emew Blog

Metal recovery plants - monitoring, optimization, and fault prevention.

Posted by Alex Barshai on Jun 27, 2017 11:37:45 AM

With much of the world rapidly progressing towards everything IoT, machine learning, and smart algorithms, many resource-based companies in industries such as mining, refining, and other industrial areas are still dragging their feet. The need is there, the technology is available – so what prevents some companies from jumping on the data analytics train?

Let’s look at some operational parameters that can be affected by lack of action and how technology can benefit the metal recovery industry.


Down time

There is nothing worse than not achieving payback in an given timeframe. Feed cost, operational expenses, capital cost – everything is calculated to a dime for newly installed metal production or wastewater treatment plant starting to operate. When feasibility calculations are initially made, down time is normally taken into account. Down time can be the result of lack of feed, limited human resources, or process modifications up or downstream. But down time can also be the result of poor maintenance, lacking critical spare parts that are in transit from a vendor’s warehouse, or not well optimized processes when operators make decisions based on their gut feeling and not on empirical data. Meanwhile, money is going down the drain.

Metal recovery plants


How downtime affects production rates.

When a metal recovery facility is not operating, the owner and shareholders are losing money, as simple as that. At this point it doesn’t really matter what was the cause of the down time, the fact is that the plant is shut down, source feed remains stagnant and operators have a lot of free time on-hands. The result is increased working capital and delayed payback.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the typical reasons that can cause down time.


No Spares 

In all industrial plants, some parts wear out faster than others. Not having those spare parts on hand can cause serious delays. Some spares are manufactured and shipped from overseas and on top of shipping time they can also be subject to further delay by customs. By saving a few thousand dollars not having critical spares in stock, a company can risk losing much more money by having the plant offline for extended periods while waiting for parts to arrive. 


I have no idea where the fault is

Faults occur even in the most reliable and well established technologies. It happens all the time and that’s OK as long as you can tell what is the reason for the failure. Is it a rectifier? Maybe a bad electrical connection or short circuit? Could this fault be prevented and if yes, why wasn’t it? Imagine how much revenue could be boosted if fault rates in your metal recovery plant were reduced by half? And imagine how easy maintenance would be if a magic algorithm would tell you where the problem is without anyone even touching the plant, from the comfort of your desk.


cobalt refining plant


Recovery cycles not optimized

How do you decide when is the right time to harvest metal-plated cathodes? Perhaps you ran few trials when the plant was commissioned few years ago and found out that 72 hours plating cycles are optimum. The real questions are, can we decrease plating cycle time by tuning current density, or by heating the solution, or optimizing a host of other parameters? Target metal concentration and impurities content can change, but as creatures of habit we will deliberately continue to harvest cathodes every 72 hours even though, maybe, the optimal time to harvest is after 36 hours. This means we could increase production rate by 100% just by carefully analyzing the data and optimizing recovery cycles!


By ignoring empirical data and relying on our gut feeling, we are:

  • Wasting electricity trying to recover metal that was recovered 36 hours ago.
  • Increasing working capital by keeping the metal inside the plant when it could have been sold.
  • And ultimately, reducing cash flow and delaying payback.


So, what is the solution?


Data collecting with smart sensors

In order to understand what happens during plant operation smart sensors can be installed. Modern sensors can collect various types of information such as voltage, temperature, flow rate, metal concentrations and more. All the information collected can be visualized, mathematically analyzed and offer a better understanding on how efficient the plant runs, or even predict the next failure before it even happens(!!!).


For these purposes emewCorporation has developed Copper and Nickel sensors that monitor and stream metal concentrations in real time from emew metal recovery plants. You can download Sensors Brochure here.


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Data analytics

Advanced data analytics and mathematical analysis allows us to better understand electrowinning plant performance. Some of the benefits are:

  • Identifying gaps in operating cycles.
  • Fault isolation.
  • Predictive Maintenance.
  • Real-time monitoring.
  • Power consumption reduction.
  • Plant efficiency analysis.
  • Remote access.
  • Instant warnings and notifications.
  • And more…

In most cases, we can flag a fault and have it fixed before it even occurs. This offers an opportunity to complete preventative maintenance procedures when the plant is shut down for scheduled maintenance instead of having it down for minor, preventable faults. Parts required to fix the issue can be pre-ordered and held in stock in advance removing the shipping time factor and significantly increasing operational time. By collecting and analyzing the operational data, we can eliminate waste and redundancies to fully optimize the process, improve online time, shorten payback and generate more revenue.

Have a question about your process?


Topics: Data Analytics, Refinery Optimization