What led you to join SME? For how long have you been a member?
Networking. Establishing meaningful contacts with the movers and shakers of our business has been an important part of my professional career. Although this required a lot of personal initiative, SME has provided an important medium for this effort for over 50 years.
What initially led you to pursue your profession? Why have you stayed in your profession for the past 50 years?
My lifelong interest in minerals began in my early school years. I recall that I tried roasting pyrite in Mom's oven. I don't remember the scientific result but I do remember Mom's reaction!
Most of my career has been centered upon the processes for the extraction of copper and gold. In China, they call these the "color metals", for obvious reasons. I have also taken on assignments with other natural resource commodities - from oil and gas to frack sand. They are all "minerals", in some fashion, which is always interesting.
How has being an SME member enhanced or shaped your career?
Being a member of SME has been an important part of my professional identity. I served in an official capacity as Chairman of the Mineral Processing Division, authored or co-authored several professional papers, edited or co-edited textbooks published by SME on crushing and grinding, mineral processing plant design, and SX-EW.
Favorite SME member benefit(s) to take advantage of?
Beyond simply networking, SME offers a virtual "post-graduate" education through meetings, symposia, professional papers, textbooks, and “Mining Engineering”. The trade shows, typically organized for the annual meetings, are exceptional opportunities to hear, discuss and learn about the thousands of details required to design, build, and operate mines, mills, smelters and refineries – and mineral processing plants, altogether.
What do you find to be the most challenging aspects of your job?
Resolving professional disagreements. While we generally have common objectives, we may apply different metrics based on our experience and assumptions. Also, we may have different ideas for implementing the ways and means for achieving these objectives. This is often a leadership thing where the tools of persuasion and negotiation are just as important as engineering fundamentals.
What do you find to be the most rewarding aspects of your job?
Start-ups. Actually, successful start-ups. All of your instincts, experience, and preparation are on the line. After that comes admiring the result. Holding a bar of Dore' or scratching your name on a newly-harvested cathode from the plant that you just helped build are thrills beyond description. Preparations for start-ups are also rewarding. Principal amongst these tasks are the training and coaching of those to be trusted with operating and maintaining the equipment and facilities. I like to call them my "students". Especially gratifying is when the students become more skilled than their teacher - which is usually the case. I always smile at the thought.
International Travel. Contacts made or enhanced through SME created some marvelous travel opportunities. We have taken on working assignments from Mongolia and China to India and the Philippines, from the Yukon down to Chile and Peru, and from Russia and central Asia to the expanses of Africa. The experiences and immersions in other languages and cultures are great lessons in understanding our own language and culture.Exciting experiences that every SME member should enjoy: The shock wave from an open-pit blast; Peering into the gape of a giant primary crusher and hearing the raw sound of great rocks being crunched (I am reminded of this every time that I have Grape Nuts for breakfast.); Observing the "hiss" and intense radiant heat that emanates from molten copper in a converter; and Seeing the brilliant glow from blister copper or gold bullion flowing into the molds of a casting wheel.
Who has been key in shaping your career, and how?
While I can't quite claim to "stand upon the shoulders of giants", I have certainly been privileged to have walked amongst the many giants in SME. I am grateful for the insights and encouragement that these men and women have given me over the years.
Fred Bond. I had the pleasure and privilege of frequently discussing grinding theory and practice with the inventor of the famous - and tried and true - "Third Theory of Comminution" and the Bond Work Index. I will never forget the conversations in Fred's living room in Tucson.
This was the start of my first career in the manufacturing and sale of major capital equipment which led to assignments with process plant builders and engineering and construction. With this growth, my horizons became international in scope and evolved from mines, mills and smelters to include the growing technologies of solvent extraction and electrowinning.
Wayne Hazen. This man's remarkable career began with the Manhattan Project where SX technology was perfected for uranium extraction. Wayne was amongst the pioneers that recognized the application of SX to other metals, notably copper. The research company that he founded became a major contributor to the development of the art and science of solvent extraction and extractive metallurgy.
Frank Stermole. Dr. Stermole is widely known for his short course in the principles of engineering economics and quantitative methods for the evaluation of investment proposals. I took several classes from him while at the Colorado School of Mines and took his short course post-graduate - twice. No, he didn't flunk me the first time! There was just much more to learn. I routinely used his techniques for nearly every due diligence or project development assignment that I have taken on since. It was also a great capstone to my MBA in Finance from the University of Colorado. Altogether, this made me a better engineer.
There's at least a hundred more eminent SME members that have enriched my life and career. I would have certainly met some of them along the way in other venues or circumstances, but SME really expanded my horizons and the scope of my connections. I am grateful for you all. Thank you!
Oh, and by-the-way, I am especially grateful for the life-long privilege of sharing these experiences with Judith, my spouse and partner … in business and in life. Judith was an avid and active participant and her contributions were timely and meaningful.
In what ways have you seen the industry change since you first began your career?
Sheer physical scale. I began my career in mining as a very junior grinding mill application engineer. Then, a 10-foot diameter ball mill, perhaps drawing 500 horsepower, was typical and considered really big. But, there were some small mills, too. I recall one assignment where we needed to deliver a mill in small pieces that could be carried by mules into the remote mountains of Mexico. The electric motor might have been a quaint five or ten horsepower. Imagine that in a mining museum somewhere.
Today, the "average" ball mill runs upwards of 18 to 22 feet in diameter and pulls 12 to 14 thousand horsepower. SAG mills were introduced to the industry in the late 1960's and have grown from 6,000 hp, or so, to leviathans drawing 30,000 hp from motors that wrap around the enormous mill shells or support trunnions.
Also, over the years, daily mining rates and plant throughputs have soared. In the 1960's, the Silver Bell concentrator featured some ten lines of 10-ft mills and about 10,000 tpd total concentrator capacity. This was typical of the time. Soon thereafter, a 40,000 ton per day mine and mill became common and then the Sierrita operation with ten lines of 16-1/2 ft diameter mills became the standard at about 80,000 tpd. Now, 80,000 tons per day can be accomplished with one or two lines of giant mills. As well, these days 200,000 tpd operations are announced to very few responses of "shock and awe".
Automation. Also, smaller complements of operating and maintenance forces are expected to run and fix all this giant stuff. And much of the stuff can be run remotely. The electronics of the information world can measure and record flow rates (tons and gallons), particle sizes, and mineral grades … and much more. Computer-based mathematical modeling can predict mineral recoveries and even when some machinery components need replacement. This hones my fascination with "what is" and "what is possible" in our business. It's a brave and magical new world.
Environment and Community Sensitivity. Other important trends include an increasingly sensitive environmental awareness by the mining community and an increasing recognition of the importance of prioritizing the welfare of the work force and the needs and concerns of the local community. Historically, our “biz" has not been graded well - in attitude or performance - by some outside of and critical of our business. Much of this agenda-driven criticism is unfair but where it may apply, we are dealing with it and making great steps forward.
Where do you think the industry will take you in the next decade?
"There are no new mistakes!" This quip from Bob Shoemaker, one of our giants, stresses the value of experience. I have made plenty of mistakes on my own and have learned plenty from them. Perhaps, over the next decade, I will be able to actively continue with my first career and share these lessons and experience with "my younger self" and the next generation of men and women of SME.
With the forecast rise of wind power capacity and electric vehicles, the demand for metals of all kinds, rare earth elements and industrial minerals will be robust. But don't count out fossil fuels - primary and secondary. Secondary? There is some interesting fundamental research that suggests that carbon dioxide, that evil greenhouse gas, can be reduced to short-chain hydrocarbons on copper-based, electrically-charged substrates. This seems like an analog to electrowinning. Ten years from now, this might become a commercial reality, who knows? In the meantime, perhaps I can participate in some meaningful way. I’ll call this my second career! .