Delivering Quality and Speed in Mineral AnalysisMon, 10/21/2013 - 20:50
Outsourcing geochemical analysis services to laboratories is common practice in the mining industry, on the basis that the expertise such laboratories provide allows the task to be completed more accurately and efficiently. The promptness with which geochemical analysis can be conducted on a company’s samples is vital – the sooner results are received, the sooner key decisions can be made and a project can progress. The laboratories that provide this service must balance time pressures with their commitment to quality. “We have very strict quality assurance and quality control standards, which we apply from the samples preparation stage to the analysis stage. Our people are very well trained, and we ensure that our samples are received and treated with the strictest of controls,” says Marco Barragán, Mexico Country Manager of Inspectorate’s Minerals department. “There is no cross contamination. We have separate areas for crushing, establishing these areas a distance away from pulverization areas, and we have strict controls over the setup of dust extraction systems.”
Inspectorate was founded more than 125 years ago, and has been working in the Mexican market since 1998. “There was a big need in this huge market, and Inspectorate was one of the first to seize the opportunity, which is one of the reasons why we have been so successful,” says Barragán. As an international company, Inspectorate maintains that consistency across of all of its laboratories worldwide is of paramount importance. “Our final results are validated by a quality control department in our geo- analytical laboratories. In the case of any discrepancy the process is stopped and samples are re-checked. We also routinely participate in third-party blind studies, called Round-Robins. This allows our clients to see the accuracy of the laboratory before they decide to work with us. We participate in this program all year round,” says Barragán. Returning to the subject of speed, Barragán highlights how important this is as a priority for the company. “We make a serious commitment to delivering results on time. The number of samples does not matter - we have the capacity to handle high volumes of samples in all of our laboratories in Mexico,” he says. The company’s ability to respond quickly to its customers’ requirements improved significantly when Inspectorate’s parent company Bureau Veritas (BV) acquired AcmeLabs in 2012. “That opened up great opportunities for the group, in terms of services in Mexico. AcmeLabs’s expertise lies in inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) analysis that goes down to ultra-lower detection limits, down to one part per billion (ppb). AcmeLabs therefore brings to the group the possibility of providing a broader range of services,” says Barragán. “We are excited to roll out AcmeLabs’s ultra-trace packages across the group - this technology is allowing us to go to lower detection limits. Going to 1ppb was not possible 10 years ago, but now the industry is moving towards parts per trillion levels. Several technologies are important, but the ICP-MS technique is receiving more development attention. AcmeLabs’s research department led by John Gravel is constantly investigating and investing in new and improved techniques, which will continue to give the group a competitive advantage,” says Barragán.
The partnership has also improved the general reach of both companies throughout Mexico, as well as internationally. Between them, Inspectorate and AcmeLabs offer their services through five preparation laboratories based strategically in the country’s biggest mining states: two in Sonora and one in Chihuahua, Durango and Guadalajara. Their customers can submit samples in all five laboratories and select which analytical laboratory they would like to be in charge of the analysis. Inspectorate’s commitment to transparency is also demonstrated in the company’s ‘Laboratory Information Management System’ (LIMS), which provides information on the analysis process from start to finish. The information can be checked online by customers at all times through a secure online platform. The system allows them to see the history of any one job, and they can contact the client service to discuss the results if they so wish. By the end of 2013 Inspectorate’s LIMS will be integrated with AcmeLabs’s, which will bring further benefits for customers of both companies. “This will mean that we offer one national service, preparing samples under the same standards and procedures, all under ISO, and with the data saved under one single system,” explains Barragán.