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Simulation Improvements in Mineral Processing



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Since 1986, BRGM has been developing a powerful software package, USIM PAC. It
is an easy to use steady-state simulator which makes it possible for the mineral
processing specialist to profit by himself from available experimental data to model
plant operations, and then find an optimal plant configuration to meet his objectives.
Designers of new plants can also work with this simulator to calculate the sizes and
settings required to achieve a given circuit objective.
This software package includes functions to manage experimental data, to calculate
coherent material balances, sizes and settings of units of equipment, physical
properties of the processed material, to simulate plant operations and display results
on tables and graphics. Widely used to design and optimize industrial plants, with
more than one hundred copies in twenty-six countries, this software has been
improved, through successive versions, to make it more accurate and easier to use.
Developed in the Ms-dos environment, the evolution was limited because of
calculation time and memory management capacity. To overcome these difficulties,
the Process Simulation Group has chosen a new environment, Windows 3, which
allows powerful calculation possibilities, associated at a very friendly interface,
making the software really intuitive for the mineral processing engineer.
Since the first version, numerous mathematical models for unit operations have been
included and today most of the physical treatments of mineral processing can be
reproduced by the simulator: crushing, screening, grinding, flotation, gravity and
magnetic separation, solid-liquid separation, etc.
The new USIM PAC 2, contains of course all the functions of the previous version
but also new algorithms such as a material balance calculation one, the Objective
Driven Simulation and the Supervisor of Simulation. Its structure is now open to new
fields of activity such as hydrometallurgy, fine grinding, soil decontamination or
mining waste treatment. New models have already been included for some of these
The Improvements of the simulator will be presented and some applications of the
new capabilities on complex ores in Portugal, India and France will be briefly

Simulation, modelling, design, optimization, mineral industry, complex ores.

First International Symposium on Complex Ores Utilization - Saint Petersburg - May 1994 - page 1/13
Simulation Improvements in Mineral Processing


The first step developments in modelling were conducted in Canada [1], South Africa
[2], the USA [3, 4], Scandinavia [5] or France [6]. This research produced a set of
mathematical models mainly based on the population balance approach
representing the macro phenomena which occur in the unit operations.
Research on modelling of micro phenomena also offers promising possibilities in
flotation [7], cyclone classification [8], ball motion [9] or liberation [10, 11].
Most of the micro phenomena based models are under development and the
operational simulations are mainly conducted using the macro phenomenological
Including these developments and for penetrating the industry some simulation tools
(see Figure 1) appear in the World [12].


üFeedrates STATE PLANT üFlowrates
üFeed size distribution SIMULATOR üSize distribution
üFeed mineral distribution üMineral distribution
üPower draw

üUnits of equipment

Figure 1 - Main functions of a steady-state simulator

Some of these tools have been improved to take advantage of the new software
development techniques and the increasing capability of the computers to develop
not only a software but a comprehensive approach for decision making [13, 14].

The increasing use of simulation in the mineral processing industry is a clear proof of
the interest of this approach; it is also a continuous challenge for the simulation
teams to meet the operational objectives of the final users.
For that, improvements are needed for adding and improving mathematical models
of unit operations. Furthermore, the objectives of feasibility studies, advanced design
or plant optimization have to be expressed in terms of operational needs and the
software tool has to provide all the facilities to reach these targets. This includes a
functional frame with the processing of the raw data either from lab, pilot or plant
sampling, the calculation of the optimal parameters, the design capabilities, the
simulation of the plant operation and even the investment cost estimation.

Simulation tools, such as the USIM PAC software, have proved their industrial
capabilities but new challenges are coming with the needs to obtain a global view of
a flowsheet, to allow the process engineer to express his ideas in terms of technical
objectives or to use the mineral processing techniques to work with new "orebodies"
such as contaminated soils or industrial wastes.
First, the need of a global view of the flowsheet, from run of mine to the end of the
process, links, in the same simulation tool, the comminution, the concentration and
purification circuits.

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Simulation Improvements in Mineral Processing

Second, the need for a clear expression of the technical objectives implies
developing new algorithms above the simulation tool itself.
Third, the new materials to be treated with the mineral processing techniques require
to increase the flexibility of the description of the content of streams in the
processing circuit (i.e., several phases or contaminants linked to the minerals) and to
adapt the mathematical models which are being used.

Complex ores treatments include fine grinding to obtain the mineral liberation and
often complex flotation circuit to get several concentrates. These complex circuits
have been one of the targets of the simulation-based approach in the last few years
using the improvements made on the models and the structure of the simulators.

The structure and the improvements made in these fields on the USIM PAC
simulator will be first presented and the main features will then be illustrated with

It is clearly not realistic to review all the models developed for complex ore
processing but some fields have been especially investigated.
For the interesting impact on mineral liberation, apart of its economic interest, the
Autogenous grinding has been one of the unit operation on which recent work has
been conducted [15, 16].
Continuous work on Conventional Flotation [17] and Column Flotation [18] has also
improved the operational use of these models.
One of the most promising field of research both for comminution and concentration
optimization is the modelling of Mineral Liberation [10, 19] which clearly needs more
On the other hand hydrometallurgical processes, such as leaching, bioleaching,
selective precipitation, liquid-liquid extraction or adsorption on resins and activated
carbon [20] have an increasing use for the treatment of complex ores . These
processes have an increasing importance in the modelling activities and the structure
of some process simulators has been extended to deal with these unit operations

The improvements of the simulation tools include the user interface, the quality and
the quantity of the models embedded in the shell, the algorithms used or the level of
details in the processed material description.
In the case of complex ore treatment, two fundamental aspects will be described
Erreur! Signet non défini. the needed complexity of the ore description,
Erreur! Signet non défini. the need for new algorithms which concern the
whole flowsheet for process optimization.

Phase description

First International Symposium on Complex Ores Utilization - Saint Petersburg - May 1994 - page 3/13
Simulation Improvements in Mineral Processing

To study simple as well as complex flowsheets, the phase description must be

flexible. Depending on his objective(s), a mineral processing engineer will describe
the circulating material of the plant in different ways (see Figure 1):
1. If the project consists of a preliminary grinding plant design, the only necessary
parameters are the ore flowrate, the size distribution and the water flowrate.
2. If the project is a grinding plant optimization, the engineer will be interested in the
grinding selectivity and must describe all the components in the ore.
3. If the project concerns a grinding and flotation plant, the engineer must describe
the same parameters as above but he must also define sub-populations
according to their floating ability.
4. if the project deals with a complete gold ore treatment, (grinding, flotation,
leaching and CIP stages), the ore model must be described as in the previous
case, the liquid phase composition must be detailed, and the carbon phase must
be taken into account in terms of global flowrate and composition.

S classes


ORE Global Size Sub

flowrate Minerals
Fractions Populations

Size Components
Global Fractions
flowrate Sub
GAS Global
Components Sub
flowrate Populations

Figure 2 - Flexibility of the material description

Four phase types have been predefined: ore, solid, liquid and gas. The ore type can
have particular properties that the other solids (carbon, resins,...) do not need.
General concepts have been used in USIM PAC 2, and generic terms have been
defined. A criterion of classification represents a description parameter type: criteria
can be Mineralogical composition, particle size, floating ability, etc.

A hierarchy is a way to organize the description of each phase. A hierarchy has a

dimension depending on the number of criteria used in it.

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Simulation Improvements in Mineral Processing

This complete description of the material circulating in the plant is well adapted to the
treatment of complex ores where the size classes and the grinding selectivity (or
even liberation state if this information is available), the minerals species for flotation
(with, eventually, sub populations for slow and fast floating particles), the
components which have to be eventually concentrated (e.g., gold, cobalt, copper,
etc.), must be taken into account.


To start each optimization project, it is required to know the actual operation of the
plant. Raw data from sampling campaigns must be mathematically treated to take
into account the errors of the measure and to produce a data set consistent with the
mass conservation equations and as close as possible to the raw data. The material
balance algorithm has been designed for that step of the project. A new algorithm
has been developed, using the memory management capabilities of Windows 3,
more accurate than the previous one, this in turn increases the efficiency of the
steady-state simulator.

Two algorithms exist for conducting a model-based design or optimization: the direct
simulation predicts the plant performances (stream description, power consumption,
capital cost...); the reverse simulation back-calculate unit of equipment sizes and
settings to reach predefined operations.

To solve a problem, direct and reverse simulation must be used, in different ways,
depending on the known and unknown variables. The sequence of steps required
many runs of a simulator to achieve a given objective (see Figure 3). A third
algorithm has been designed and integrated in USIM PAC 2, the Objective-Driven
Simulation (ODS) which chains the direct and reverse simulation. This approach
uses fixed data and optimizes the values of flexible data to bring plant operation as
close as possible to an objective.

Collection of data on the O bjective:

operation of the existing plant flowsheet optimization

Material balance Set of coherent data for

establishment the complete flowsheet

Calibration of the Complete description of

simulation models the plant equipment

Simulation of the
operation of the plant Designing of additional
with new feed properties equipment

Figure 3: Model-based Optimization methodology using a process simulator.

First International Symposium on Complex Ores Utilization - Saint Petersburg - May 1994 - page 5/13
Simulation Improvements in Mineral Processing

Then, with a single run, the Objective-Driven Simulator predicts the performances of
the complete flowsheet and calibrates the model parameters, improving the accuracy
of the simulation [22].

The improvement in simulation quality is due to the fact that unit operation models
are calibrated "simultaneously" and not independently, so that model biases
compensate each other instead of propagating. In a single run, the Objective-Driven
simulator has predicted the operation of the complete flowsheet and calculates the
sizes, settings or model parameters for the units of equipment.

Fields of applications of the Mineral Processes Simulation Know-how

The need for a global steady-state simulator, taking into account complete flowsheet
from comminution to purification conducted the USIM PAC team to take interest in
new unit operations. The importance of hydrometallurgical processes is increasing in
the mineral processing industry. Models have already been developed in this field.
The main problem to integrate them in a global simulator was to describe the
composition of the streams along the circuit through a simple model of the circulating
material. In USIM PAC 2, the material description is detailed and flexible enough to
allow the simulation of such operations.

Furthermore, the know-how developed in mineral processing simulation can now be

used in others fields, using the same basic concepts than mineral processing (e.g.,
soil decontamination, industrial waste treatment,...) but with a different circulating
The applications described hereafter have been conducted by the Process
Simulation Group at BRGM or described by USIM PAC users in published papers
and deal with the treatment of complex ores.

Simulation of the pilot plant operation at EDM for the treatment of the Moinho
ore - Portugal

Objectives of the Project

The Moinho deposit is located at Aljustrel, 200 km south of Lisbon (Portugal), and is
part of the Iberian pyrite belt. Its polymetallic sulfide ore contains copper, lead, silver
and zinc. A modelling study has been carried out on the grinding and flotation circuits
of this ore based on pilot plant data by EDM (Portugal) and BRGM with the financial
support of the European Communities.

Although the USIM PAC software package was used as a shell for simulating the
Moinho process, a specific research project still had to be carried out to elaborate the
specific unit operation models. This research included the following phases:
Erreur! Signet non défini. design of an ore model (i.e., to define a simplified
representation of the ore with a small number of minerals and particle-size
classes, and for the Moinho ore to define how mineral liberation will be taken into

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Simulation Improvements in Mineral Processing

Erreur! Signet non défini. collection of experimental data from the pilot plant
Erreur! Signet non défini. modelling the flotation circuit,
Erreur! Signet non défini. incorporating the new models into the USIM PAC
simulation software package,
Erreur! Signet non défini. training the process engineers and making the
simulation available to them.

The modelling phases were the most important part of the research project, and
involved numerous interactions between experimental work, mathematical modelling
per se and model evaluation.

Modelling of the Autogenous Mill

A model of autogenous mill has been built [16] with the objective of predicting the
performance of this unit as a function of the feed, taking into account the principal
design and operational parameters (i.e., feed flowrate, geometry of the mill, speed of
The model includes several original features, in particular semi dynamic computation
of the load, the separate flow-up of the angular and rounded products and the
linkage of the energy consumed and the kinetics of the autogenous grinding.
The validation tests of this model show that forecasts of operation at a feedrate and
feed particle size distribution that differs considerably from those of the calibration
point correspond in a satisfactory manner to the measured values. However
numerous facets of the model have still not been validated, in particular the
possibility of scaling up, and improvements are still needed to make this model more

Modelling of the Flotation

During this study [19] it has been shown that successfully modelling the flotation of
such an ore requires to take into account not only the influence of particle size, but
also that of the mineral liberation of the ore.

The flotation model distinguishes the behaviour of the minerals depending whether
they are found in the form of free particles or in the form of locked particles. It is a
two-parameter kinetic model (a maximum recovery and a kinetic constant) defined
for free and locked particles for each mineral and particle class (see Figure 4).

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Simulation Improvements in Mineral Processing

Rougher and Scavenger Zinc Circuit

Size class (- 23 µm, + 11 µm)

Recovery (%)




0 1 2 3 4 5

Figure 4: Chalcopyrite kinetic curves of the zinc circuit.

The simulator provided to the EDM process engineers has all the capabilities of the
standard USIM PAC software package and additionally it includes the specific unit
operation models developed during the research. The simulator is used for process
optimization. It enables process engineers to predict the influence, on plant
performance, of modifications in the equipment setting and/or plant flowsheet.

Simulation of the Somincor grinding plant - Portugal

This optimization has been conducted by the Process Department of SOMINCOR -

Portugal [23].
The first step has been carried out to improve the grinding circuit performances of
the copper concentration plant. The objectives were to keep the current output d80
value, to decrease the percentage of less than 5 µm particles and to decrease the
energy consumption.

Using the USIM PAC 2 software, the process department built two simulators of the
circuit including a rod mill, two ball mills in serie in closed circuit with hydrocyclones.
The first simulator was made of performance models (Level zero models in the USIM
PAC models classification) and was used as a data validation tool. This simulator
has permitted to obtain a description of the average plant performance reflecting the
data collected in the last few years. A second simulator made of predictive models
(Level two models) was then developed using the results of the first one as
reference. With this second simulator, various ideas were tested: variations in the
feed rate, the percent filling of balls in the mills, the pulp density, the diameters of the
cyclones vortex finders, and also the configuration of the circuit.

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Simulation Improvements in Mineral Processing

The conclusions were that an increase in the pulp density in the mills accompanied
with a decrease in the filling would reduce the energy consumption of 5 % while
keeping the actual performance.

The second step was the optimisation of the regrind circuit. The simulator in this
case was used to calculate off line the set points to be fed to an expert Control

Plant improvements in Hindustan Zinc Limited (HZL) - India

This optimization was conducted by the HZL process engineers. Their conclusions
were that simulation software of comminution and classification operations for
analysis and optimization of the performance of existing operations, design of new
circuits, mass balancing and data adjustment is extensively used in Hindustan Zinc
Ltd (HZL) in India.
This is in operation at Zawar mines (see Figure 5) and resulted in improved
throughput and more uniformly sized products [24].

Figure 5: Flowsheet Input of the simulated HZL Flotation Plant.

First International Symposium on Complex Ores Utilization - Saint Petersburg - May 1994 - page 9/13
Simulation Improvements in Mineral Processing

Simulation of the pilot plant treatment of the Chessy ore - France

The pilot plant tests regarding the grinding and flotation circuits of the complex
sulphide ore of Chessy - France were conducted at BRGM. The Chessy ore contains
copper, zinc, pyrite and barite [25]. Mathematical models were developed and tested
for rod and ball mills in order to predict:
· the product particle size distribution and the distribution of the minerals in the
particle size fractions (i.e., the selectivity of grinding),
· in part the mineral liberation.
Three fundamental aspects of the methodology that was developed have been
investigated successively:
· modelling of the ore,
· modelling the grinding and its selectivity,
· modelling the mineral liberation.
Three types of distribution were defined to represent the ore: a discrete particle size
distribution, a mineral distribution and a texture distribution [26]. In order to represent
the state of liberation it was necessary to define, in addition to the free particles
(consisting in only one mineral), various types of locked particles, each consisting of
more than one mineral. The distribution of particles between these types constitutes
texture distribution, which is super-imposed on particle-size distribution and replaces
mineral distribution which contains less information.
A mineral liberation parameter l80 was introduced. It is the estimated particle size at
which 80 per cent of the Chalcopyrite is free in the ore entering the grinding circuit. In
this particular case l80 = 50 µm.
In view of the considerable imprecision of the measured proportions it is difficult to
make a positive appreciation of this approach to the mineral liberation.
Nevertheless, considering the simplicity of the liberation model (only one liberation
parameter l80) and the constraint of compatibility with the selectivity of the two mills,
the agreement between measurement and prediction for the grinding circuit product
was shown as reasonable.


The model-based approach has been shown as an operational strategy for process
design and optimization. This is particularly clear for the complex ore processes for
Erreur! Signet non défini. the flowsheet is often rather complicated,
Erreur! Signet non défini. the interactions between the different stages of the
process are important (e.g., mineral liberation of the grinding stage and the
flotation recovery),
Erreur! Signet non défini. the material circulating in the plant has to be
described with details and flexibility in order to follow the different processing

Research is still conducted to:

Erreur! Signet non défini. develop the micro phenomena models which will
open a new dimension for simulation by opening the door to a deeper knowledge
of the processes and of the operating variables which can be optimized for
process improvements,

First International Symposium on Complex Ores Utilization - Saint Petersburg - May 1994 - page 10/13
Simulation Improvements in Mineral Processing

Erreur! Signet non défini. increase the quality and the quantity of the
available models,
Erreur! Signet non défini. develop new algorithms closer to the user's
objectives and taking into account a global view of the process.

New approaches may be used to extend the capabilities of the model-based

approach. After several attempts in the use of knowledge-based systems (i.e., expert
systems) working in connection with process simulators, an increasing field of
research concerns the use of neural nets within a simulation tool. The neural nets
can be evaluated as a technique permitting to extend the capabilities of existing
phenomenological model and to represent ill-defined phenomena.

Finally, analyzing the flexibility of plant operation for a new part of the ore body, new
market specifications of the products or new energetic or environmental constraints
requires the use of a decision support system which may include a process simulator
for technical adaptation of the production.

The authors wish to thank Somincor S.A. and Hindustan Zinc Limited for publishing
the results of their studies and the Commission of the European Communities for the
partial financial support of the EDM/BRGM research program.
This is BRGM contribution No. 94016; this work was in part financed by a BRGM
research project.

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Simulation Improvements in Mineral Processing

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