Mining and Change – The digital reinvention of mining

When I left the mining industry in 2010, working as a Six Sigma Black Belt and business improvement lead, one of the key challenges was the collection of data from underground.

From surface plants, you could generally count on decent communications infrastructure and automated collection of data, leading to good data based decisions. But accurate data from underground was hard to come by, and usually involved some short-term initiative with manual data collection written on a piece of paper. It was inefficient, often incomplete, and rarely timely. Decisions unsupported by data sometimes worked, and sometimes didn’t, and ironically, there typically wasn’t any data to tell anyone why the decision hadn’t worked, making it hard to adjust for improvement.

In a recent article in CIM Magazine titled Ripe for Disruption, mining executive and corporate director of Excellon Resources, Daniella Dimitrov, was quoted as saying, “We’re an industry that is known as resistant to change.” Based on my personal experience, I have to concur.

Certainly over the years new technology has been adopted in geology, ground control and surface plants, and it must be said that the equipment has gotten better, usually driven by worker safety and/or efficiency driven profit motive. But experts agree that the mining sector remains one of the very few industries that has not evolved significantly over time or kept up with some of the technological advancements sweeping other industries, particularly in their underground operations.

All that being said, based on the work PACE Inc. is doing with some of our mining clients, this resistance is crumbling. I am impressed and heartened by what I saw at the recent PDAC and CIM conferences I attended, and by clients like the Barrick Hemlo mine in Marathon, where there is a commitment to continuous improvement in mine design and digital technology taking hold.

When I was working underground, we had computers and phones, but they were used sparingly by a couple of people here and there. The crews certainly weren’t using them, and they were not being leveraged as communication or data sharing tools to any extent.

There is a growing appetite for change, and a dawning realization that things need to change for mines to stay viable, never mind profitable.

A biggest area of the improvement for mines in the short term is implementation of technology, and technology adoption in the mining sector in general. We’re talking about digital tech and connectivity down to the underground that didn’t exist in any significant way in the past, but with Wifi and underground cell towers (LTE technology), etc., the way mines do business is poised to take a quantum leap forward. The opportunity now exists to leverage the kind of real time data that has been utilized by other industries for years, and apply it to the mining environment in order to make evidence and data-based decisions that will help improve cycle time, eliminate inefficiencies, and potentially drive down cost per tonne.

Yes, the mining industry is ripe for disruption. As evidenced by the number of vendors at these recent conferences and the variety of ways they are creatively applying digital technology to many different facets of mining and mining equipment, to the industry speakers and decision makers’ acknowledgement that mining needs to move forward, there are a number of trends falling into place that will significantly and rapidly change the way mining is done in the future.

We are aware that the PACE of change is speeding up dramatically, and can and should be seen as a positive thing. But, it must be acknowledged that for many who have been working in the industry for some time, change can create a lot of anxiety and fear. With this digital reinvention and rapid evolution, it is critical that companies do not overlook the impact that it has on their number one resource – their people. It is and will remain important to engage the frontlines in various ways and leverage their experience before and as these changes occur.

PACE – Partners in Achieving Change Excellence is focused on providing change management and technology adoption support to mining companies looking to implement digital transformation in their operations. You can launch the best technology initiative in the world, but if you can’t get your workforce on-board with using it properly – or using it at all – you will never see the full potential and ROI.

I’ll talk about the role of change management in your mining company’s digital reinvention in my next blog.

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