In 1882, at around the same time that Thomas Edison was preparing to bring electricity to people’s homes in New York, Frederik Læssøe Smidth was launching a new engineering company in Copenhagen. The two events were unrelated, yet as we look back it is easy to imagine a connection between them. Both Edison and Smidth were innovators – captivated by the potential they saw for transformation, and eager to play their part in a changing world.


Their visions blossomed and grew, crossing national borders, overcoming technical boundaries, and giving rise to industrial developments that have led us to this moment, 140 years later, a new age of innovation. Though much has changed, our journey now is built on the same principle that guided our founder in FLSmidth’s inaugural year: a desire to make things work better. The defining characteristic of an engineer.


Anniversaries tend to be a time in which we reflect on our history and all we’ve achieved. But, as we grapple with global issues in which mining plays a central role, our time is better spent taking the lessons of our past and applying them to the challenges of our future.


An attitude of innovation

One such lesson is the power of innovation to push industry forward. Not innovation for innovation’s sake, but innovation in pursuit of excellence. From the first rotary kilns in 1899 to today’s MissionZero Mine flowsheet, we have pushed relentlessly for increased efficiency, performance, and competence in all areas.


This is what has kept us at the forefront of the cement and minerals industries. Because when we develop more efficient processes, we help our customers become more productive, more profitable and more sustainable. Every technology we have introduced or refined in the last 140 years has been developed with that in mind.


Innovation in 2022

What does innovation look like for the mining industry in 2022? In what way are we pursuing excellence now? Productivity is still important. Demand for some minerals is expected to double by 2050, as the world transitions to greener technologies that rely on copper, lithium, nickel, and more.


But society is no longer willing to accept productivity at any cost. There is a social imperative to reduce the environmental impact of mining. This is the direction that innovation must take now. We at FLSmidth are dedicating our efforts to this mission with technologies that will empower mine operators to achieve zero water waste, zero energy waste and zero emissions by 2030.


We’re doing this through a heavy investment in R&D – to make sure the technology is in place to achieve these goals – but also through a heightened emphasis on digitalisation and services. These are important factors in any sustainable mining operation. They enable us to combine everything we know about mining processes – the data your operation generates – with our experience of the mining processes. And with well over a century in the industry as an equipment manufacturer and service provider, there’s not a lot we haven’t experienced.


We’re doing this through a heavy investment in R&D – to make sure the technology is in place to achieve these goals – but also through a heightened emphasis on digitalisation and services. These are important factors in any sustainable mining operation. They enable us to combine everything we know about mining processes – the data your operation generates – with our experience of the mining processes. And with well over a century in the industry as an equipment manufacturer and service provider, there’s not a lot we haven’t experienced.


Digitalisation + service = optimisation

This ‘sweet spot’ – the meeting point of data and experience – is fertile ground for optimisation projects. This is where we find potential to upgrade mining operations and maintenance, and how we enable huge improvements in efficiency, availability and productivity.


For example, our asset health monitoring programmes alert mine operators to the early warning signs of a problem with their equipment, giving them the opportunity to act before failure occurs. Likewise, digital tools like our ECS/ControlCenter software platform help eliminate the potential for human error in control centre operations. Remote services like Augmented Field Engineer enable us to offer supportive expertise, even when we’re not on site with you.


Our suite of digital tools and our portfolio of onsite and remote services are all designed around the principle that there are efficiencies to be gained within your existing process – and we have a responsibility to find them.


New ways with old processes

Despite the potential offered by optimisation, new technologies will also be necessary to achieve the MissionZero Mine of the future. Fortunately, many of these are already available – and more are in development. Some of the key technologies we see having a critical place in future mine flowsheets are listed below.


  • HPGRs and OK™ Mills – both already in use in the cement industry – reduce emissions and eliminate water waste, while increasing the efficiency of grinding processes. When combined with air classification systems, they also reduce overgrinding, further benefiting your overall process.
  • coarseAIR™ is a low turbulence, aerated fluidised bed separator combined with lamella plates based on the REFLUX™ classifier. The technology is able to float larger particle sizes (up to approx. 650 micron), enabling an increase in target grind size and offering significant sustainability and process benefits. It provides excellent efficiency through improved resource utilisation – not only in terms of air, water and energy but of the mineral resource itself.
  • REFLUX™ Flotation Cell (RFC™) is a highly efficient system that reduces the required flotation volume 7-10 fold. This in turn reduces plant footprint, as well as water, air and energy consumption. Efficient separation is achieved over a wide range of particle sizes, facilitating the ability to finetune preceding grinding and classification systems to ensure optimal pumping and cycloning energy input. The RFC reduces CAPEX by 35% and flotation circuit energy use by 60%.
  • Digital innovations such as LoadIQ and PlantVision make your advanced equipment even smarter by providing the high-level insights that enable you to achieve maximum operational efficiency by, for example, optimising mill load or preventing valuable material from going into tailings.
  • EcoTails blends “fast filtered” tailings with waste rock in transit and creates a geotechnically stable product called GeoWaste™. When blended properly, GeoWaste is easy to convey and has a high strength when stacked. EcoTails and GeoWaste make dry stacking possible for large-scale mining, even in areas with high seismic activity. EcoTails carries all the advantages of filtered tailings, as well as added benefits such as reduced acid rock drainage (ARD) potential, an even smaller total waste footprint, and improved physical stability.


These technologies don’t just offer sustainability benefits, such as energy savings or reduced water consumption; they also enable you to get more from your ore. This ability to do more with less is vital to meeting the productivity and environmental challenges we face.


Transitioning to new technologies

With all the existing potential for optimisation, added to the gains to be made from new equipment, it’s clear that the MissionZero Mine can be achieved. But what will drive the minerals industry to make the changes needed to meet climate targets?


This is one of the biggest obstacles to progress right now and a question that comes up at all the industry events we attend. The reality is that there is no single answer – and perhaps that is why uptake of sustainable mining practices lags behind the desired (and required) speed. Change will be driven by regulation, by investors, by consumers and by consumer-facing companies.


When once the role of minerals in consumer products was neither widely considered nor discussed, today there is increasing emphasis on the supply chain. Customers expect mining companies to minimise the environmental burden of their products. Flip that around and it’s clear that mine operators will have to give far more thought to the end user than they have done in the past.

One of the ways in which the industry can answer this call for greater transparency is by joining a scheme that delivers a fixed framework within which to work.


For example, the Copper Mark is an assurance framework set up to promote the responsible production of copper. Copper producers participating in the scheme are committed to adhering to internationally recognised responsible operating practices. As a Copper Mark Partner, we encourage the mission and vision of the Copper Mark organisation, while also proving and furthering our own commitment to our MissionZero ambitions.


We have also committed to Science Based Targets – namely to:

  • Be carbon neutral in our own operations by 2030.
  • Reduce our downstream greenhouse gas emissions (i.e. those from our customer’s products, including cement and minerals) by 56% by 2030.
  • Ensure that a minimum of 30% of our suppliers (by spend) have their own Science Based Targets in place by 2025.


Initiatives such as these will form an increasingly important part of a customer’s purchasing decisions. Mine operators and suppliers alike will find they need to be a part of this ‘accountability loop’ in order to remain competitive.


An open call for partnership

Partnership has always been a part of our ethos. Much of our strength comes from the acquisitions we have made and the exceptional talent that has come with those acquisitions. We look forward to welcoming more of that with the acquisition of thyssenkrupp’s Mining business, which is still subject to regulatory approval.


We have also forged strong bonds with our customers, with fellow suppliers and with academic and trade institutions – all of whom have supported and enriched our innovation mindset over the years. These partnerships have been incredibly fruitful. In fact, some of mining’s most important technological breakthroughs in recent years have come from academia. HPGRs, minerals processing simulation tools and the REFLUX™ Classifier were all developed in collaboration with universities.


As we push for greater productivity and a reduced environmental impact, these partnerships will only grow in importance. It’s a case of ‘all hands on deck’ to meet our targets and ensure a sustainable future. Research partnerships will be needed to help ideas become real products, and for those products to become commercially viable. We’d like everyone reading this to consider this an open call for partnership. If you can help us progress our MissionZero goals, we want to work with you.


With responsibility comes opportunity

Achieving a sustainable mine in the face of exploding demand is a large responsibility. But we also see it as an opportunity. For mine operators, it’s a chance to distinguish yourself from your competitors, while creating a legacy that you can be proud to pass on to future generations.


As a key supplier to the industry, we are committed to building our reputation as the sustainable productivity provider. We encourage all others who work in the industry to do the same. As we each strive to do better, so the path forward becomes clearer. And with every new achievement, the future looks brighter.


It’s funny to think that, 140 years ago, the age of electricity was just beginning, while mining was already thousands of years old. Yet now, here we are, with mining’s immediate future very much guided by the progression of electrification and all the potential it offers. Two industries, intertwined with a sustainable thread, forming a lifeline for our planet.


While our founder may not have been able to imagine the challenges we are facing now, we know he would have been proud to be part of the solution. As for this significant milestone – in all likelihood, Frederik Smidth would have celebrated the anniversary and then urged us all to get back to solving the challenges in hand. Onwards, in the pursuit of excellence.

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