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A monthly publication devoted to scientific transactions and specialist technical topics is unlikely to be on the priority reading list of the majority of the mining and metallurgical community. But it is the ambition of the Publication's Committee to make the Journal of much wider interest to our general membership from technician trainees to mine managers to CEO's of our constituent companies. It is to entice general readership that some 1200 words of valuable space are devoted to the Journal Comment each month. This is intended to highlight some of the features and impact of the papers to excite and activate attention.

To entice this preliminary glance before confining the publication to the book shelf or even the wpb, the author has to call on a large measure of journalistic licence in style, titles and quotations. It is essential to be spicy, controversial and even provocative to separate it from the abbreviated authoritative but necessary scientific style of the bulk of the contents.
The Journal Comment aims to be an enticement to dig into some important feature of the papers in the issue. For this reason it has been decided to include it as a separate item on the Institutes Web Site. This might provoke those who enjoy twittering, blogging and googling to submit comment and criticism, all of which will be welcomed and responded to. At least it is proof that somebody has read it.
R.E. Robinson

Transactions, proceedings and transformation using IT

‘ The lecturer should give the audience full reason be believe that all his powers have been exerter for their pleasure and instruction’ Michael Faraday 1781–1867

For once I am not taking my theme from the papers in this issue. This is not because they are unimportant. Safety, rock bursts and rock mechanics are as important as one can get in the mining business. The reason is that I attended the monthly meeting of the Johannesburg Branch, which was a panel discussion on the topic of coal, energy supplies and electric power generation. Clearly, I was not the only one who rated these topics as worthwhile discussing and probably the hottest topics so far this year since load shedding started in January. The speakers from Eskom and from power consumers were excellent on the economic situation in SA. After short highlight presentations, they were joined by a panel of prominent authorities to field the discussion points raised by a sea of hands in the audience.

MEAT FOR MENTORS

‘Contrary to popular belief, good scientists don’t seek to prove a hypothesis true. We make every possible effort to prove it wrong by subjecting it to the most withering attacks we can dream up. (It’s actually great fun). This refusal to accept a new idea until it has run a gauntlet of testing is the very reason scientific ‘truth’ is so reliable.’ Paul G. FitzGerald, PhD, University of California

I am compiling this Journal Comment during some of the most unhappy and turbulent times I have experienced in South Africa. It is not appropriate to use this Journal to comment on the social, economic and political impact of savage mob violence in the xenophobic atrocities we have experienced, other than to observe that a major contributing factor is the horde of jobless impoverished populations living in squalid shanty towns. In sharp contradiction, it is in these turbulent but exciting times that we have more opportunities than ever before to create jobs at a comprehensive range of skill levels in numbers large enough to break the back of the unemployment scourge. There are millions of houses to be built with water reticulation and effluent systems.

Waste not, want not’

Proverb, dating back to 1772

I had just returned from my visit to family in Australia when I was faced with the latest issue of papers for the May Journal. To find a common theme from this mixed bag of topics was not as difficult as first anticipated thanks to some experiences on my visit. Our family in Melbourne is like almost all households in Australia, highly digitalized with five computers in a family of five. I and my laptop were very soon hooked up to high-speed facilities. Perhaps the most enjoyable were the 24-hour broadcasts from the Australian Broadcast Corporation, completely free of advertisements and excellently presented, authoritative and thoroughly informative and entertaining with news, topical, political, science, international and general discussion features.

Tithes for technology transfer


‘tithe—tax of one tenth, esp. one payable in kind taken for support of clergy and church’ The Concise Oxford Dictionary

The annual student papers are as interesting as ever. Nickel and platinum are always fascinating to me and most other members. Perhaps the most ambitious paper is that on computational fluid dynamic modelling of a hydro cyclone. To achieve such a model, which can be used in practical design and for optimizations has been a ‘Holy Grail’ target for mineral engineers for half a century. Some innovative thinking could have a most valuable outcome. I should like to hope that a logical conclusion to these projects might be papers in the transaction section of our Journal. This leads me to ponder whether this has a reasonable possibility of happening. A brief attempt to get a figure for the number of research workers in the field of mining and metallurgy reveals that at Wits in the department of Materials and Process Engineering there are 80 postgraduates. There are now many other centres of tertiary activity in mining and metallurgical research: Stellenbosch, Pretoria, KwaZulu, Potchefstroom (University of the North West), RAU (Johannesburg University of Technology) and Cape Town. So I guess that there are maybe several hundred worthwhile publications emanating from the MSc and PhD theses at our universities.

A nasty new world

‘There are three certainties in life: death, taxes and never ending inflation’ Quoted in an after-dinner speech by a Cabinet Minister

In the previous issue, our guest commentator, Dr Sam Spearing, made some powerful observations on the importance of mining engineers. This importance is emphasized at this time of a power crisis and even more so if extended to all other engineers and specifically those involved in power stations. We are in for a rough ride and the allocation of electrical power to the various consumers, involves decision making of the highest strategic importance. We have suddenly been transformed from a euphoric climate of abundant low-cost coal and low-cost electrical power into a crisis of shortage, rationing and unquestionably high double digit inflation in energy costs. This is a frighteningly different world!

Mining is the most fundamental engineering discipline and the most rewarding*

The Publications Committee felt that the following comment was worth publishing to give Prof. Robbie Robinson a break. He will be back next month. Prof. A.J.S. (Sam) Spearing is Corresponding Member of Council for the USA. He is associate professor of mining and mineral resources engineering at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. The Journal welcomes contributions from other Corresponding Members of Council. Mining is the most fundamental of the engineering disciplines as without the raw materials, we have nothing and no other engineering disciplines. The old adage: ‘If it cannot be grown it must be mined’ is as true now as it ever was. In fact mining forms an essential part of bulk farming by providing not only the equipment but also most of the fertilizers (sometimes, however, not sensibly used).

The wonder metals

‘It is no use saying we are doing our best You have to succeed in doing something necessary’ Winston Churchill

It is difficult to resist the temptation to do what most of the commentators do at the beginning of a New Year. This is to review the past year with the satisfaction of saying ‘I told you so’, and then to pontificate on New Year’s resolutions aimed at avoiding the sins of the past causing disasters in the future. There was a temptation to discuss aluminium plants in relation to Escom’s capacity to produce power. Fortunately this was overcome by the publication of this suite of papers from the Heavy Minerals Conference (now a regular feature on our programme), which made it irresistible to reminisce on the unpredictable path of scientific and technological advancement.

President’s message for the new year…

The end of 2007 marks the close of one of the most exciting years in the history of the Southern African mining industry. I have been involved with the industry only since 1969. The nearest I have been to the rocketing growth that is currently being experienced was when the United States dropped the gold standard, and in a few years the price of gold escalated from $32 per ounce to nearly $850 per ounce. We experienced a massive growth in gold mining. In the current high demand for commodities we have seen prices of nearly all the minerals mined in Southern Africa reach new highs, with a corresponding increase in capital investment and major brownfield and greenfield expansion.

This, in turn, has resulted in many job opportunities in mining and a realization that the lean years have left us with a substantial skills shortage, plus an age gap where we have a few grey heads and many youngsters, but are short of the in-betweens. The SAIMM now has established, or is in the process of consolidating, new branches in Zambia, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe where, with the help of our members, we plan to carry out the key objectives of our Institute. These can be summarized as: to disseminate scientific and technological knowledge and to identify, represent and promote the interests and needs of our members and other professionals in the mining and metallurgical industries. I am sure 2008 is going to be just as hectic as 2007 has been. So please take this opportunity at the year end to relax and recharge your batteries. Follow the mining emphasis on safety, and take care while travelling. Have a blessed Christmas and a joyful New Year. R.G.B. Pickering President December 2007

‘Christmas is coming, the goose is really fat.

Please put some lolly in the poor families’ hat’ Parody on a Christmas chant This is the appropriate time to express the hope that all readers have a joyous festive season and to convey my best wishes for the forthcoming year. But it is also the time to pick out some items that relate to features of the industry in 2007. Very pleasingly, there have been a lot of papers on the mining aspect, many of which relate to mine planning, decision making and the selection of mining methods. It is fitting that in this end-of-year issue there are several papers on this topic including the application of ‘fuzzy logic’ to assist in decision making.

A revival in training and education

‘Neem die goede uit die verlede en bou die toekoms daarop’ Paul Kruger

The topics of the papers in this issue all relate to the platinum group metals. The two mining papers and the Presidential Address (September Journal ), point very clearly to a change in the culture of narrow reef mining and particularly in mining the Merensky and the UG2 reefs of the Bushveld Igneous Complex (BIC). Something far more sophisticated is needed—low profile haulage vehicles, automated drilling by high-speed hydraulic powered drills, highpressure water jet cleaning, and indeed a combination of new technology, new systems, and new designs, which require advanced engineering, and materials science and sophisticated drilling rigs.

The clock is ticking

‘The clock is ticking and time is running out for us to avoid major climate change with its attendant real and serious threats to our economies and people’s livelihoods, health, food security, and damage to our ecosystems’ Marthinus van Schalkwyk, Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism

By coincidence the paper by Nyoka and Brent in this issue inspired me to write a sequel to my previous Comment on the Wonderful World of Minerals. The paper referred specifically to evaluating the environmental costs a metallurgical plant, and was well researched and topical. But the inspiration came from some of the definitions and terminology, which are obviously commonplace in impact assessment studies but not in my up-to-date dictionaries, so I was on a much-needed learning curve. I quote from the paper two of the many definitions that intrigued me: ‘The environmental sustainability dimension concerns an organization’s impacts on the environment due to an introduced technology.

An Engineering Academy

‘Athens, the eye of Greece, mother of arts and eloquence, native to famous wits or hospitable, in her sweet recess, city or suburban, studious walks and shades; See there the olive grove of Academe, Plato’s retirement, where the Attic bird trills her thick-warbled notes the summer long’ John Milton Paradise Regained

The papers in this issue are unashamedly engineering in character. I found them of interest by virtue of a proposal some years back on the feasibility of using pipeline slurry reactors for conducting a variety of pressure leaching processes while transferring underground material from the depths of a mine to the surface. It is not impossible that it could be resuscitated should uranium extraction from the ultra deep levels of some of the West Rand mines becomes viable. I am fairly sure not too many of our readers will be delving into them in detail. Nevertheless they are important and represent examples of the slow steady advances that are typical of so many engineering developments. At any time, if properly done and recorded, may provide the vital data leading to new technology.

Empowerment and affirmative action perceptions and pragmatism

‘For Fools rush in where angels fear to tread’ Alexander Pope

It is perhaps madness to tackle a topic so pregnant with recriminations, emotion and politics. I do this because the papers in this issue emphasize, in technical terms, the hazards in mining and smelting, to workers, to the public and to the environment. Similar hazards are present in all major engineering endeavours: as in air travel, road transport, concrete structures and fire and explosions in chemical plants, to give but a few well known examples. There is a paramount need for stringent performance and discipline by employees in design, maintenance and operation. In the mining and metallurgical industry there is an additional significant dimension, the continued R&D priority to improve safety commensurate with increasing performance demands. Such disciplines have impacts on the professional institutes, far more than the business world. But the institutes, being predominantly scientific and technically orientated, tend to scoff at emotional issues, which often deny logical decision making and leave it to the politicians. But empowerment and affirmative action is a matter that cannot be ignored, least of all in the light of the latest legislation for continuing updating of skills for professional engineers and associated technicians and scientists. This responsibility to the public makes demands on many levels of management, even directorate.

Promoting the profession

‘The mountain hath laboured and brought forth a mouse

This issue is devoted to papers arising from students’ projects. Many times we have elaborated on why we devote valuable space, effort and money to do this. I am not going to repeat the motivation, but express the hope that you find something of interest in the contributions. The publications committee would like to offer a much bigger selection from many more topics to give the readers and particularly the members of the Institute a better perception of the status of teaching and learning at university, technikons, and even colleges and learnerships. But we are at the mercy of the degree of interaction between industry and these centres of tertiary training. This is after all, part of the foundation of a professional society.

Tera rays The last frontier

‘We stand today on the edge of a new frontier’ President John F. Kennedy

No, this Journal Comment is not about weapons of mass destruction. Nor is it an anglicized version of the names of folk heroes such as ‘Terreblanche’ and ‘de la Rey’ to bolster the latest pop tune to be sung at cricket matches. Rather, it relates to the analytical sciences and the physical methods of examination of materials. Analytical science was the subject of two papers in the last issue and a suite of papers on corrosion and physical metallurgy in this issue, which are particularly relevant to the Tera Ray topic. My first six months’ work in the mining and metallurgical industry as a chemical engineer was in an analytical section of the Government Metallurgical Laboratory.

Fair deal free marketing

Every reform was once a private opinion, And when it shall be a private opinion again It will solve the problem of the age’ Ralph Waldo Emersion (1803–1882)

In the previous issue I discussed the ‘casino culture’ of global capitalism and the tangled web of international free marketing... To unravel the economic aspects we need to define our priorities in national policies. From the President down to the lowliest opposition backbencher the clarion call is to combat poverty by the creation of jobs. The statistics are controversial and almost impossible to acquire, but in general terms it seems to be recognized that there are of the order of 10 million people unemployed, that of the four hundred thousand school leavers, only 10% can find jobs, and in the age group of 15 to 35, 70% are unemployed!

The Casino Culture

‘Oh what a tangled web we weave If ‘Global Marketing we believe’ Parody on quotation from Sir Walter Scott

The ‘casino culture’ is, by my definition, one in which a gullibility exists that allows a favoured few to get immensely rich at the expense of the masses. This culture extends within a nation and globally. The arguments promoting this culture are clever, complex and devious. They are typified by the promotion of casinos and lotteries where a population is led to believe that these are good for the nation, particularly the deserving charities (like the Blue Bulls Rugby Union!). This is as illogical as it is immoral. All the statistics show that, apart from an almost negligible number of ‘winners’, it is only the franchisors, the fat cat executives and shareholders of the privileged companies awarded a licence who will benefit.

Past, present and future achievements and milestones in the mining industry

In this issue there is a selection from the presentations at the conference on the Mining Achievements, Records and Milestones. There is a diversity of topics ranging from hydro transport of materials, standards for railway tracks, high speed conveyers that go around corners, economic optimization for strategic planning and the risk factors in mining investments. They are all competent presentations and there is, in general, a theme of improvement in efficiency, safety and economics. They all represent steps forward in mining technology and are important. I was hoping, perhaps unreasonably, to see something in the nature of a breakthrough in the search for the Holy Grail of gold mining in South Africa—the ability to mine at ultra deep levels (>4000 m) safely and economically.

It is perhaps appropriate that this selection appears in the last issue of this calendar year, since they provide a retrospective look at the achievements of previous years. Interestingly, one paper on coal strata control goes back some 50 years to the Coalbrook disaster, which caused major rumbles in the shallow depth coal mining in South Africa, where similar problems still exist today. In the New Year, we should look at a forecast of what lies in the future for the mining research and development contributions that are likely to appear in our Journal. It is not my intention to comment in detail on these topics, least of all in this December holiday issue. However, they do provoke the realization that the once mighty Chamber of Mines Research Organization has declined to a subdivision of the CSIR, and the money available for forefront research in hard rock deep-level mining technology is becoming more and more limited.

This was an area of technology where this country was at the forefront and there is a great deal of unfinished business in rock mechanics, rock bursts, rock breaking and mine ventilation. There is, of course, the vision of successfully mining the largest known gold resource in the world at the deeper levels of several of existing mines. It will be very interesting to see what a dwindling band of researchers is able to contribute in the future years. Maybe, if we consider the potential benefits in coal, gold and platinum there is a crusade to be waged to resuscitate the era where papers on fundamentals were regular features and eagerly looked for in the Journal.  R.E. Robinson    December 2006

President’s message for the holiday season… As we once again reach the end of a successful year for the SAIMM, it gives me great pleasure to take this opportunity to wish all who make up the family of the Institute a wonderfully relaxing and peaceful holiday season. For those who are travelling, take it slow, steady and safely, enjoy the journey as much as the destination. To those working, even in the demands of your everyday life, I wish you little moments of joy and peace and to all who are lucky enough to spend time with family, may the year end in joy and fellowship. Celebrate, relax and recharge to start afresh for a new and challenging 2007. R.P.H. Willis President

Sustainability

‘Nothing is there to come, and nothing is past, but an eternal NOW, will always last’ Abraham Cowlie

‘Sustainability’ is a word used frequently in the Mining Charter, the ‘Magna Carta’ negotiated between the mining industry and the newly elected government after the modern ‘reformation’ in the third millennium of South Africa’s history. There is a reasonably close parallel between the rights granted by King John to the Barons, the clergy and freemen of England and the privileges and responsibilities negotiated with the mighty mining industry. Although not of the same status as the Bible or the Constitution, the Mining Charter is an important document which must be respected by all involved in mineral exploitation in this country. Regular Report Cards are obligatory.

Research into research

‘The way to do research is to attack the facts at the point of greatest astonishment’ Celia Green 1915    

In this issue is a review of the methods used in the mining and metallurgical industry to manage the research portfolios of a crosssection of SA companies. It makes interesting reading, but I must admit that I battled to comprehend the significance of some of the typical business school diagrammatic representations of risk in portfolios...  There are many ways of killing a cat and of course the companies must elect according to their own culture what methodology they establish for their R&D expenditure. If we take out the ‘D’ from R&D (which relates predominantly to adaptation of existing technology to production and marketing improvements), and focus on the real innovative Research, then some comments on a strategic national portfolio of research might be appropriate.

National and industry collaboration

‘  I am proud of the part played by the mining industry in this remarkable co-operative achievement and of what was accomplished through the readiness with which the industry pooled its resources and experience to make uranium production in South Africa a reality’ C.B. Anderson, President of the Chamber of Mines 1956/57

It is the convention that in the issue in which the Presidential address is published there should be no Journal Comment. The topic for the presidential address is ‘The uranium story: an update’. I cannot resist the temptation to contribute to the early events that led to the successful establishment of the first uranium plants in South Africa, if only to reinforce some lessons to be learned from what many consider to be the finest collaborative project in the history of the mining and metallurgical industry. I would not dream of breaking tradition, so I am taking the liberty of using this August issue to reminisce on the exciting times starting in 1946.

Buzzwords, breakthroughs and bandwagons

‘Government believes that science and technology is pivotal for the country to successfully assuage unemployment, poverty and underdevelopment’ Nanotechnology Report: DST

I spent a considerable amount of time reading the Nanotechnology Strategy Report and several other items such as the Deputy Minister’s address to Mintek and the Minister’s speech in Parliament on his budget debate. The Strategy is an important document, which was compiled by a team of researchers in the Department of Science and Technology and the Department of Environment with consultants from industry and universities. It was approved by the cabinet for an increased allocation of R450 million to launch the strategy over three years.

Education by reformation

‘In practice a reformist party considers unshakable the foundations of that which it intends to reform’ Leon Trotsky (1874–1940)

It was with foreboding that I read a press article in the North Eastern Tribune written by the Independent Private Schools Association of South Africa, based on research by Dr Jane Hofmeyr, the executive director of IPSASA. Hofmeyr asserts that clear evidence has been produced by a 2005 Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) report, which shows that, with an average learner-teacher ratio of 35:1, South Africa will have a shortfall of 32 000 teachers by 2008.

What price water?

‘The biggest waste of water in the country by far You spend half a pint and flush two gallons’ Attr. Prince Philip—Duke of Edinburgh

I am writing this comment at the end of the World Water Week but it might appear only in a later issue appropriate to this topic. I had the privilege of attending the Mine Water Symposium arranged by the Geological Society of South Africa in mid-March. It was an excellent presentation dealing predominately with the underground water from the gold mines on the Witwatersrand and the coalmines around Witbank and Middelburg.

Student projects’ issue

‘The biological (if not the aesthetic) value of remembering Is not that it allows one to reminisce about the past but that it permits one to calculate coldly about the unknown future’ Colin Blakemore

The Institute has always considered it well worthwhile to produce an issue devoted to student projects. These are a requirement in the final year and an important component of university training to expose the prospective graduates to research procedures. Inevitably they will be exposed to research in their careers as participants, sponsors or users. These projects have to be undertaken at the final year when examinations are looming, and time does not permit the same level of detail expected from a postgraduate researcher. The limited number that can be published is a selection from a large number with some attempt to cover the main university departments that contribute to mining and metallurgy. I started my perusal of the papers with that of Louise Bircumshaw et al., on the mathematical modelling of the biochemical leaching of refractory pyretic concentrates.

Mining, management, metrics and mathematics

‘Little Jack Horner, sat in a corner, eating his Christmas pie He put in his thumb, and pulled out a plum, and said what a good boy am I’ Hilaire Belloc (1870–1953)

Through the ages, mining has been the gambler’s happy hunting ground. More so in South Africa than in any other part of the world. One has only to recall the the discovery of diamonds, the Witwatersrand gold fields, Barney Barnato, Hans Merenski and the platinum riches of the Bushveld Igneous Complex and the Phalaborwa carbonitite to recognize that we have had more than our fair share of plums in the pudding and the magnate millionaires to pull them out. This gambling addiction continues.

The Cinderella of tertiary education

‘Lord Finchley tried to mend the electric light himself. It struck him dead. And serve him right! It is the business of the wealthy man to give employment to the artisan’ Hilaire Belloc (1870–1953)

In the last decade, government and public attention has been focused on universities and the upper levels of tertiary education and on promoting the culture of toplevel technical innovation and the need for scientists and engineers capable of high-level research.  What seems to have been on the low burner is the ground floor of ‘tertiary’ education. I am referring to the army of artisans, the apprentices, the technicians and engineering technologists. Such trainees do not aspire to the same level of mathematics and theoretical science as traditional university graduates do. They are more suited to the practical skills. But what does not seem to be appreciated is that the number of this artisan and technician category should far exceed that of university graduates, probably by a factor of two or more, as is the case in most first world hi-tech countries.

BOOM TIME BLUES

‘A government study across a number of countries showed that, when it came to paying skilled workers, South African wages were at the bottom, but, when it came to paying managers, they were at the top’ Alec Erwin: Address to the Metal and Engineering Union Bargaining Council.

There was good news and bad news from the Minister of Public enterprises.
The good news was that the government was planning to spend R320 billion in the next five years on the Public Sector infrastructure development plan.
The bad news was that as much as 40% of this might have to be spent outside South Africa because of the decline in capabilities of the private sector as a result of deterioration of skills and expertise.