Where is the next wave of productivity improvement coming from?

Sn0wdenadminNews, Technical Article

So, you have cut costs where you can. But is this enough? Shareholders and boards are still asking for more and each win tends to come with more effort and less immediate return. Here, we try to provide you with some ideas of where to look for the next big jump in your productivity. The solutions can be obvious and yet difficult to find.

“The harder you fight to hold on to specific assumptions, the more likely there’s gold in letting go of them.” John Seely Brown

Additional improvements will require a little more thought. It will not be the linear local improvements you get through cost cutting. It will be the integrated, intelligent solutions that ultimately test the assumptions that we hold onto the hardest. These are the things that we put in the “too hard basket” that we never question. Ideas and concepts from questioning the status quo may produce the biggest bang for your buck.

Looking for some places to look? Below, we discuss some potentially fruitful areas to look for your next major productivity improvement.

Improving your resource model

You may think that a resource model has nothing to do with productivity, but this would be wrong. What is often ignored is the hidden cost savings associated with improving the understanding of your resource. The closer your resource model is to reality, the more precise your planning can be, the less you need to react over short time intervals (destroying the cadence of the operation), the smaller the stockpiles you need (both physical stockpiles and drilled/blasted stocks), the less land you need to clear. Here are some useful questions to ask to get started.

  1. Do we have a method of reconciling the resource model; to the grade control model, to the as-mined, to the processed? If not, make sure that this is in place.
  2. If yes to (1), are there major differences? Do they change over time? Are they always positive, or negative?
  3. What do you do when there is a difference? Do you just apply a factor to next period’s production? Or do you initiate a root cause analysis? Do you test your theories?
  4. Ultimately, as the true geology reveals itself, do you change the way you model the resource? If not, then don’t expect any improvements.
Debottlenecking your ore supply chain

The Theory of Constraints (recommended reading – “The Goal”) says, very simplistically, that there is one thing stopping you from making more money… your bottleneck. Only changes that impact on this bottleneck will make a material change to performance. Focus your improvement policies around this bottleneck. This could entail:

  • Maximising uptime through maintenance optimisation and operational planning.
  • Reducing unproductive times through better planning and strategically planned buffers.
  • Increasing productivity of the bottleneck by adjusting the inputs (e.g. increased blasting upstream in the supply chain or adjusting haulage cycles).

Don’t know what your bottleneck is? Well there is some good news. Just make an informed guess and start somewhere. Implement those strategies around this bottleneck. If it isn’t your bottleneck then the true bottleneck will avail itself very quickly. Either way, you are on your path to improved productivity.

The success and upkeep of these continuous improvement efforts need to be supported by data capture of important metrics like equipment productivity, downtime allocation, and stockpile sizes (or buffers).

Geometallurgical optimisation

It is the changes that require an integrated multi-disciplinary perspective that are potentially the hardest to make but could yield the biggest improvement. Geometallurgical optimisation simply means understanding how the rock in the ground reacts through the various extraction and processing steps to get it to the final product. If you understand it, you can control it and then optimise it. To get started, here are a number of important questions to ask:

  • Are there markers in the orebody (lithology or chemical composition) that indicate how different materials will perform (throughput, cost and recovery) in the plant? Is this considered in the prioritisation and scheduling of mill feed in the mine plan?
  • Does a higher powder factor reduce crushing costs? By how much? Are there any other impacts? Where is your money best spent in size reduction – in the mine or in the mill?
  • Does the plant perform better (e.g. increased recovery or throughput) with a blend of material types or by campaigning rock types? What is the cost and impact on your overall mine plan for either?

There are many things to consider here. It is useful to have a focus to guide your actions. First, find the bottleneck in your operation, and focus on all of the things that impact on the revenue through that point. If it is power, then consider relating power consumption into your resource model. If it is reagent consumption, consider the recovery impact of reduced reagents and code these relationships into your block model.

Getting started

“The greatest amount of wasted time is the time not getting started.” Dawson Trotman

The good news is that these solutions are often incredibly simple. The bad news is that all these things are really hard to do unless you are prepared to break your own fundamental misconceptions. It takes a humble individual to reflect on their own values, and then change them when new information becomes available. Sometimes the best thing you can do is bring in an independent set of eyes from outside that has seen and solved issues like these before.

Snowden provides you with a range of experts to help you address your core issues and provide you with the systems to give you the data to support informed decision making. We provide “uncommon sense”.

Contact us at snowden@snowdengroup.com to discuss how we can work together to unlock the latent value in your mining operation. It could be the single best investment you will ever make for your operation.

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