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“The costs of sampling errors and bias in the mining industry”

Richard C.A. Minnitt

Visiting Emeritus Professor, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa

Abstract. “South Africa’s mineral commodities generate approximately R420 billion per annum from export earnings. Of that amount coal (28.1 %), gold (15.2 %), iron ore (14.5 %), and platinum (21.7 %) account for 80 %, and together with chrome and manganese account for 88 % of the earnings. Payment for these products is based on the metal content, and in the case of coal, the energy content. Traders rely on the analytical results from samples of the products to obtain a fair price and true value of the sale. This paper covers three main issues. Firstly, the thrust of interest in sampling of particulate materials is shown to be primarily due to the financial implications of poor sampling and the vibrant trade in these mineral and metal products in the USA between the 1850s and 1940s. The importance of correct engineering for cutter operation and good maintenance of cutters in general in the sampling of bulk commodities is emphasised. Secondly, simulation of a low-grade iron ore deposit demonstrates that the principal offending factor in sampling events is the sampling bias, rather than the sampling error. Whereas sampling error may account for as little as 0.0016 % error in the mean grade, sampling bias, which can be positive or negative, may affect the mean grade by as much as 10 %. Thirdly, the contribution of individual particles of iron ore, particularly those in the larger fractions of the size distribution, is investigated. Relatively small changes in mean grade of about 0.106 %Fe can result in losses to the supplier of about US$11 600 per 100 000 t shipment of iron ore, a substantial amount of nearly seven million dollars per annum. Together the three aspects, principles of correct cutter operation, the effects of bias on the mean grade of samples, and the effect of size distribution on sample extraction error, contribute to potential financial losses in the bulk commodities trade.”


  1. R.C.A. Minnitt, “The costs of sampling errors and bias to the mining industry”, J. S. Afr. Inst. Min. Metall. 118(8), 767–798 (2018). https://doi.org/10.17159/2411-9717/2018/v118n8a1

Abstract published under a Creative Commons Attribution licence.

Richard C.A. Minnitt

Richard C.A. Minnitt

Dick Minnitt completed a MSc in geology in the Murchison Range and a PhD in the Richtersveld regions of southern Namibia. He joined Anglo American and later JCI, after which he spent 14 years doing contract and consulting work. He completed a second MSc in mining, and joined the School of Mining Engineering at WITS in 1995, where he taught courses in Mineral Economics and Geostatistics. His interest in sampling of particulate materials arose from the numerous visiting lecturers he invited to Wits University including Dominique Francois Bongarçon, Francis Pitard, Geoff Lyman and Kim Esbensen. Dick retired from Wits in 2017, but continues to consult for international mining companies and research in his fields of interest. He now holds a position as a Visiting Emeritus professor where he continues to teach postgraduate classes and supervises masters and doctoral students.
Orcid iD Symbol 0000-0002-0267-8152
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