AI helps boost copper production

Materials World magazine
,
4 Nov 2019
Bagdad mine, Arizona

Freeport-McMoran is finding success in artificial intelligence systems to increase copper production in North America.

Copper mining giant Freeport-McMoran is targeting a 30% increase in production at its North America mines by using artificial intelligence tools. 

The company is aiming to raise output by 90,000 tonnes a year across its mines – representing around 5% of production – according to FT.com. 

The AI programme was initially implemented at Freeport’s Bagdad mine in Arizona, USA, in a project with McKinsey. The proof-of-concept system proved successful as well as showing potential for more improvements, prompting Freeport to prepare to expand it to other operations. 

‘It’s been a remarkable success,’ said Freeport-McMoran CEO, Richard Adkerson, as reported by FT.com. ‘We have set an aspirational goal of adding 200 million pounds [90,000 tonnes] of copper from these initiatives with very little capital investment.’ 

While such a substantial production increase would normally involve an investment in expensive new equipment, in contrast, the AI has helped identify opportunities to refine existing processes to improve efficiency. 

Using sensors positioned around mining and processing equipment, the system gathers data about how the different processes are functioning, and collates the information using machine-learning to extrapolate ways to up the performance. From identifying the ore, to crushing, to better processing, the entire operation can be optimised. 

At Bagdad – a mature mine site currently excavating lower grade rock – it was found that seven different grades of ore were being obtained, and that a change to the pH levels of chemical during flotation tank recovery, far more copper could be yielded. 

Looking further ahead, Freeport-McMoran intends to roll out the AI system to its other mines in America to gain similar production improvements.

In addition to taking its Grasberg mine in Indonesia underground and new mine, Lone Star in Arizona, USA, coming online, this will contribute to Freeport’s 30% production increase. 


Image: Bagdad copper mine in Arizona, USA. Credit: Devin Poolman.