The significance of downstream processes to support new technologies

Posted by on Dec 23, 2011 in Technology | 0 comments

The significance of downstream processes to support new technologies
For this first entry I thought I would write about one important aspect of technology implementation that I strongly believe needs to be improved across the mining industry.  In recent years there has been a boom of new technology both for on-site and office applications. Often times everyone gets gung-ho about bringing in and implementing new technologies and/or techniques, with the hopes of creating a more efficient and effective operation. Unfortunately after the technology is bought and paid for and introduced with great fanfare it is too often left to wither away unused or misused. This phenomenon could be attributed to everyone going 90 in a 45with mineral prices soaring (again), trying to do more with less, high employee turnover rates prompting a culture of short term, or a variety of other reasons. Whatever the reason is  there seems to be an overall lack of attention, structure, governance and/or training that needs to be put into place for the downstream process to facilitate the change that is about to take place at the operation and the other process changes that should take place as a result of the new technologies introduced.Technologies could include a new in-pit wireless network, fleet management system, drill guidance solutions, semi-autonomous or fully autonomous mining, real time condition monitoring, etc.

How many projects do you know of, whether it was a corporate or site initiative, that have failed because nobody used the technology available? Or nobody was trained to use it? Or nobody knew about it?

For example: Your mine is planning to install a tool for real time condition monitoring on their truck fleet, the fancy new network will allow you to see the sensor’s information with milliseconds of delay; but how would you make sure that the implementation grabs hold and becomes a part of the operating culture? First and foremost, you need a project champion that has support from upper management to drive the project. Before you even start installing the first hub make sure to involve any and all stakeholders for their input. Then you will need to have the procedures written and personnel trained to accept the inflow of information that will be coming and coordinate between mine ops and mine maintenance to handle this information. Changes in management (I like to call it transition handling) also plays a significant role but I will save that topic for another soap box session.

If I told you your right-hand exhaust and left-hand exhaust have a 20% differential in temperature but you have no procedure to either: down the truck for an inspection,  send a mechanic out during shift change,  save it for the backlog, or identify that it is a faulty sensor, then how are you justifying your million dollar implementation? All this process development, implementation, salary for a champion and training may cost you in the tens or hundreds of thousands, but last I checked – a rebuild on a 60L engine was about 250K, not to mention the downtime costs of about $1000/hour in truck revenue.

It’s often the simple philosophies that we forget. Put a process in place that addresses the new system and have the properly trained people to support it before you go live. Remember: On-Board Systems –> Data –> Software & Applications –> Reports –> Action

The Action that takes place at the mine ops/maintenance level due to the new information is how you payback the cost of the systems to start with. Don’t forget what you built your decision upon in the beginning. I would also recommend setting a baseline KPI or two prior to implementing these technologies, whether is cost/ton or cost/hour, and checking periodically on what the system is achieving for you.

Originally Posted 5th April
Author: Vivien Hui
Edited By: Chris McCann