Planning to improve operations

The Washington Division of URS notes that an operational improvement program can benefit large and small. The company has direct experience in lignite mining in Germany (IM, March 2008) where pre-planning mine operation activities is nothing new, in mines which have a long tradition of using large continuous mining equipment. Bucketwheel and chain excavator technology requires detailed, careful advance planning of maintenance routines and schedules delays. This necessary upfront planning time offers the ideal opportunity to concurrently improve operations performance. For example, it is possible to gain several hours of operating time each month simply by optimising the shift schedule of the operators, maintenance personnel, and the belt shifting crew.

The practice of improving operations performance need not be exclusive to continuous mining operations. Truck and shovel mine operations can likewise benefit from a well-designed program that will boost productivity and ultimately improve profits. It is important that an operations improvement program include mechanisms to identify leading practices; maximise operating time of equipment; improve safety; reduce operational and maintenance costs; determine equipment failure rates; collect performance and failure data; and recognise 'bad actors' early on.

Information is key. Decisions should be made based on performance data collected in order to establish measurable and repeatable results. Asset utilisation rates directly affect mine operations efficiency, which affects the bottom line.

Gary Westerdale, Head of URS Corp's Mining Operations Excellence department, says his team uses a combination of existing leading practices as well as programs tailored to specific project's needs. An implementation plan typically includes five phases spanning 13 weeks. "We have been able to improve asset productivity by using more capable, robust mining processes and rigorous measurements," he said. "When we start a mine project or make improvements to a mine site's performance, we use pre-existing 'tool kits' for production, maintenance, and materials workflow management."

Workflow management focuses on supervisor turnover process, operator line-outs, monitoring of truck and shovel balance, and analysing and eliminating production losses. Performance measures include percentage of scheduled work accomplished, average queuing time for haul trucks, haul truck and loader utilisation and availability, operating efficiency, and target production versus actual production.

Maintenance workflow management programs include pre-shift operator inspections, primary maintenance inspections, work order creation and execution, 12-week maintenance forecasts, safety meetings, and analysis of maintenance key performance indicators.

Materials workflow management programs target activities such as inventory planning, warehouse organisation, purchase orders, and working with maintenance. This includes reviewing minimum/maximum levels, removing obsolete inventory, monitoring high-dollar inventory items, and establishing naming conventions for part numbers and their descriptions.

Ultimately, the success of an operations improvement program depends on many variables, such as the quality of the pre-implementation preparation, effective employee communications, management support, proper understanding and analysis of performance tracking system data, and the specific work culture environment.

According to Westerdale, "The ultimate goal is to establish an environment of continuous improvement that results in cleaner, safer, more profitable and competitive contract mining operations."

Well-matched loading equipment and synchronization can cut down on loading time, boost operator and equipment availability, and improve fuel efficiency.