How Plant Operations Experience Leads to Better Plant Design

As we prepare to start our fifteenth operating season at Raglan Mine, tenth operating year in China and Colorado, we took some time to reflect on our active involvement in ongoing plant operation and maintenance, and what it means for us and ultimately our customers.

In the past decade and a half, we have designed and commissioned 18 full-scale water treatment plants at mine sites around the world and are currently operating six plants while providing ongoing technical support to others. Because we design and operate water treatment plants, our engineers take projects from conceptual design to the constructed plant, operations and ongoing optimization. By getting their hands dirty in the day to day operations of the plant, our engineers have the advantage of practical insight into how individual pieces of equipment perform in actuality and over time, how processes are best automated, where possible issues may arise and how to mitigate them.

We also have a dedicated team of plant operators and managers responsible for ensuring plant operations meet the objectives set out for each site. They know what works well, what could be better and what does not. The knowledge from our engineers operating plants and the feedback from our operations team is taken and then collectively applied to our future designs of water treatment plants.

Why is this important? We hold the firm view that design is better when it is informed by a “user” perspective. Here are a few examples of how this translates to better plant design.

Water treatment plants are industrial facilities and we have an obligation for the safety of our operators, the communities where the plants are located and to the environment. Operating allows us to identify issues that may not be obvious during plant start-up but become concerns over the years. One example is the location of manual valves that are used infrequently. Well-designed plants will locate the valves to eliminate the need for operators to work at heights requiring them to wear fall arrest gear. Another example is the design of confined space entryways to facilitate plant maintenance or plant lay-outs that minimize the movement of operators and mobile equipment to reduce the risks of associated incidents.

Capital Cost
Knowing what works and over the duration of the mine life allows our engineers to establish the true requirements for a treatment plant to meet project objectives safely and cost-effectively. This allows us to avoid plant “overdesign” and unnecessary contingencies that lead to capital cost overruns. As an example, our design and operations experience with sulphide precipitation and SART processes means we can design a SART plant with a capital cost that is three times lower than those designed by firms who have never operated such a plant1.

Operability and Operating Cost
Two key considerations for any operation are staffing requirements and the ability to achieve high plant availability. Having first hand understanding of the tasks operators need to perform and the steps to be taken means we can design plants where tasks are easier to perform, take less time and demand less physical effort. We also know when automation can occur to minimize human resource requirements without negatively impacting plant performance. Smart automation based on actual operating experience is key to achieving and maintaining high plant availability. What makes us unique is that the engineers who create plant automation programs and design Human Machine Interfaces (HMIs) are the same engineers who design the treatment process and train plant operators. This helps shorten plant commissioning and the subsequent ramp-up to full capacity operation which can produce significant savings and overall project benefits.

Process Optimization
The know-how obtained from designing and operating plants also equips us to optimize existing water treatment plants, regardless of technology, to reduce costs and enhance plant performance. In upcoming blog posts, we will explore plant optimization in more detail with case studies where BQE Water was able to improve plant performance with only minor changes to the plant.

Our engineers and operators are experienced in a wide range of process design and hands-on operation of full-scale water treatment plants. It is this direct experience that allows us to improve metal extraction projects from both environmental and economic considerations.

Written by
Alain Consigny, PEng


1Kratochvil, David. “Implementing SART at a Complex Gold Project in Mexico.” The Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration Annual Conference, 28 February 2018, Minneapolis. USA. Conference presentation.