The interpretation of flotation froth surfaces by using digital image analysis and neural networks
The rapid developments in computer vision, computational resources and artificial intelligence, and the integration of these technologies are creating new possibilities in the design and implementation of commercial machine vision systems. In chemical and minerals engineering, numerous opportunities for the application of these systems exist, of which the characterization of flotation froth structures is a good example of the utilization of visual data as a supplement to conventional plant data. In this paper images from pyrite batch flotation tests conducted after a factorial design as well as images from a copper flotation plant were used to understand the relationship between froth characteristics and flotation performance better. The results show that a significant amount of data can be extracted from flotation surface froths. Techniques have been developed to characterize chromatic information, average bubble size, froth texture, froth stability and mobility of surface froths. It has been shown that most of the froth characteristics of this study can be explained in terms of the concentration of solids in the froth and the factors that affect the solids concentration. The techniques developed proved to be useful in investigating the effect of a mixed collector and the addition of copper sulphate. The depressing effect of the copper sulphate and the higher grades and recoveries made possible by the mixed collector under these conditions were explained by analysis of the froth features. Excellent results were obtained in modelling the relation between froth characteristics or froth grade and recovery by using a backpropagation neural network. A sensitivity analysis showed that the most important froth features for the experimental conditions of this study are the froth stability, mobility and average bubble size. This computer vision system constitutes a powerful research tool for the investigation and interpretation of the effect of various flotation parameters. This paper also shows how the rapid development in computer technology and related disciplines can be used to transform recently developed concepts and available technology into a new generation of intelligent automation systems. © 1995.