Mining Technology Provides Australia Nuclear Alternative

Mining in Australia

It’s common knowledge that mining is a critical industry for Australia. The land is teeming with resources that have been heavily sought after since the mid 1800’s. The sheer scale of the industry is tremendous for Australia. Mining draws in $250 billion and accounts for 8.5% of the GDP in 2018. Comparatively, the US mining industry only accounted for 54 billion, or 1.6% of their GDP in 2018. Additionally, the mining sector of Australia employs around 200,000 people directly and countless more indirectly. Undoubtedly, Australian Mining is serious business.

Australia’s mining sector has been molded for efficiency after decades of driving profits. However, solutions that once supported efficiency often become antiquated over time. This phenomenon took place around 1950 after the invention of the Nuclear Density Meter, which replaced manual sampling. Though the nuclear density meter provides great accuracy and convenience compared to manual sampling, about 70 years has passed since its introduction to the industry. Subsequently, this begs the question, is another wave of new engineering instrumentation on the horizon?

Kalgoorie Super Pit; Australia Nuclear Alternative

Evolution in the Industry

When the nuclear density meter was invented, factors such as paperwork, inspections, and safety costs were considered necessary trade offs. After all, the novel nuclear density meter enabled massive increases in efficiency and profits. The march towards the future forces us to evaluate current systems in place to find room for improvement. In other words, should we assume that these ‘necessary trade offs’ are unavoidable if we want accuracy and precision in measurement?

Let’s review some potential areas for optimization.

Guide to replacing nuclear density meters

Although the reasons or timing may vary, most industrial measurement processes will
at some point need to consider replacing their nuclear density meters.

This guide details the options and process of replacing nuclear density meters.

RSO Costs

Firstly, the nuclear density meter requires constant monitoring and maintenance by a Radiation Safety Officer. RSO salary costs average 82,798 AUS dollars according to Indeed Australia. This salary is another price to factor into the cost of ownership.


Nuclear Density Meter Methodology

 

Another potential point of optimization stems from the nuclear density meters methodology. Because the physical design is to clamp on, installation is very simple. Once the nuclear density meter is securely placed, radiation is emitted from the nuclear core, through the pipeline, and to the receiver. Then, the difference between the quantity of radiation emitted at the source and the radiation accounted for at the receiver is equated for density.

However, the nuclear density meter takes its measurements in ‘slices’. In other words, the meter doesn’t emit radiation constantly, but instead emits radiation a set amount of times in a quantity of time. In essence, this indicates that the nuclear density meter takes sample measurements – not an entire reading of the process in full. Subsequently, process controller engineers are left to extrapolate complete measurements from the sample, but this leaves room for error.

Instrumentation that takes constant measurements of the process in full offer an opportunity for optimization. Sample measurements are thus less indicative of the nature of the pipeline.


Dampening

 

The nuclear core that powers the meter does not get replenished, and therefore weakens over time in a process called dampening. Because of this fact, accuracy and precision of measurements are lessened over time and need to be calibrated for. At the half life of the nuclear core, accuracy and precision are lost at 2Xs the rate of pre-half life. Calibration and wipe tests might solve this issue until the core dies completely, however are these methods an optimal use of time and resources?

Nuclear Density Meter Disposal

Once dampening has claimed every bit of power from the core, the disposal process begins. Though this is the final stage of nuclear density meter ownership, it certainly isn’t the easiest. Each country has its own unique set of regulations and laws focused on nuclear core disposal. These laws are devised to protect against damage to the environment, exposure to people or animals, theft, or terrorism. To that end, abiding by the stringent disposal regulations can increase the total cost of ownership. Read more here.

 

Additional Factors

 

Beyond RSO costs, sample methodology, and disposal costs, there are other features to be considered. Ownership of a nuclear density meter also requires:

+  licensing and permits

+  team training

+  storage regulations

+  leak tests

+  relocation restrictions

+  annual audits

+  recurring inspections

Time is money, and these requirements take time to abide by and complete.

It should be noted that digitization and process automation are increasing profits in the mining industry. It is safe to infer that more mining process tasks will become automated with time. To that end, non-nuclear instrumentation can act as the half step between current technology and a completely automated process. Additionally, many non-nuclear instrumentation options offer software and integration compatibility that many nuclear density meters cannot offer.

The option to integrate instrumentation is especially important during this period of rapid evolution. Any equipment without the ability to integrate risks is likely to become obsolete. Many non-nuclear instrumentation options were developed by engineers who understand this fact.

Nevertheless, the nuclear density meter can be advantageous to many processes. However, if the requirements, costs for ownership, or other less-than-modern features become a burden, a viable solution could be non-nuclear instrumentation.

Choosing for your Process

The mining industry is performing well in Australia but one thing is for certain: there is always room for improvement. Many miners might even feel that their mine has reached its maximum capability and are searching for methods to optimize. We compiled this list of potential optimization options because even small changes can have tremendous results. At this scale, if every applicable mine alleviated the inefficiencies of nuclear density meters, the result could be millions more in profit for Australia.

Of course, only a process controller will know if switching instrumentation is what’s best for productivity. In the long run, what is viewed as a hassle to one process controller might be a necessity to another. Some process controllers might be interested in making the switch, but have concerns about the accuracy and precision of non-nuclear instrumentation.

The good news is that non-nuclear measurement instrumentation has been around and improving for a while now. Some options are delivering surprising accuracy, precision and application range. Some can operate in particularly tricky applications such as high percent solids, or even dry bulk processes.

Additionally, you can check out this Guide to Comparing Density Meters and find out if switching is possible and effective for your process. Switching to non-nuclear instrumentation could be the additional push a process needs to rise from a progress plateau. This is especially for Australian mines, which already reach incredibly high production rates and constantly strive for efficiency.

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