Mine lab services continue throughout lockdown

Despite the COVID-19 disruptions to the mining sector, FLSmidth’s laboratory services to the industry have continued virtually unaffected.

In fact, with the restrictions on movement and distancing to reduce transmission of the virus, the company has seen new demand for its automated laboratory offerings. According to Martin Matthysen, director, SPA (sampling, preparation and analysis), sub Saharan Africa and Middle East at FLSmidth, its hands-off technology is ideally suited to keep laboratory personnel safe from infection.

Mine Lab Services
View of a fully automated zinc laboratory

Reconfiguration of procedures

“With our mining customers being designated as essential services early in the lockdown process, we have been at their service throughout,” says Matthysen. “The imposition of the Level 5 regulations meant a necessary reconfiguration of our procedures, but this was quickly applied.”

Risks were identified and mitigated, with temperature testing, sanitising and the wearing of masks becoming routine. To facilitate social distancing in laboratories, the shift system was changed from four to five a day. Only one person is now allowed in the control room at any one time.

“The beauty of our operating system is that it is so highly automated, reducing the need for many people to be present together,” he says. “The technology allowed us to provide services without interruption.”

FLSmidth lab services during pandemic
Close up view of a robotic circle

Remote sign-off

FLSmidth’s technology was even able to put in place a remote sign-off facility to ensure strict compliance with COVID-19 regulations. This signing off process by a ‘technical signatory’ is required where the laboratory’s function is accredited to ISO standards for third-party verification.

“With all our data stored safely in the cloud, and with appropriate levels of access to mine management and operations, clients can view what they need from anywhere in the world,” he says. “The lockdown’s restriction on movement and site access has therefore presented few challenges to how our services are delivered.”

Similarly, maintenance and servicing of the laboratory equipment has been done in close compliance with COVID-19 regulations. Preventive maintenance ensures optimal uptime, and the operating target is 99.8% availability, he says.

Major work is conducted during mine shutdowns, and critical spares are held on site to ensure no lost time. Throughout the lockdown to date, Matthysen says he and his team have kept close contact with customers using digital communication in place of face-to-face meetings.

“Operator safety is a key factor of the automated laboratories designed and supplied by FLSmidth, and we anticipate far greater demand for our services in the near future as mines look for ways to further protect employees from unsafe working conditions including exposure to the virus. In addition to optimising mineral recoveries, our automated laboratories will reduce the opportunity for virus transmission by limiting the physical presence and proximity of employees,” Matthysen concludes.

Visit the official COVID-19 government website to stay informed: sacoronavirus.co.za