Finnish Timegate Instruments Ltd developed a new Raman spectrometer for the quick and accurate identification of materials. The device was tested in practice in cooperation with the GTK Mintec pilot plant to speed up the commercialisation of the technology.
Challenge of Timegate Instruments
How to ensure the suitability of the Raman spectrometer for the needs of the mining industry
A few years ago, Oulu-based Timegate had a technological innovation in their hands, but also a challenge: the technology needed to be tested in an industrial process environment and on an industrial scale to give the commercialisation process a push. Established by three researchers from VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland in 2014, Timegate Instruments is a startup company, which has patented a time-gated optical analytical device solution based on Raman spectroscopy, being the first company in the world to launch such a spectrometer.
Timegate’s innovative technology serves to identify the molecular composition, or “fingerprint”, of materials quickly and accurately. The molecular identification of materials can be used in a number of sectors, such as mining and even space research. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has been developing its own time-gated Raman spectrometer for conducting mineralogical research on Mars.
The new technology quickly covered the domestic markets, with universities and research institutions mainly showing demand for it. While international deliveries started to increase and demand grew steadily, the goal was to seek growth and new markets.
When Timegate investigated new potential market areas, it recognised a global need and potential for the large-scale use of the technology in the mineral and mining industries. To commercialise the technology in the mining industry, the company needed a monitoring device suitable for industrial production, as well as plenty of testing and evidence of the technology’s usability in continuous concentration processes.
Timegate started to look for a partner that could offer a suitable test environment and a sufficient capacity for extensive test runs. “The Geological Survey of Finland (GTK) was no stranger to us, and we already had a suitable contact person in mind. What`s more, the GTK Mintec pilot plant is close to us and offers a unique research environment on a domestic scale. We also examined other options, but everything was smoother with GTK. We were able to test the technology on a larger scale at Mintec when cooperation with Keliber, a Finnish mining and chemical industry company, continued last year in the form of concentration process testing”, says Miia Mikkonen, Business Development Specialist at Timegate.
GTK Offering Solutions
Pilot runs provided valuable information about where and how the concentration process should be monitored
GTK Mintec’s laboratories and pilot plant in Outokumpu were selected as the project’s cooperation and R&D platform. There, Timegate was able to test its sensor technology at different stages of the concentration process and Keliber to optimise its concentration processes.
Two-week pilot runs were carried out under a pilot project in the summer of 2019. Different monitoring points in processing and waste stream lines provided immediate information about any changes in the concentrate quality, as well as any process changes and disturbances. Monitoring data, obtained from the first week’s pilot runs, was found to be so reliable that the project parties dared to adjust and specify the second week’s pilot runs accordingly.
“This was a big thing for us. We gained confidence and obtained experience-based evidence that the technology works! After two weeks of lengthy pilot runs, we saw that the technology really does work in an industrial production environment”, Mikkonen says. Cooperation went smoothly since GTK did not hesitate to test out new technology.
Pilot runs provided valuable information about where and how the concentration process should be monitored. The next goal is to automate data processing and to develop the visualisation of measured data to meet the needs of end users.
Timegate and GTK Mintec have a basis ready for future cooperation. The pilot plant is meant to become a research platform, where new technology and processing of different raw materials can be tested and developed. Mintec’s laboratories and pilot plant will be developed significantly during the next few years. One goal is to develop an entirely digital pilot plant so that sensor technology is integrated into the concentration process.
Timegate’s monitoring technology serves to measure any changes in mineral concentrations during the concentration process in real time. On the basis of this information, the process can be adjusted and its efficiency can be improved significantly. “GTK’s basic research and related publications are internationally well-known and highly respected. GTK is regarded as an impartial expert. This is also important to us, as this provides Timegate with visibility and credibility as a GTK partner”, Mikkonen adds.
Timegate’s monitoring technology serves to adjust the concentration process in real time
Timegate’s primary goal is to commercialise its industrial monitoring service. The aim is to become known as an international and comprehensive provider of process monitoring services. Timegate has already signed representation and retail agreements in the US, China and Germany, among others, and is currently collecting international customer references. The business model is being developed intensely based on customer feedback in order to scale the technology up to industrial production. The company is now approaching a situation where its technology responds to its customers’ needs.
Timegate is also considering the future of the metal and mineral industry on a broader scope. The depletion of raw materials is a global fact. We need to get more out of less. Timegate hopes to approach solutions through opportunities and cooperation. Innovation offers new and better information about the concentration process, allowing the process to be adjusted in real time. This would save, above all, energy and chemicals, but also improve operational efficiency otherwise. Similarly, already-processed piles of country rocks could be used by processing them again. However, not much research has been conducted in this area.
Timegate is very happy with its cooperation with GTK. “The tested cooperation model has benefited all parties. It’s easy to think that a public organisation like GTK is not very agile, but when people get excited, things get moving. Professional help has always been available, and it’s also great that GTK relates succesfull partnerships to others”, Mikkonen concludes.