them to understand the vital realities of their operation. 

“We’ve done a huge amount of metallurgy and gathered significant amounts of data,” says McFarlane. “That has directly influenced the redesign of the front end of the processing circuit to ensure that we’re catering for our deposit in a ‘warts and all’ scenario.” 

This type of metallurgical study enables mine operators to go beyond traditional predictive and geological modellings.

Mining geometallurgy facilitates a broader understanding of the project

“In my experience, mining geometallurgy has been very much a part of value-based planning because it’s more than just applying a predictive model,” explains Helm. “With value, you can understand throughput, you can understand recoveries, you can understand concentrate grade. There’s a whole lot of information that can be fed in to determine where that parcel of ore should go.” 

While value-based planning has been around for a long time, geometallurgy is taking it to a whole new level. Tools like ML provide new levels of granularity and the ability to handle multiple variants, transforming how we analyse data. It provides new insights to allow miners to make the best planning decisions. 

As the mining industry continues to evolve, with emerging trends like the rise of electric vehicles introducing brand-new demand for battery minerals, the role of geometallurgy promises to remain pivotal.