They say that necessity is the mother of all invention. Australian miner Sandy Gray found that his gold processing equipment was just not doing the job. Faced with the challenge of increasing profitability at an alluvial gold mine in a time of depressed metal prices, Gray needed more of a return with lowered operating costs.
There was no viable alternative in the marketplace to the mine’s manual centrifuge and sluice mat system, so Gray created one. His prototype gravity separation device did exactly what it was meant to do. Down the road, the mine was sold and Gray stayed on as manager, but found this dissatisfying and yearned to strike out on his own with the technology he’d patented.
“Luckily for him,” says Jennifer Abols, VP of Canadian Operations for Gekko Systems, “his wife had a very strong management background, a degree in economics and an MBM. The rest is history.”
Gray and his wife, Elizabeth Lewis-Gray, established Gekko in 1996, hoping to break into the market with a refined gravity separation device known as the InLine Pressure Jig (IPJ). The IPJ is a pressurized, fully encapsulated unit, utilizing moveable sieve action in combination with a circular bed. Once it is filled with slurry, the recovery potential is increased by eliminating water tension and reducing slurry velocity. A hydraulic driveshaft pulses the screen vertically, and relative density along with particle shape and size dictate the separation of minerals. The good stuff goes one way, the tailings go the other way and both of them are discharged under pressure. Stroke length and speed of the shaft, as well as ragging dimension and screen aperture can all be altered to suit the specific needs of the customer.
The IPJ was ready to go, but now the Grays needed somewhere to test it. Jennifer says: “To develop data we made some trials at a local mine, about an hour and a half from our offices. We were able to sell some gear after that.”
After the sale of the first IPJ, Gekko worked hard at marketing its products. These later included the InLine Leach Reactor (ILR) and InLine Spinner, both of which are designed to increase recovery potential while lowering chemical usage. Although the company was able to sell and install its products at smaller mines, initially the majors weren’t so eager.
“When you’re dealing with large mining companies,” says Jennifer, “they like to use the tried and true, so it’s not always easy to break into those companies.” But break in they did, and now Gekko equipment can be seen recovering gold for such companies as Barrick, Placer Dome and Newmont, as well as numerous small and mid-tier operations around the world.
“The majority use unit machines,” says Jennifer, “but we do have installations where it’s just us. If the customer requests it, we will sell complete modular plants for gold applications. We have about 180 equipment installations worldwide.”
Due to quality manufacture and a minimal number of moving parts, Gekko’s equipment is low maintenance and has a long running life. “Our first jig was sold in 1996 to a man named Bill Butterworth,” says Jennifer. “He showed up at our door last year looking for spare parts. That was the first time he needed spare parts and he’s been running since ’96. At that point we realized that we had made a mistake; we designed the jig to be far too robust. There aren’t enough wear parts really.”
Growing the Company
The company and its employees have continued to expand the business since its inception eight years ago, and have won numerous awards, including the AusIMM Mineral Operating Techniques Award, Governor of Victoria Export Award and the Clunies Ross National Science and Technology Award. In addition, Elizabeth Lewis-Gray was inducted into the Australian Business Women’s Hall of Fame in 2000.
Gekko has been so successful since its humble origin in a backyard shed, the company didn’t have so much an opportunity as a need to expand. Its second office was opened in Johannesburg, South Africa, and a short time later the North American office was established in Vancouver, B.C. Jennifer Abols was hired to head up the North American office based on being the only applicant able to completely meet the company’s high standards and diverse requirements.
“I answered an ad on InfoMine,” says Jennifer. “Basically they asked for a suite of particulars and I was the only one that really fit the criteria they set out. They wanted a metallurgist with an MBA who could speak French and had ties to the mining community. I’m the chairman of the Canadian Mineral Processors here in Canada, so that’s the tie-in to the mining community. I was the only one who applied who had everything. I was also the youngest person to apply for the job.”
Environmentally Safe and Portable
There’s so much to recommend the Gekko equipment it’s difficult to know where to start. The InLine Leach Reactor, at the risk of over-simplifying, is a large version of a laboratory bottle-roll test. “It’s a very low-cost, simple solution,” says Jennifer. “All we use is cyanide and oxygen. We don’t necessarily have to add any exotic leach reagents and it doesn’t require a lot of power. There aren’t many moving parts, and it leaches fine and coarse gold. We can supply both batch and continuous reactors depending on the needs of the customer.”
The fully encapsulated IPJ eliminates a handling stage of the materials, thereby reducing production time while simultaneously increasing security, and the ILR not only reduces costs during ore processing, but continues to benefit the customer in regards to tailings.
“With the traditional plant,” says Jennifer, “you’re taking 100% of the feed and subjecting it to cyanidation; 100% of your tails have to be treated or sent to tailings impoundment. With our system, however, you can avoid whole-ore cyanidation. You’re looking at only 3% to 5% of your feed coming into contact with cyanide. There’s a substantial reduction in environmental impact.”
Gekko’s products are easy to transport, being modular in nature. Jennifer says: “Everything that we build will fit into a 20-foot or 40-foot ocean freight container. We skid-mount it and ship it in the containers. The biggest one we have is quite large, but we break it down and ship it in several containers, each no longer than 40 feet.”
The portability of Gekko’s products was amply demonstrated in 2000 when Chris Hillman of Kundana Gold strapped an InLine Leach Reactor to the back of a truck and entered it as a float in Kalgoorlie’s (Western Australia) St. Barbara’s Day parade. As a supplement to Gekko’s already impressive collection of awards, the ILR won best float. IPJs and ILRs are now in place across Australia, Africa, South America and Russia where UK-based Celtic Resources uses a complete Gekko Gravity and Intensive Leach Plant on the Nezhdaninskoye mining project, Russia’s second largest gold mine.
Don’t make the mistake of limiting Gekko’s products to gold and metal mining. Where alluvial diamond deposits are concerned, the company is making great headway. “In marine diamonds,” says Jennifer, “our InLine Pressure Jig now seems to be a step change process improvement. We’ve had some very successful installations with De Beers and they’re very supportive. Their key drivers are water usage, operating cost and the environment. It’s the same with complex gold, so for sulphide-associated gold projects, our IPJ works much better than any other technology that’s available.”
Gekko’s success is all the more impressive, considering the size of its operation in relation to some of the larger companies. “We’re a small company right now,” says Jennifer. “We have only 35 people, and we’re looking at a slow growth model. We started with South Africa and Canada because the markets were very similar to Australia. We liked the direct marketing approach, but in places like Russia and Peru it’s important also to have people who know the market, and we can’t do that quickly if we go direct.”
One thing Gekko can do quickly is get your equipment up and running, as the IPJ and
ILR benefit not only from simplicity in operation but simplicity in installation as well. “The entire infrastructure basically comes with the unit itself,” says Jennifer. “You just need a concrete pad to set it down on, hook up the electrical and any of the plumbing, give us a call and we’ll send someone down to do the start-up and commissioning; that takes about two weeks from the installation of equipment to running.”
Currently Gekko does have some complete plant facilities in place, but for the most part its equipment is integrated into systems manufactured by one or multiple other companies. One of Gekko’s current plans is to become able to not only supply just about everything a plant needs, but to do so at a significantly reduced cost to the customer. Jennifer explains: “We’re developing a complete modular plant concept, so we would have off-the-shelf modules for a complete plant. So you would have gravity modules, intensive-cyanidation modules, a scrubber module, even a crusher module. We can offer some substantial cost savings by having it be an off-the-shelf item as opposed to an engineered solution. We’ll still have to build it, but we’ll have all the drawings and all the specifics for it already prepared.”
Gekko’s had two major North American sales since opening its Vancouver office, including a complete modular plant for GLR Resources’ Goldfields project in Saskatchewan. As more of the majors understand the advantages of gravity separation, the company will continue to move onwards and upwards.
“We’re small,” says Jennifer, “but we’re innovation-driven. We strive to find the best solution for customers.”
To paraphrase the slogan of a North American insurance company, when an applicable project is looking to install the most efficient and environmentally-friendly equipment available, the solution is as simple as saying: “Better Get Gekko.”
For more information contact Jennifer Abols, VP Canadian Operations, Gekko Systems, 909 Burrard St., Ste. 906, Vancouver, BC, V6Z 2N2. Phone 604-681-2288; Fax 604-681-2220; E-mail [email protected]