Technology, automation and innovation

We constantly strive to innovate and connect with the world and the trends. We use technology as an enabler of the strategic growth axes and operational excellence, making our operations safer, minimizing waste and optimizing production through intelligence. The commitment in this field was recognized by Valor Inovação Brasil, which highlighted us as one of the three most innovative companies in the Mining, Smelting and Steel Industry category.

Our research and development investments totaled US$ 9.2 million in 2018, surpassing the US$ 8.5 million invested in the previous year. All innovation projects are developed using funding from the Finep Financiadora de Estudos e Projetos fund, whereas some are executed in partnership with other institutions, such as the Empresa Brasileira de Pesquisa e Inovação Industrial (Embrapii), where we had six contracts completed and 14 that were still active at the end of the year.

Innovative technologies are particularly important to extend the recovery of metals, including ore sorting, which consists of the use of equipment with sensors that make it possible to separate large sterile volumes in dry processes. The goal is to raise the useful lifetime and ensure the perpetuity and sustainability of our mines, based on the viability of marginal zinc content resources (see details in the ore sorting).

A project to recover barite as a zinc mining waste by-product is under development in Peru. Pilot-scale laboratory tests have resulted in the production of barite with high purity (above 95%) and higher density than obtained from the natural mineral. Barite is mainly used in oil, oil and gas drilling, for paint and coatings, medicines and by rubber and plastics producers. The next step is the development of a project to build a pilot plant capable of obtaining 100 tonnes of barite per day.

Also in 2018, we performed tests with fuel additive of the company Tecfica in mobile equipments of the fleet of El Porvenir, which resulted in a 7% reduction of diesel consumption. In 2019 it will be replicated to the units of Nexa Peru with the aim of reducing diesel consumption and, consequently, reduction of GHG emissions.

Recovery

We have also have been developing technologies for recovery of zinc from tailings in Vazante and Três Marias. By reprocessing waste containing important metals, we were able to increase zinc ingress and recirculation in the units, improving both the financial margin as well as the useful lifetimes of the current mines. In Vazante, for example, the technology will make it possible to increase the useful life of the mine by four years. This technology should also be applied in Peru by 2019.

In addition to ore sorting and zinc recovery projects, we have a Cut Off reduction project in Vazante, which will allow a reduction of up to one percentage point of the current 4% of zinc through new mineral processing technologies and reduction of processing costs (by means of ore sorting and new flotation reagents). The reduction of Cut Off makes it possible to recover metal, previously unprocessable, to increase the life of the mine.

Projects from previous years have advanced, such as the biomass boiler in Três Marias, which reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 30% and the de-hydrogenation of Waelz oxide by autoclaving and the transformation of Waelz furnace slag into an aggregate for the cement industry in Juiz de Fora (see more information about these projects in Operational Excellence).

Ore sorting

Among the projects we consider the most promising in 2018 are those based on ore sorting technology. Widely used in other industries, such as food and diamonds, technology was recently introduced into the field of mining.

The ore sorting process is based on dry ore/sterile separation with significantly coarser grades (8 mm to 200 mm) when compared to conventional mineral concentration (0.1 mm to 1 mm – separation magnetic, flotation, etc.), which are usually performed with fine and wet granulometry, thus avoiding the intensive use of water for mass transport.

The ore sorter operating mechanism involves the use of sensors that identify different properties of the minerals of interest and of gangue. As ore passes through the belt, the sorter’s sensors detect and transmit information to high pressure air vents located at the end of the equipment just after the end of the belt. These air vents are extremely accurate and blow out the ore/sterile that has been identified and selected by the sensor. The system contributes to more economical and efficient solutions in the recovery of materials.

We performed bench scale and pilot trials and the studies evolved rapidly, which allowed the installation of an ore sorting plant in Vazante, for tests with ore from Vazante, Morro Agudo and Ambrósia Norte.

The technology is also being tried in Peru. In order to take advantage of the medium- and low- metallic grade minerals from the exploitation areas, the preliminary tests at Atacocha and El Porvenir demonstrate an average removal of 50% of sterile ore with a possible 1.5 average concentration ratio. The operations are scheduled to start in September 2019.

Mining Lab

In 2018, we organized the second edition of the Mining Lab, with 291 registered projects and 20 selected startups. A week before the chosen startups presented their projects in a live setting, the candidates were monitored by technical and managerial mentors. The entrepreneurs formatted the value proposition of each project to present to the judges, who evaluated criteria such as viability, strategic alignment, technology, solution and team.

The judges, made up of Nexa’s directors and general managers from several areas, chose nine startups, which will receive financial investiments to develop their projects, weekly mentoring for a year, financial, legal and marketing management qualification, as well as access to facilities and the technical information from the Nexa units.

Mining Lab Process

Pioneering

Introduced in 2016, Mining Lab is a pioneering industry program aimed at linking the world of mining and smelting to B2B startups and to change the mindset of the mining sector, making it increasingly intelligent. Besides opening doors for the development of new opportunities applied to the business, it guarantees other competitive advantages, as we gain speed in research development along with reducing innovation investment costs.

The first edition of the initiative was only for Brazilian startups presenting renewable energy and nanotechnology solutions. The second cycle was open to representatives from Brazil, Canada, Peru, Chile and the United States, and offered funding amounting to US$ 2.4 million in technology initiatives in the fields of automation, Internet of Things (IoT)/IT, and mineral concentration. SDG 7.A

Besides cost reductions, the projects also provide gains in environmental and social issues such as lower atmospheric emissions through increased energy efficiencies and renewable energy projects, and promoting the generation of income in the regions with subsequent benefits for communities in the vicinity of our operations.

Although it is coordinated by the Innovation and Technology department, the startup initiative will be applied in a number of other company areas and in as social projects. Starting in 2019, Mining Lab will be a continuous program with challenges that will be introduced into the platform throughout the year.

Selected projects in Mining Lab 2 SDG 7.A

Projects under development SDG 7.A

Of the five projects selected in the first year of the Mining Lab, three are in the developmental phase of an industrial pilot and soon should be implemented. They contemplate solutions in renewable energies, which should represent significant energy cost reductions. Through actions in the Três Marias system, we are seeking to produce zinc with one of the lowest GHG emissions rate in the world. Projects featuring challenges in nanotechnology selected in 2017 did not present applicable results on an industrial scale.

Biodiesel – Bchem Solutions technology turns leftover vegetable oil, collected in restaurants in Minas Gerais, into a biodiesel product with high combustion power to be used as fuel for mining equipment, presenting low production of waste upon burning. This averts this cooking oil from being disposed of in the environment, polluting rivers and the soil while also replacing the fossil fuel traditionally used in the mining industry. In 2018, the Bchem pilot plant was put into operation and the biodiesel produced (8 thousand liters) in the period was already used to run the engines of the Vazante unit’s truck and van fleet.

Gas from organic waste – ZEG Environmental’s flash dissociation system transforms any kind of organic waste into gas, and this into steam, which can be used in industrial processes, reducing the consumption of fossil fuels (coke and oil), which are more expensive and polluting. The equipment to be installed in Juiz de Fora is expected to be put into production in 2020, using eucalyptus and urban waste as inputs.

Biomass Fuel – A project from Bioware Desenvolvimento de Tecnologia de Energia that transforms organic materials (biomass) into fuel oil for industrial use, which can be used in furnaces that produce zinc oxide. The project is in the pilot phase and uses eucalyptus as its raw material. In addition to reducing the emission of greenhouse gases, the project will generate income in the region through the purchase of eucalyptus logs. The challenge for 2019 is to standardize the bio-oil produced and monitor furnace performance.

Automation

In 2018, we implemented the Automation and Information Master Plan (PDAI) for the digital transformation of both current production and new units. Projects within each area of the PDAI — Greenfields, Mina (Digital Mining®), Processing and Smelting — have progressed as planned. In 2018, the PDAI was implemented in Atacocha and El Porvenir, and in projects with operations scheduled to begin in 2019. The following table presents the results:

Automation and waste master plan SDG 7.A, 8.2

Information Technology

As part of the move to give Information Technology a more strategic and cross-cutting role in the organization, implementation of the Nexa Digital Transformation project continued through an integrated, controlled operational plan to support the decision-making processes in a number of different areas, ensuring complete data security. Furthermore, we are preparing to advance both the industrial environment with the PDAI – Industry 4.0 automation and information Master Plan, and the corporate environment, with the Digital Workplace. To this end, we focused on three areas over the year:

Data and Intelligence Management – In 2018, we developed the Enterprise Data Management (EDM) project to implement a global and unique database that will give more agility and allow access to information, ease of reporting and the possibility of using analytics tools for artificial intelligence. All areas will be involved in the EDM Project, scheduled to finalize in 2021.

Information Security – We implemented a Cybersecurity Program with several cutting edge initiatives to mitigate threats and vulnerabilities of systems and effectively meet the various audits inherent in a public company and thus increase our information security level of maturity.

Technological Architecture – We concluded the evaluation of the IT infrastructure and its applications to identify the best solutions in the market and to provide fully evolved systems, with cost reductions, faster delivery of solutions and mitigation of errors and risks arising from isolated decisions.

User Experience – Created in 2017, the User Experience program seeks to bring incremental innovations to the corporate environment from solutions already available in the market. In 2018, we investigated together with the business units over 60 ideas and finally selected the four most advanced ones in terms of guaranteed results for the operations:

User experience solutions

2018’s MAIN PROJECTS

PDAI – Industry 4.0
MES (Manufacturing Execution System) Program for Três Marias
Automation of production and digitizing laboratory management in Vazante
Production performance analysis
Communication system expansion
Definition of a strategic roadmap for the implementation of high-availability networks in underground mines

Digital Workplace
HR – optimization of internal relationship websites
Commercial – implementation of the Salesforce digital platform
IT – mapping processes and capabilities for digital transformation
Intelligence and the market – building a single data base

Data management and intelligence
Creation of data management department and governance
Data intelligence management program event

Information Security
Evolution of Cybersecurity governance aligned with the Nexa’s new objectives.
Implementation of the information security roadmap for achieving maturity.

Technological architecture
Implementation of the IT architecture strategy roadmap
Application and server rationalization program
Migration of the technological assets to the cloud
Creation of the Network Architecture Roadmap

The other enablers of the strategy – People and Organization, Supplies and Risk Management – are detailed in the Corporate Governance and Performance chapters