The Key Requirements for a Successful Mining Technology Implementation in 2020
Updated: Nov 18, 2020
Over the past 15 years, we’ve been fortunate to have been involved with numerous technology installations at mines across the Americas, Africa and Europe. Some of these implementations we have project managed; and others we have been present as an SME for Machine Health at later stages.
The complexity of these engagements has varied from full fleet management system installations at established mines, to relatively easier-to-manage installs of high-precision equipment on loading tools at ‘greenfields’ operations.
Project Management in the Mining Industry
Despite the variety in these projects, a number of common factors have always provided a good indicator as to whether the technology installation would bring immediate and measurable benefits to the mine (e.g., how soon after the install would the site start to get a return on their investment). With this in mind, we list below what are (in our opinion) the most important ingredients for a successful implementation of mining technology.
Build a Project Charter
This is simply a clear set of project deliverables stated in a formal document, distributed to everybody to digest and sign. It ensures that all project stakeholders know what will be delivered, by who and when. This avoids later disappointment, delay and confusion about what the project will deliver.
Mining Technology Trends: ‘Benchmark’ Reporting
When choosing to install a fleet management system with the intention of improving the productivity of a truck fleet, it is important for a mine to know whether this goal was accomplished. Something regularly overlooked is putting together a method to measure the impact of the new mining technology installation.
For the above example, benchmark KPIs could include tonnes per hour by machine class, queuing time, first & last hour loads, empty haul vs. loaded haul and tonnes/fuel burnt. All of these KPIs would be expected to change post 'Go-Live' and thus would constitute a good 'before and after' snapshot.
Benchmarking brings two benefits: Firstly, as mentioned to give the mine a level of comfort about their investment and secondly to set a benchmark for future enhancements. (e.g., switching on further functionality once the system is embedded in the site). Wherever possible, the agreed upon KPIs should be included in the project charter and where appropriate the results distributed onsite.
We see the ability to benchmark as critical in preparation for learning further skills, as mining industry trends move towards advanced technologies such as predictive maintenance and harnessing big data.
Change Management: Ensure Buy-in from the Whole Team
Often during a mining technology implementation, the focus goes on the senior mining management team; with operators, pit bosses and others left unsure about what is going on. Yet the engagement, interest and understanding from this particular group, however, is absolutely critical to the success of the project - because their roles come into direct contact with the actions of the fleet management system. One truck operator consistently not following his or her assignment or a geologist not uploading ore blocks in time can really have a knock on effect for immediate results.
Consistent change management efforts, with an emphasis on how the new tool will bring benefits, are a simple and cost effective method of bringing everyone onboard before the system goes live. Getting the change management right is often one of the biggest challenges facing the mining industry, and one that will become increasingly important to overcome with advancement of new technology in mining.
The Importance of Radio Network Infrastructure
The radio network provides backbone infrastructure for a mining technology system. Without full coverage, 24/7 availability and a reliable onsite support team, the system will not function correctly.
The result of a poorly maintained or part functioning radio network will be incorrect or missing data, the sending of dubious assignments to trucks and ultimately a loss of confidence in the system. Before the start of the project therefore, the network should be in place, validated and the site fully equipped to confidently keep it running. Flags should be raised immediately if something is wrong rather than pushing ahead with the project.
Perform High-Quality Hardware Installations
Often on a project, delays and cost overruns are caused by either incorrect or poor quality hardware installations. A mine's confidence (and ultimately satisfaction) can be really hit hard if parts start to fail right from the start.
Ensuring that the team fitting the hardware are fully trained and supported is key to preventing this from becoming a problem. As a final check, all hardware and software configurations should be fully validated and signed off by a team lead once the install is complete.
Mine Planning: Document any New Systems and Processes
It is critical that all new processes required to make the system run are agreed upon, documented and fully validated. Examples here could include a procedure for reporting and dealing with system outages, the method for uploading geology ore control files, method of training and training material for new operators. Wherever possible, automated BI reports should be written (i.e. via SAP Business Objects) to highlight process failures that could occur on an ongoing basis (e.g., missing data by shift, missed assignments by operator).
Understanding Available OEM Support Processes
Support from the vendor is critical especially during the early days post 'Go Live'. The mine should ensure that the project charter contains details of follow-up visits, calls and a clear commitment from the vendor to help them through the first few critical months.
Mining technology is still in its infancy compared to the use of technology in other industrial sectors, but mining technology trends mean that manufacturers are under increasing pressure from their client base to start beefing up their available support channels. The use of data and interoperability is being taken much more seriously, meaning problems are being fixed faster.
Roll-Out Mining Technology Gradually
Small Steps are much more effective than trying to get everything done in one big project. Often a new piece of mining technology gets adapted much more easily if it is installed, the basic functionality turned on and then further down the line advanced functionality enabled.
Although reducing scope of the initial roll-out may frustrate stakeholders who have supported the spending of big dollars on the install, the benefits from smaller more manageable projects can be significant - and quicker to accomplish.
Challenges Facing the Mining Industry
MTS are mining consultants who specialise in helping mines implement technology successfully the first time around.