August 2007

Student Life

SOP - a student’s operating potential

By M. Jankovic

As a young first-year metallurgical engineering student getting ready to embark on your first co-op term in industry, you tend to ask yourself a lot of questions, such as: What kind of tasks will I be asked to perform? Will I be able to quickly integrate myself into the team and meet the work expectations of the company? However, when you are about to begin your third co-op term, you ask different questions, such as: Will the employer give me the opportunity and experiences to accomplish important objectives rather than only performing routine tasks?

In the winter of 2007, I embarked on my third and final co-op term. It was therefore important to me that I experience as much of the mining industry as possible before choosing my preferred field of future work. For a soon-to-be-graduating student, it is flattering and motivating to be responsible for, and involved with, bigger projects rather than routine sampling and data acquisition activities that are normally given to co-op students. With these objectives in mind, I was looking for a position that would be of good value to the company and provide a stimulating and exciting work experience.

In December 2006, I was hoping to be hired for a four-month international internship somewhere in the south where it is warm. Instead of going somewhere warm, I ended up being selected for a co-op term near the 62nd parallel in the Quebec-Nunavut Territory at Xstrata Nickel’s Raglan operation.

Upon arrival at the site, I was pleasantly surprised by Raglan’s accommodations and facilities: nice rooms, great food, well-equipped gym, and lots of recreational activities that unite the employees in one big coordinated community. Raglan is a fly-in/fly-out (FI/FO) operation, where employees work on rotation (three weeks on/two weeks off or four weeks on/two weeks off). Because of Raglan’s location in the Nunavik Territory of northern Quebec, Xstrata benefits from numerous employees residing in the local Inuit communities as well.

Upon my arrival in the metallurgical department, I was trained to perform daily laboratory tasks and given a ‘real-deal’ project—development of a standard operating procedure (SOP) on a Malvern Mastersizer 2000. This high-tech instrument is used for particle size analysis in the size range 0.02 to 2000 mm. The ultimate objective of this project was to calibrate this new analytical instrument to meet company requirements and reduce the time required to perform particle size analysis. Currently, the traditional method of using sieves is employed. Before completely switching to Malvern technology, which uses a laser scattering method to determine particle size, it was essential that the results were as comparable and reliable as the sieves. Therefore, statistical methods had to be used to ensure that the results were trustworthy. SOPs also had to be developed so that qualitative and comparable results are obtained from person to person. Thus, the challenge has been to remove the sources of variability. Instrument maintenance was also an important part of the project; obtaining reliable, repeatable, and reproducible results while running the tests requires special cleaning procedures of delicate optical devices. Getting this project right will make a significant difference to Raglan by allowing the metallurgical technician to perform other more value-added work, while in the end providing more accurate particle size distribution results.

I was also responsible for a smaller project which involved evaluating the performance of the concentrator’s continuous density gauges. This project consisted of establishing a correlation between the plant data and actual laboratory measurements to determine whether the plant’s gauges provided accurate information. Getting this project right will ensure that the operators and engineers have good information to base important operating decisions upon.

At Raglan, I’ve been given a lot of liberty and autonomy which I found to be very important for building my self-confidence. These responsibilities have made for a valuable and motivating experience for me at Xstrata Nickel’s Raglan Mine. The best supervisors are those who are able to see operating potential in their co-op students and who are willing to challenge them. As a result, students obtain valuable experience and can really contribute to a company’s bottom line.

Mladen Jankovic is a third-year metallurgical engineering student at Laval University.

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