Another MINExpo has come and gone, introducing a world of new ideas and technologies for mining. Analytics, automation, and advanced safety systems peppered discussions throughout the week, but one classic problem stayed at the top of everyone's minds: mine productivity.
It's an old issue, but it's one mines are always looking to address. How can they make better use of their current equipment? How can they move more material in less time — without spending big bucks?
Technology has always put forth solutions. Improved shovel designs. Algorithm-based dispatching. GPS-powered cutting and filling. Each new system has brought the mining process to a higher level, giving mines better production than ever before. Leaders in the industry have already taken advantage of these technologies and seen the results. But where do they go from here?
Take Teck Resources, for instance. Since the mining downturn began in 2012, the company has scaled back $800 million worth of expenses. Much of those savings come from mine productivity improvements, such as slashing trucks' wait times and grouping equipment appropriately.
Yet, it's not over. Teck is currently planning to conserve another $200 million this year alone. How can it do it? By taking full advantage of all the innovation at its disposal.
Analytics tools such as the Avoca Intelligence Suite can help the company discover methods of cutting wait times, unproductive activities, and short payloads even further. These systems process mountains of cycle data in ways conventional reporting just can't handle. In a few clicks, a shift supervisor can scour through years' worth of data and find that, maybe, a ramp is poorly designed or an operator is underperforming. If a little reshaping or retraining can shave even seconds off each cycle, operating margins skyrocket.
E-learning can fix problems too. With a tool like Wenco Learning, mines don't have to call in systems experts to walk their operators through training. Instead, they can give their staff logins and keep them up-to-date on techniques for better performance all year long.
Even though the mining industry is seeing a small uptick after several weak years, projections are still slim. The glory days of rapid development in China are behind us. Paying closer attention to mine productivity can offer safe, predictable results — especially when the latest tools are ready to bring the same old processes up another notch in efficiency.