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Refining 101
Top tips for making the most of the refining process, minimizing your risk and maximizing your return

For jewelry companies to succeed, they must have tight controls of their processes. Improvements in day to day operations will make a difference in your inventory control, supplier performance, and overall efficiency.

One area that may seem out of your control is the refining process. How do you minimize your risk when sending your materials to a refiner? What best practices should be used to collect the scrap? When is the ideal time to refine scrap? What do the final settlement results mean? How can I ensure the assay is accurate? What happens to my materials once it is at a refiner? When sending your materials to a refiner, understanding the following items can minimize your risk:

  • Using best practices for scrap collection/segregation.
  • Determining when to send your scrap.
  • Sending to the best refiner for your type of material.
  • Using best practices when shipping.
  • Understanding your return.

There are several best practices to improve accountability and consistency with your return. The first is to segregate your scrap as much as possible including keeping clean scrap apart from contaminated or dirty scrap. By segregating various streams of scrap, you have better accountabilities within your process.

When sending in scrap, try and keep it free of trash like stainless steel and rusty nails. Even though it is possible to process these types of material with your scrap, it will force the refiner to add copper or extra fluxes to make it homogeneous or assayable. Extra steps add cost to the refining process, which will be passed on to you. It may also affect your prediction of the return because contaminants hinder homogenizing, add weight, and don't add value to your return. These materials lower the precious metal percents in your lot.

To ensure you are paid for all precious metals shipped, do not put small quantities of one precious metal in with large quantities of others. Trace amounts of a metal will make it unrecoverable and non-payable. It is better to segregate materials when sending to your refiner, even if it is a small amount.

Keeping the scrap segregated by process streams and type of material will increase your understanding of what is sent to the refiner. To improve your understanding of your return, you must keep good records of materials sent. The results can be compared to the history of the previous lots of like material, realizing that there is variation in every process. If nothing changed in the manufacturing process, then your return should be within normal variation range. If your return was not what you expected, this may give a signal to look at your process where the material was collected, or to discuss the return with the refiner.

Sometimes it's not possible to perfectly segregate or keep completely accurate records. Communication with your refiner helps ensure maximum returns. With due diligence before shipping, you can have a better understanding of your scrap, your process, and your return.

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A gas fired furnace melting a lot of precious metals
A gas fired furnace melting a lot of precious metals.
scrap pieces from the manufacturing process
This lot contains hard scrap pieces from the manufacturing process, grindings from the bench process, and non-precious metal items such as paper clips.
Homogeneous bars
Homogeneous bars that contain varying levels of precious metals.
two different types of incinerators
There are two different types of incinerators to burn sweeps type materials. Left: A wood burning oven that is also kept lit with gas. Right: A gas burning oven. Some materials will burn better in one type over the other.