Iluka is of the view that success in mineral sands requires industry-specific technical expertise, with self-sufficiency a competitive advantage and necessary for the efficient development of multiple ore bodies, often with widely varying metallurgical characteristics.
Iluka's commitment to enhancing its technical expertise has included:
- a focus on "master of mineral sands" capabilities, particularly in project management;
- building internal expertise and resourcing in geological, metallurgical and processing capabilities, aided by the appointment of industry experts;
- a focus on resource to reserve conversion; and
- application of such expertise into product development and an enhanced offer to customers.
Iluka views investment in mineral sands innovation and technology as important to maximising the value created from:
- existing operations through production and processing advancements;
- enabling the potential development of non-traditional mineral sands resources;
- introducing new products to enhance customers production processes and final products; and
- support activity related to new growth options, such as Metalysis.
Iluka has a team of industry and technical experts, including metallurgists, chemical and processing engineers.
Iluka maintains a metallurgical testing facility in Capel, Western Australia, with satellite laboratories at each of its major sites. The testing facility capabilities include simulation of the zircon and titanium production process from mining through to final product. Process flow sheet and product quality improvements are evaluated by means of laboratory scale density, magnetic and electrostatic separation equipment. These resources allow Iluka to test new mineral sands processing technologies and ore bodies.
Iluka's technical work also encompasses:
- synthetic rutile process improvements, which includes generating a more diverse range of products from existing infrastructure. This includes work on the development of a high grade sulphate feedstock - Acid Soluble Synthetic Rutile;
- tailings management - encompassing clay and pump characterisation; reagent consumption and settled density to improve tailing storage and rehabilitation outcomes; and
- development of flexibility in mining and processing equipment, allowing the relocation of equipment from one operation to another.
Ceramic Testing Facility
The Narngulu and Hamilton mineral separation plant laboratories have ceramic testing facilities that are able to assess the comparative performance of zircon products when applied on ceramic tiles. Installed equipment include high-speed mills to grind the zircon sands to opacifier-sized particles, laser particle size analysers to measure the size distribution and colour measuring equipment to determine the resulting colour properties of ceramics.
Iluka also has links with several technology centres and conducts research activities as required. For example, in ceramics Iluka has research associations with Instituto de Technologia Ceramica (Spain) and Ceram (UK) and in foundry, and with the University of Northern Iowa’s Industrial Technology Centre (US).
Iluka was instrumental in the formation of the Zircon Industry Association (ZIA) and is actively involved in the ZIA’s Technical Committee. The committee serves as a forum for cooperation and exchange of ideas at the scientific and technical level to explore the new applications of zircon and zirconium compounds. The committee also works to address technological issues important to the industry.