USIM PAC, the most well-known mineral processing simulation software, is 35 years old

Nov 17, 2021 | Process simulation

1986 was the year of the Chernobyl nuclear accident… It was also the year BRGM, French national geological survey launched USIM PAC, a powerful process modelling and simulation software dedicated to the design, the monitoring and the optimization of mineral processing and metallurgical plants. CASPEO is celebrating the anniversary of USIM PAC. Have a look back at 35 years of history to see how this cutting-edge software has evolved in all-in-one simulation platform covering the entire mining value chain and on its future.

A pioneering software with an already mine-to-mill approach

It’s hard to believe that 35 years ago, BRGM introduced one of the cutting-edge process simulator. Ahead of their time, the experts from the BRGM team –among them Alain Broussaud, Guy Fourniguet, Jean-Claude Guillaneau, Jacques Villeneuve and the CASPEO managing directors Marie-Véronique Durance and Stéphane Brochot– had already understood that they needed to provide an integrated software that would allow mining companies to optimize the whole mining value chain from ores to metal, also called the mine-to-mill approach. An approach recently adopted by other software publishers offering a new way of modelling: back to the future?

From the beginning, USIM PAC have been specifically developed to meet these requirements allowing engineers to design and optimize each part of a process as well as the overall circuit (and recirculation). In a single interface, USIM PAC performs simulation, data reconciliation, mass balancing, flowsheeting, equipment sizing and sensitivity analysis.

“USIM PAC is the only on-premise simulator on the market able to model the entire mineral processing value chain: from crushing to refining, passing through grinding, magnetic and gravity separation, flotation, leaching and concentration. All the models are connected within a single platform. It was, at the time, a real innovation” says Stéphane Brochot.

Separation and physical, chemical or biological transformation: all these kind of processes are simulated in USIM PAC. A library of more than 150 models of unit operations is integrated in the standard tool: extraction, comminution (grinding, crushing…), size classification, concentration (flotation, magnetic and gravity separation…), solid/liquid separation (filtration, decantation…), and hydrometallurgy. USIM PAC offers the possibility to engineers to add their own equipment models.

Modelling the mineral diversity: a challenge for ore processing simulation

Another originality of USIM PAC process simulation and optimization software: the possibility to take into account detailed and configurable material description, especially for the mineral phase.

Mineral processing is characterised by the wide variety of raw materials. This diversity appears through the mineralogical and chemical constitution of the ore or through the variability of its properties (mechanical, chemical or physical properties). Consequently, it involves a great diversity in the processes and in the unit operations making ore processing simulation a real challenge.

From the beginning, USIM PAC offers a new approach of modelling to better understand the response of the plant when various variables change at the same time (ore or operation) and automatically test numerous operational strategies. It does not require the use of thermodynamic databases unlike other generic chemical process simulators on the market. The process simulator allows the description of any type of ore with almost no limit in the level of details and associated physical properties that can be met in the mining industry. A feature particularly interesting in the field of geometallurgy to forecast ores (recovery rates, grades…).

Extract valuable minerals more economically… and with less environmental impact

Processing, refining, recycling… In the 2000s, the development of USIM PAC has been focused on helping mining companies to reduce their environmental impact.

Thus, a multi-criterion design approach has been developed. It includes economic criteria such as capital cost, reagent and power consumption, production quality in terms of valuable mineral grade or undesirable elements level; technical aspects with the evaluation of various configurations and processing technologies, a complete and detailed description of all material streams and their behaviour during process and, environmental factors such as water consumption and recycling, pollutant production or waste treatment.

It is also in 2004 that Marie-Véronique Durance and Stéphane Brochot, members of the BRGM mineral processing team (“Département Minéralurgie”), created CASPEO to take over the development and the marketing of USIM PAC as well as BILCO, a data reconciliation by mass balancing software and ECHANT, a sampling error calculator solution.

The path forward 

Today, USIM PAC is a decision-making tool that supports industrial R&D departments, technical centres and engineering offices all over the world. Among mineral process modelling and optimization software, USIM PAC is one of the most well-known application.  It helps to better understand and analyse complex processes such as minimizing investment costs, optimizing plant production performance (yield, product quality, etc.) and improving energy efficiency.

According to Marie-Véronique Durance, CASPEO Co-Managing Director: “Over the last decade, more than 300 customers spanning 55 countries have leveraged USIM PAC software. Among them the world’s top leading mining companies such as AngloAmerican, Arcelor Mittal, Eramet, Glencore, Vale, etc.”

What’s next? CASPEO team is working to integrate in USIM PAC new models already developed: dissolved air flotation, ion exchange resin, reverse osmosis, to name but a few allowing to manage water quality. Project development will also be based on new services with the launch of self-paced online training courses covering process simulation and metallurgical accounting in 2022. The goal: help the current mineral processing engineers and the next generation to gain skills on these complex areas that bring a lot to mining companies if (well) used. A redesign of the interface is also planned in the middle term.

Wish to know more about USIM mineral processing simulation software?

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