Woodgrove Technologies co-founders Glenn Dobby and Glenn Kosick were named Mineral Processors of the Year. Al Kuiper

Today, a mining conference cannot convene without a searching discussion on the need for the industry to innovate. The 50th annual Canadian Mineral Processors Operators Conference filled that requirement, and at the same time its organizers puzzled over the same concerns themselves.

For half a century people have gathered into one room for three days of presentations on challenges in comminution and extraction in Ottawa each January. This year, to celebrate the semi-centennial, 631 delegates – just a few shy of the record – repeated the tradition.

As well as the formula has worked, Johnna Muinonen, CMP conference chair, acknowledged that the organization needs to adapt if it is to continue. “When I was starting out at INCO [in the early 2000s] they would send 16 people to CMP. That doesn’t happen anymore. A lot has been lost as Canadian companies have been taken over by multinationals.” Without a trade show attached to it, the event has been a place where operators could bring the struggles and ideas from their experience at their own plants to share with fellow operators.

Today, however, the number of delegates from operations are vastly outnumbered by CMP members – many in the second half of their careers with backgrounds in operations – who work in the service and supply sector. The student program, which, with the help of corporate sponsors, brings a balanced mix of young men and women from mineral processing programs from across the country to the event, remains a vital part of conference, but CMP is trying to address the absence of young professionals. 

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“Right now the budgets aren’t there for these younger people,” explained Muinonen, who is also the vice president of operations for RNC Minerals. “It is hard for them to make the case that travel money should be spent on them to get them to the conference.”

In response, Muinonen said CMP has begun a pilot program, based on the CIM Metallurgical Society’s Emerging Professionals Development Program, which sponsors young people working in operations to come to the event. Two members from CMP’s Central Ontario region in the first five years of their career, one from Vale, the other from Glencore, were sponsored by CMP and its regional arm to attend.

The two attendees will write a report that details the insights from the technical sessions and connections made at the conference that Muinonen said will be used to help CMP support the efforts expand the program with industry sponsors next year.

While the panel discussion of innovation and collaboration in Canada, which featured speakers from industry, government and academia, did not break much new ground, a presentation that came earlier in the day from Virginia Lawson of Glencore Technology on the many technical innovations that emerged from Mount Isa Mines in Queensland Australia – the ISA Mill and the Jameson Cell among them – was a good study in how ideas can become reality. The keys, according to Lawson, included the survival instinct that came from operating a mine that was marginal, a complex ore body that prevented them from copying the work of others and “research that was done hand in hand with operations.” She concluded by noting that modern operations, with much of the work done remotely, make such collaboration less likely.

The best example of innovation and collaboration at the event came at the awards banquet where Glenn Kosick and Glenn Dobby, co-founders of Woodgrove Technologies, were recognized as the Mineral Processors of the Year. In 2009, the two created the company to develop the ideas they had on how to improve on the standard flotation cell. The result was the staged flotation reactor, which requires less space, time and energy to float minerals. They initially had to buy a stake in a mining company to be able to prove the technology and now have buy in from the world’s largest miner. BHP is installing 79 reactors in its Spence mine expansion project in Chile.

Ken Major received the Lifetime Achievement award for his enduring contributions to mineral processing. David Cataford, Champion Iron’s COO, earned the Bill Moore Special Achievement Award for his work through his still early career. The A. R. MacPherson Comminution Award went to Mark Richardson, president of Contract Support Services, and Rob Piccolo was recognized for his contributions to CMP with the Ray MacDonald Volunteer Award.

The 33 papers presented at the conference were drawn from 90 submissions. Muinonen said many of those that could not be accommodated at CMP will be included at the CIM Convention, to be held in Vancouver in May.