LEADING EDGE | Westcon
Ensuring Quality Coal Analysis Ensures Profitability
Umzamo Analytical Services (UAS) recognises that clients need to be confident that they are getting the right result every time. According their expert laboratory team the most accurate analysis on coal samples allows those on either side of the coal industry to make sound business decisions thereby ensuring long term success. UAS CEO, Audrey Ndlovu lays out the guidelines on what to look for when choosing a coal analysis provider.
According Audrey the importance of accuracy in coal analysis comes down to the fact that coal prices are dependent on coal quality. “The right results ensure that firms sell their coal at the right prices in order to make maximum profit. Depending on the industry, a firm may require coal of a certain specification. For instance, a company that uses coal as a source of heat in a location with vegetation and people is restricted to produce only a certain amount of sulphur that can be emitted into the atmosphere. Hence they need to know the sulphur content of the coal they are using in order to prevent exceeding the limit,” Audrey explains.
Audrey says that there are certain aspects of facilities and testing procedures that point towards the best, most accurate and most verifiable results. If you work within the coal industry, either as a consumer or supplier of coal products, when looking for a firm who will provide the best results, there are five key considerations.
1. Management Systems
Coal analysis firms must have a verifiable and auditable management system that clearly defines and controls what they do, how they do it and when they do it. These management systems are most likely to be dictated by external auditors ensuring that industry standard processes and procedures are followed and through internal measures put in place. One of the ways in which UAS is able to confidently ensure accurate testing internally is by requiring certain types of testing to be overseen by specialised and highly trained personnel. ISO Ash or Calorific Value analyses, for example, require that an experienced Laboratory Supervisor supervise all processes involved in obtaining samples, preparation, testing, evaluation and approve test reports released to clients.
As an ISO 17025 accredited laboratory, UAS also undergoes external auditing on an annual basis by the South African National Accreditation System (SANAS) to ensure that they continually following the procedures and guidelines for the methods that they are accredited for – and that these procedures are well managed internally. UAS has also been audited by Eskom (one of UAS’ clients) as a means of verifying their commitment to following procedure.
The competency of any reputable coal analysis firm in South Africa needs to be regularly benchmarked by external auditors against the highest professional laboratory standard. Accreditation to this standard not only requires in-depth and on-going external auditing but it provides assurance to clients that the laboratory systems are maintained to international standards.
Audrey elaborates on this level of accreditation saying that as an ISO 17025 accredited laboratory, UAS is both inclined and obligated to follow procedures in accordance to the international standards of analysis. “We therefore have methods and procedures which are based on the ISO standards,” she says. “For example, in order to ensure that we analyse our samples for volatile matter as prescribe by ISO standards, our volatile furnace’s temperature is calibrated by an accredited service provider and set at 900°C. During analysis the start temperature is recorded as well as the temperature during analysis and the final temperature.”
3. Industry Training for Employees
In today’s mining industry, technical advancements and innovation in equipment and instrumentation as well as methodology are happening at a lightning fast pace. This means that for those who depend on coal – whether as industry consumers or suppliers – working with analysis results that have been achieved using out-dated methods and processes can negatively affect your bottom line. According to Audrey, industry specific systems for training employees and recognising their competency can be achieved through internal training programs.
As an example, she says that every employee at UAS has a portfolio of Competency Training Checklists. A supervisor has to supervise the employees while carrying out every method they are responsible for. The Checklist is a step by step guide of how the analysis should be done and there is a section for rating the employee’s performance. This gives as an indication as to whether the employee needs to be retrained or not. This is conducted on yearly basis or with the arrival of new analytical equipment. Externally, UAS also sends employees for SANAS courses such as laboratory systems training based on ISO 17025 standards.
4. An advanced Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS)
An internal LIMS system is vital tool used within coal analysis laboratories for efficient data capturing, management, validation and auditing of results. According to Audrey, UAS works with the latest versions of LIMS software to ensure accurate data capturing and calculation of results to the highest accuracy thereby eliminating human error.
5. High Levels of Quality Control
A set of regular internal and external blind proficiency programs must be in place to provide a demonstration that the results are controlled. According to Audrey, all equipment and instruments used in each step of the analysis process must be calibrated internally and externally to ensure that they are efficient. In addition to this, adherence to both industry standards and accreditation requirements should be a main priority.
UAS employees are well trained to ensure that they understand the company’s methods which are based on the ISO standards and that they understand the importance of accurate analysis. Audrey says that UAS conducts regular internal audits to ensure that they do not deviate from the ISO standards and adhere to the high standards of quality work that they have become recognised for.
The Overall Importance of Coal Analysis Results
Audrey concludes by emphasising the impact that quality analysis has on the bottom line for firms working within or dependent on the coal industry. “Accurate results from proximate and ultimate analysis of coal are an important step in mining and processing operations. Ideally, these tests should comply with accepted international standards and be conducted under the strictest laboratory controls. The accuracy or inaccuracy of coal analysis results can make the difference between clients over-paying when buying coal or getting get paid less than what they should be when selling coal. Analysis results are also extremely important for adhering to the limitations enforced by National Environmental Management Act.”
UAS has the equipment, accreditation and the experience – backed by a team of expert staff–to give the results that clients in the industry need to ensure the maximum value from their products. They have become synonymous with providing uncompromised, accurate, analytical results.