Three new edition purpose designed 1400 litre Labotec drying ovens have been commissioned 1.2km below the surface of the earth in a new laboratory at Palabora Mining Company, members of the Rio Tinto Group. This new laboratory was commissioned due to the impracticality of transporting massive amounts of sample to the surface for analysis, thereby allowing for a reduced turn-around time in analysis, and for immediate decision making.
Palabora developed a US410 million underground mine with a production capacity of 30,000 tonnes of copper ore per day. This highly successful block-cave mine consistently delivers the planned tonnage to a concentrator stockpile for further beneficiation of copper using state-of-the-art technologies and equipment, and reputedly has the fastest ramp-up time to full production in the world. The height of the block cave is also another world record at 450m in the centre, increasing to 700m on the periphery. In one day, the fleet tips an average of 3000 buckets into 4 jaw crushers, where the ore is reduced to less than 220mm and fed onto a high capacity conveyor system to the surface. This exercise contributes to the mine’s supply of most of South Africa’s copper needs, with the balance exported.
The newly set-up underground laboratory is positively contributing to streamlining the rock analysis procedure. Instead of bringing up to surface around 6 tons of rock every week for Copper (Cu) analysis, samples can be crushed underground and only 30kg is carried up by lab operators on a daily basis. The three larger capacity 1400 litre Labotec ovens are used to dry around 90 Cu ore samples at a time every day. They are robust and built for a variety of drying and curing operations with a temperature range from ambient +10°C to 250°C. Due to the limited space in the laboratory, the built-in push in trolley and cage system the ovens use offers convenient loading and offloading of samples. When the samples are dry, the whole trolley can be taken out with the samples. No additional tables are required for the samples as with conventional drying ovens.
Underground is a buzz of activity around the clock. Soon the company is going to be mining at a deeper level in the belly of the earth uncovering more of this rich body of minerals known as the Palabora Igneous Complex formed by series of violent volcanic eruptions many years ago. The new laboratory will be ready to assist in analysing these new samples from even deeper down under.