A high-profile report on technology in the mining sector has identified optimised scheduling and short interval control as two of the best investments for mining companies who are committed to digital transformation.
According to McKinsey & Company’s 2018 report, Behind the mining productivity upswing: Technology-enabled transformation, mining is already reaping the benefits of technological change, and mining productivity is on the rise.
The report stresses, however, that technology needs to be part of a holistic approach to transformation that extends across every facet of a mining organisation. Companies who invest in tech without a broad, organisation-wide strategy may not see the improvements they’ve been hoping for.
“There is no technological silver bullet that companies can buy to achieve their goals,” it states. Instead, transformation depends on the success of three interdependent engines, described below:
1. Harnessing tech
Harnessing digital, analytics and automation technology across an organisation can support productivity, safety, customer satisfaction, and supply chain management.
New technologies are already helping mining companies in many ways, including:
- Improving throughput and recovery by using data and advanced analytics to inform decisions and improve processes.
- Optimising maintenance, so it’s performed when needed rather than on a fixed schedule, thanks to sensors and machine learning. Phone- or tablet-based systems also help by giving maintenance workers the info they need while they’re on the job.
- Reducing operating costs – especially through the use of robotics and autonomous machines.
- Boosting productivity by coordinating activities. In underground mining, where this has always been a challenge, WiFi or 5G wireless tech on mobile devices allows supervisors to communicate with work teams in real time and adapt plans using Short Interval Control to suit conditions.
2. Adapting management systems
A mining company implementing new technologies also needs to modify the ways in which its employees operate “to embed the new tools and insights into their daily workflow”.
Sometimes the organisational structure may need to change too. Traditional siloed teams typically lead to “slow and inferior decision making. Each team sees only its part of the whole, and when problems arise (as they always do), it works against collaborative and cooperative thinking and action. Most importantly, teams that work in silos know only what they know; they are isolated from the data that drives innovation”.
3. Overhauling culture and capabilities
Breaking ingrained habits is the third part of the puzzle; mining companies need to manage a change in mindset, behaviours and capabilities, formally and through modelling by managers. They will also need to train, retrain and upskill employees, and hire others to fill new roles as technologies are harnessed.