Process IQ was formed by Pieter Strobos and Daniel van der Spuy after the South African duo emigrated to Australia in 2000 and 2006 respectively. The directors of the company have been involved in the mining industry for the vast majority of their professional careers, crossing paths at Mintek South Africa before they decided to set up a process control and instrumentation service company based in Perth in 2011. Process IQ has achieved triple-digit growth annually since then and is now well-known and respected in the mining industry.
A large degree of Process IQ’s clients stretch back over 17 years to when Strobos first settled in Australia. The firm’s business director tells RGN how Process IQ has developed into a client–focused mining technology and service business that understands minerals processing and is continually sourcing the best technologies that can be applied to the mining industry to solve problems.
Process IQ is unique in that it not only uses traditional technology but is at the forefront of developing and applying emerging technology related to Industry 4.0 in the mining industry.
“Some mining companies often suffer from ‘technology exhaustion’ from the hail of silver bullets out there,” says Strobos. “Process IQ fulfil the role of ‘technology integrator’, assessing many different technologies and applying appropriate solutions for mining companies.
“Since the personnel at Process IQ are proficient in a wide variety of technologies, we can provide efficient support services to mines, particularly remote operations.
“The majority of the measurement techniques we supply are unique. For example: fast online measurement of cyanide (Cynoprobe), carbon concentration, dissolved oxygen and pH in CIP gold plants and elemental analyses (like Ni, Cu, C and sulphur with Blue Cube MQi) and particle size measurement in flotation plants.
“We also assist in introducing unique and improved measurement control techniques in SAG and Ball milling circuits.”
An example of one of the company’s most recent products is MillSlicer. “Vibration technology is used to analyse the impact on the mill shell, and from that we can provide the operators with a visual presentation of what’s going on inside their mills as well as five additional signals that has never before been used in mills.
“This can have a substantial economic impact on mines as it has a direct influence on throughput and liner wear of mills.”
In fact, Strobos reveals that some clients have reported throughput improvements of between 10-20% after combining this technology with their advanced control algorithms. This is a significant operational improvement that could make a huge difference to a company’s financial performance.
MillSlicer was developed by the firm’s US partner, Digital Control Lab, and Process IQ is registered as distributor of the technology in Australia, South East Asia, Russia and Africa.
“We have skills that cover the full spectrum of automation and optimisation, including basic and specialised instrumentation through to advanced control systems and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) platforms with artificial intelligence (AI) for monitoring and optimisation.
“In Perth we have experts in every aspect of minerals processing – from design through to operations and support. Process IQ collaborate with other METS (Mining, Equipment, Technology and Services) companies, for instance to optimise grinding circuits.
“Through our remote monitoring capability, we can provide expert data analyses and support services to mining clients anywhere in the world in real time.
“Many suppliers of cloud-based systems start their presentations with ‘imagine’ while we actually do solve real-life problems for the mining industry,” says Strobos.
Process IQ currently services many gold, base metal, battery mineral, mineral sands as well as iron ore mines, working with brownfields and greenfields sites.
As a first step, Process IQ will typically visit an existing plant to conduct a detailed review of the operation. This may include a gap analyses on the existing instrumentation and control infrastructure, talking to site personnel, collecting data and identifying opportunities to improve throughput, recovery and efficiency.
“For study managers of greenfields projects, we advise thinking about “The Digital Mine” early on – typically before the detailed feasibility study (DFS) phase. Process IQ can assist by specifying the Basis of Design at this early stage to ensure the process and control system design of new mines are future-proof.”
Several factors can affect the safety and performance of metallurgical processing plants, including mineralogy, feed grade, the age of equipment and instrumentation, level of process control, skill level of operators and managers – as well as their ability to harness data and turn it into useful information to drive decisions.
It is Process IQ’s role to evaluate these key performance indicators and provide cost-effective solutions to inefficiencies or unsafe work practices.
Mining companies need a social license to operate, and part of this is being sustainable – namely being good stewards of the earth’s natural resources. An inefficient mine or processing plant is a significant expense for a miner, through losses of valuable metals in the tails or inefficient or sub-optimal use of equipment, power or reagents.
The problem is that these types of losses don’t appear on quarterly or annual financial statements, therefore it is often difficult to account for internally and can easily be ignored. However, it is just as important for productivity to audit these types of losses as the more obvious ones.
Through the application of digital remote data analytics, Process IQ can solve process problems even before the client becomes aware of it.
The manual handling of data is a big problem in the mining industry, according to Strobos, with platforms such as IoT and AI forming part of a natural solution to the manual data problem.
This is another key area of business for Process IQ, which is a vital consideration amongst metallurgical mills and plants. In many cases, plant operators continue to persist with manual measurements and laborious filling in of manual log sheets to record data. These are often shelved and seldom looked at. This information could be valuable if it were automated, digitised, analysed and used in process control.
Process IQ is spearheading the transition towards digitisation of data in the mineral processing industry through its automated analysers, IoT platform and application of machine learning.
“One example is working with a client to get their data directly from the lab into our cloud-based platform where it can be integrated with other plant data for viewing, analyses and optimisation.”
In support of its digitised data handling services, Process IQ offers a wide range of measurement devices to help operators augment other information such as in-field status and availability of equipment.
“The use of cloud-based services enables us to cross traditional boundaries and access information from sources such as design drawings, asset management, process control, part procurement and availability, operators shift information, etc. This information can greatly enhance efficiencies and reduce errors and downtime on equipment.”
Strobos believes that the biggest novel development made by Process IQ is the IoT platform and the application of AI. The business director hopes that the company can lead the process of digitisation in the mining sector, which is currently lagging behind advanced manufacturing and other industries in terms of automation and machine learning.
The mining industry is faced with several unique challenges such as unpredictable feed materials, which make automation challenging. To some extent, mineral processing absorbs a lot of the natural variability, making it easier for downstream processing.
However, a lot of technology has been developed over recent years that can now also be applied in mining to handle this variability through online measurement and machine learning.
Finally, Strobos has a simple message for any METS companies: “Partner with us in your digital transformation journey to help improve mining.”