No, it’s not the latest Will Smith Hollywood blockbuster. In fact the only blocks being busted are rock samples being pulverised for mineral analysis. This and other unglamorous, repetitive and often hazardous tasks are now being done by industrial robots in most of Perth’s commercial mineral laboratories.
In fact, by the end of this year all the major commercial assay labs in Perth will be using robots to meet the demand for more flexible and reliable testing systems in the face of increased labour and production costs. Robots allow them to maximise turnover with a relatively short payback period whilst achieving higher quality results.
As an added bonus, operational efficiencies gained from automating now will provide labs with an advantage once the booms tapers off and competition for assay work increases.
CEO of Essa Australia, Darryl Stevens, says that robotics is now so widely accepted in the industry that certain major resources companies will only outsource their assay work to the commercial labs that use automation.
In 1993 Rio Tinto worked with Essa to pioneer the Australian use of industrial robots in its Pilbara iron ore mines, with BHP Billiton following suit several years later.
However, the first robots to appear in a commercial lab were at the Perth-based independent laboratory Ultra Trace in 1999. Essa and Ultra Trace jointly developed groundbreaking sample preparation and XRF bead fusion systems that surpassed all previous methods and apparatus used across the globe.
The three independent laboratories that pioneered industrial robot use in Perth have now been acquired by large European inspection and testing groups. These groups have embraced the world of robotics, with SGS Australia recently commissioning an Essa-engineered eight robot system in their new Perth operations.
With the strength of Australia’s mining sector resting on its reliability, competitiveness and quality control in a demanding trading environment, delivery of superior mining practice, technology and management processes are critical to the future success of the industry – which is why industrial robotics is shaping up as a central force in the Australian resources industry.
8th August 2008The Perth robot revolution started about 9 years ago and now the city is arguably the world centre of commercial laboratory automation. Today 30 industrial robots are performing jobs that were previously extremely manually demanding and often in hot, dusty and noisy environments.