The Importance of Technology Training for Operators - Run a Safe, Productive and Healthy Mine
Updated: Nov 11, 2020
Running an efficient mine is a team sport. Each individual has a part to play within their team, and needs to perform at their best:
If blasting is poor, bench control and load & haul times will be compromised, leading to a slow-down in mine production.
If the Fleet Management System isn’t maintained properly, the system will be unable to provide the optimal routes.
If operators don’t know how to use their in-cab mining technology systems, serious mistakes can be made during the shift.
You get the picture - all of the above can stem from an individual or accumulated team mistakes, but the net result is decreased site-awareness, higher safety risks, reduced operational productivity, ore-dilution and damaged equipment.
For these reasons, it is absolutely vital that equipment operators are trained to use their mining technology effectively. Mining plant operators with a full understanding of their in-cab systems are able to solve problems as they occur, rather than relying on a ‘post mortem’ at the end of the shift.
Yet we have found time and again that operator training is often inadequate, typically focusing on the functionality of the truck, shovel or dozer whilst failing to discuss the expensive mining technology in any real detail.
Furthermore, mining technology and a multitude of in-cab screens are commonly retrofitted to older equipment, suddenly appearing in an operator's cab with little (if any) training or change management being provided.
Why is Mining Technology Training so Important for Machine Operators?
Effective use of mining technology has a compounding effect. Mine planning, geology, dispatchers, and maintenance all benefit when operators use their in-cab technology effectively.
At Mine Tech Services, we have experienced increases in productivity of 10-15% by crews that have been trained to use in-cab technology and adopted it into their work, with no increase in unsafe behaviour or increased payloads.*
What Problems Can Occur if Mining Plant Operators are not Properly Trained?
Below are just a few examples of problems that commonly occur on sites using Fleet Management Systems, high-precision GPS machine guidance systems or similar, when operators are not adequately trained:
1. Loading tools: Incorrect material selection leads to the material being dumped at the wrong location. Blocks are consequently under-mined or over-mined.
Result: Ore dilution or lost ore (into waste dumps).
2. Haul trucks: Assignments are not followed. This results in routes and/or dumping being incorrect.
Result: Slower cycles and possible incorrect blending, which leads to lost production.
3. Dozers: The operator struggles to control the floor or bench to plan. This causes under-mining or over- mining, and can potentially push different materials into each other.
Result: Ore dilution or lost ore.
What Should be Done to Ensure Mining Operators are Upskilled?
There are many steps managers can take to ensure operators have sufficient technology skills:
1. Explain why, not just how. To drive the adoption of new systems, it is essential that mining operators understand why the new mining technology is important, and what positive effects it can have on improving productivity in mining.
2. Embed technology into an operator training program. Mining technology systems are an integral part of the machine and should be treated as such. Mining operators require the systems to perform their duties effectively and safely, and should therefore be trained to use them from the outset.
3. Implement classroom training. Cover the theory in a classroom while operators are not under pressure to operate the equipment. This helps to build confidence in a low-risk environment.
4. Introduce in-cab mentoring. Follow up initial training with ongoing in-cab mentoring, ensuring that correct screen usage is reinforced.
5. Provide reference material. Give operators a ‘cheat sheet’ or similar which they can keep in their cab for quick reference, covering the main functions and scenarios that can be displayed on their screens.
How Can I Measure Whether Mining Operators are Using Their Mining Technology Effectively?
Most digital mining technology systems create large volumes of data including items that can be used to assess an operator’s proficiency and improve productivity in mining. For example, any of the following observations would suggest the operator is not using the systems effectively:
Dumping at the wrong assigned location
Not following the assigned route
Going to a loading tool they weren’t assigned to
No material type being assigned to a cycle
Excessive overriding of the system
Production occurring during a delay or down
Identifying the key measures and making them visible on scoreboards or dashboards can help operators to understand what’s important on an ongoing basis. It also creates a sense of ownership and competition; everybody wants to be a high performer. Mining plant operators who frequently fall below mining productivity or mining technology performance targets can be easily identified and provided with additional training to bring them into line.
Dashboards like the example shown above can be created using Business Intelligence tools such as SAP BusinessObjects, Tableau, Microsoft PowerBI and Squirrel365. What we love about using dashboards is that they are automated, so once they are built they require minimum admin input or maintenance... Goodbye spreadsheets!
Finally, remember that it is important for metrics and scorecards for your mining technology equipment and services to be balanced. Pushing your team purely on production-based metrics, for example, could lead to unsafe operations and poor material control because people are most concerned about "chasing tons".