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Apr 26, 2021

Key things to look for in successful hydrometallurgy projects

Timo Saarenpää, Senior Project Manager, Hydrometallurgy, started working with metals projects already in 1992 with one of Metso Outotec’s predecessors. Timo has lived in Chile since 1994 but is currently on a several months long work assignment at Terrafame, Finland. Timo has participated in about 15 major hydrometallurgy related greenfield and brownfield projects in North America, Mexico, Chile, Finland, and Turkey in different roles, ranging from offering and engineering to commissioning and aftermarket ramp-up phases. Lately, he’s mostly been working in copper, cobalt and nickel related solvent extraction and electrowinning projects.
VSFx

We talked with Timo about project management, and how it has changed during the years. To make sure that a project is successful, he recommends paying attention especially to diligent resource planning, and the level of automation and modularization of the equipment. Safety and sustainability also play an important role.

 

Timo Saarenpää
Timo Saarenpää

During the years, what kind of changes have you seen in resource planning and overall project management?

“Cost-efficiency has become one of the key drivers in project management. Internal sources are complemented with external ones. Earlier, site and project organization were heavier, and most of the engineering was done with our own resources only. Now, external experts are used in many project roles, which allows a more flexible use of the expert network and better control of costs. What is important, though, is that in the project organization we always have our own Metso Outotec experts, who have a good understanding of the whole process and technology, and who have run several projects. Putting together an efficient project organization using network resourcing is a new skill that the organization and the project leads need to have.”

“When we look at the different types of projects, the brownfield ones are usually more demanding from the technical point of view. Experience really matters in these projects. When we put together a project team, especially at the plant site, we look for multi-skilled people who have previous project experience and can manage several engineering disciplines. To complement, we can consult our global resources with, for example, a remote connection when needed.”

“During the recent years, project management tools and solutions have improved significantly, and there are more of them. Project managers are busier with internal reports, but also with customer reporting. Thanks to the new tools, e.g. cost management has become more transparent and efficient.”

“At Metso Outotec, we work with demanding equipment and process projects continuously. Thanks to the vast process and project expertise accumulated during the years we know how plants and systems should be engineered, operated, and commissioned. We also know how to fix should there be any unexpected challenges on the way. This differentiates us from any consultancy.”

Has the role of automation and AI impacted project work?

Even though the role of AI and automation is continuously increasing, it still is a bit of a cultural thing, depending on the country and the company. The two important reasons for their increased role are to enhance process and cost efficiency. Safety is also an important matter. More and more often, the control rooms are located out of the site. For example, the control rooms of the north Chilean mines are often located in Santiago, more than 1000 km away. However, solvent extraction and electrowinning plants are seldomly fully automated, and there need to be people who can guide the process in operation as conditions and variations are so many.”

“When the automation level increases, also the pre-commissioning becomes more demanding and time-consuming. Everything needs to be carefully tested and documented. In the times of a pandemic, remote installation and commissioning of equipment can be done successfully with on-site support. However, a more complicated process always needs experienced people on site.”

At Metso Outotec, we work with demanding equipment and process projects continuously. Thanks to the vast process and project expertise accumulated during the years we know how plants and systems should be engineered, operated, and commissioned. We also know how to fix should there be any unexpected challenges on the way. This differentiates us from any consultancy.
Timo Saarenpää

How has product standardization and modularization impacted projects?

“The importance of standardization and modularization is paramount for many reasons. Better standardization and modularization mean less manhours in engineering and construction, and it also improves safety. Metso Outotec is a frontrunner in this field. One product, in which we’ve taken modularization to an unprecedented level, is the VSF® X  modularized Solvent Extraction Plant (Vertical Smooth Flow).”

“With professional modularization and prefabrication, the installation times are shorter and more cost-efficient. Also, if a plant is installed in high altitudes, installation work becomes slower and more difficult – and there, modular, prefabricated equipment makes a huge difference with easier transportation and smoother installation. Same applies for plants in remote locations where transportation distances are longer, often with challenging infrastructure.”

What is the role of sustainability in hydrometallurgy projects?

“Environmental approach is really important, and this is one of our strengths. Metso Outotec is committed to limiting global warming to 1.5°C, with targets validated by the Science Based Targets initiative. In the Metals business, we’ve focused on providing equipment and plants with low emissions and high efficiency since the early flash smelting technology. Today, we are also building more efficient equipment size-wise, saving in raw materials, and doing things in a more economical way. We have just launched our Planet Positive approach and offering, and many of Metals solutions are part of this offering. Going forward, we set clear sustainability targets for any new products we’re developing.”

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