The group of ESR met in Pori during 2 weeks to be trained in the different modules of the software Outotec HSC chemistry, including; Equilibrium, Pyro, Hydro, Mineral Processing, Mass Balancing and other complementary courses like Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) and Intellectual Property Rights. The lecturers were specialists (department directors and developers) in these tools and they work updating and teaching them to the mining industry. The venue was the Outotec Research Center in Pori, Finland. Outotec is a leading company in minerals and metals processing technology, so it is a good chance for us to learn from them.
From May 31st to Jun 1st we got a course about Intellectual Property Rights (IPR). We got an overview of the types or protections and rules of the IPR legislation. There are many stages for a comprehensive and appropriate management of patents, but companies utilize them as a business tool and their study is useful to have a competitive advantage in the market and ideally a monopoly.
Figure 1. Lecture on IPR, with material on how to build successful commercial technology and making sure we have full control on the IPR.
For me it was interesting to see how an inventor in a technology company like Outotec starts noticing Management of IPR about a prospective discovery, providing a formulary with the invention description, problem to resolve, and shortcomings of prior art. Then, this first document can be useful if the company considers it has an invention and starts writing a patent. Additionally, a reimbursement (or proportional share) is given to the inventor with a comprehensive formula, weighting the scale of the effect of the innovation.
On the second day, we were given exercises that comprised a patent specification and some patent applications (prior art) of a real case product that was used in an exam for attorneys. We got to study them by sequentially selecting the closest prior arts to the patented product, describing them, finding differences, explaining the effects of the differences, proposing the area of solution and possible source of answers, or identifying a patent infringement of the product.
The following week, from June 4th to 5th, we were introduced to the company and received a short course on LCA and the HSC Chemistry Basic Course that were very extensive but provided a general idea and many references for us to investigate. The next day we got the opportunity to visit their well-equipped laboratories in the main building. Inside, technical personnel and engineers work full-time to provide services in Europe and worldwide. Our guide was Dr. Antti Roine, the Technology Director and the leading developer of HSC, originally a Fortran software that he implemented in the late 80s for Outokumpu internal use. This was the first time that I saw a facility that incorporated the whole chain of sample preparation, chemical and mineralogical analysis, laboratory-scale testing, and pilot metallurgical (hydro- and pyro-) tests.
Figure 2. (left) The venue for the training course, (right) HSC basic course by Dr. Antti Roine
Personally, during the HSC Sim courses, I saw many of the topics for the first time but the software platform has dedicated menus and tools that show up in a logical sequence, and they are simple to follow up after a few iterations. The lecturers provided numerous exercises with increasing difficulty and trying to cover the most demanded issues in each module. Furthermore, the booklets were very well prepared and they are often self-explanatory if you catch up with the terminology.
In the numerous exercises provided, I was able to create flow sheets that represented the simplest versions of real study cases in processing plants and smelters that are normally modelled in the software. This includes working with the input parameters and creating conditions of functioning individually for virtual processing units (flotation cells, thickeners, mills, etc.) and streams (3 different phases).
The lecturers used an applied methodology for teaching the courses and they intended to give an overview of the work flows and modeling capabilities of software. They avoided explaining the fundaments or reasons for choosing designs and components in the circuits in the exercises. Together with this, the processing unit models got formulas and operating conditions that should be common talk in Process Engineering and we did not expend much time on their functioning models for time constraints.
In my view, they chose the best methodology to show the extensive learning material prepared to such a big (+/- 30 people including us) and varied group with different professional experiences and backgrounds. Nevertheless, we shortly reviewed Thermodynamics during the introductory parts of the whole course because it is in the core of the calculations of chemical reactions and heating/cooling requirements of the processing units.
I believe that HSC can be a great platform to use in my PhD project that will also look to improve productivity and efficiency in mining, since it has incorporated many other breakthroughs over the years.
Finally, the group participated in a course that outlined the most important technical services provided by Outotec specialists in the Research Centre. We got the chance to work with a modelling software that is comprehensive, instructive and allows us to simulate and possibly improve operating conditions in processing plants.