Even at the best of times, mining is unpredictable. Typically, operations will see huge variability in their productivity, with teams reaching their targets on some shifts while falling behind on others. All too often, this is simply seen as the way things are.
With each team working in their own silo trying to make do with disjointed spreadsheets and whiteboards, it used to be very difficult for managers to get to the root causes of issues impacting productivity. When teams press forward without fixing the underlying issues and all too often, invest in new equipment hoping for a quick fix, gaining meaningful control over operations becomes near impossible.
Add to this the challenges caused by travel restrictions, social distancing and quarantine measures brought on by the pandemic and you have the perfect storm. At this point, “going digital” has transcended trendy buzz words and industry hype once and for all and has instead become a necessity.
In this article, we explore the ways digital tools can help operations not only navigate the current crisis but actually thrive by facilitating rapid, sustainable performance improvements.
The problem with spreadsheets
Even before the pandemic, it had become painfully clear that manual work management systems simply weren’t meeting the unique demands of the mining industry. Conventional whiteboard and spreadsheet-based tools had long since proved ineffective in managing complex mining operations.
If you’ve spent any time in the field, you’ve probably witnessed it too: teams arriving on-site only to discover that necessary equipment or key people are not available. This results in missed targets, wasted time and plenty of frustration. Over time, it also erodes motivation and commitment. After all, why would you trust or commit to a plan when you know it won’t match the reality you’ll find on-site?
Teams had been working under these unpredictable conditions long before the pandemic. In the current climate, far too many crews are still dealing with unreliable shift plans and lack of visibility across operations – but now with the added challenges and uncertainty brought on by the pandemic. The silver lining? The current crisis has shaken up the industry and kicked digital innovation into overdrive.
Creating sustainable performance improvements
When you think about “mining in the digital age”, the first thing that comes to mind is probably the advancements being made in AI and robotics. You might also be thinking about the huge capital investments these projects will require in an industry where securing investment has already become challenging.
While these new technologies are definitely opening up a world of possibilities, they’re not the only way digital advancements can benefit the resource industry. Rather than springing for expensive new technologies head first, well-designed and rigorously implemented digital tools can be used to better manage the resources (from people to equipment) you already have in place without spending any capital, thus creating a solid foundation for any future investments.
In other words: mining in the digital age means work can be well-coordinated and well-planned. This will boost productivity, reduce variability and increase on-site safety in a way that can be sustained in the long term – without requiring major capital investments.
Creating real connections
So how can digital tools transform the way we manage work? One of the main problems with manual work management tools is that they are inherently disjointed and detached from the reality teams will encounter on site. This has made creating meaningful connections across operations very challenging. With conventional planning tools, there has been a disconnect between different teams as well as a rift between the shift plan and the actual work taking place on-site.
That’s why our software was designed to make collaboration easier. First, it allows planners and leaders to coordinate work into actionable shift plans. These plans – weekly, daily and shift-to-shift – are then visible to frontline crews on their own devices. Most importantly, the plans actually make sense to everyone on site. When everyone is on the same page, teams can actually commit to the plan – and then deliver on it.
Making the plan vs. actual visible
We all know how fast things can change in a complex mining operation. When the unexpected happens, even the best-laid plans become useless if they’re unable to adapt to the new reality. With digital tools, the “plan vs. actual” goes from a hazy concept into something that’s both visible and measurable. Our software allows control rooms and supervisors to track the work that’s actually being done on-site and measure it against the original plan for that shift.
Because mining is inherently unpredictable, this short interval control is invaluable. All of these changes – from missing equipment to changes in personnel – are visible across the site, on phones and tablets as well as on big screens and control rooms. When teams are aware of changes in real-time (which is impossible to achieve with manual tools), immediate adjustments can be made to keep operations on course to hit agreed targets and to ensure that the most important work still gets done.
Thriving in the digital age
The ongoing crisis has transformed the way we work. For businesses to not only navigate these uncertain times but to move beyond the crisis and thrive, the tools we use to manage work need to be able to get operations under control, regardless of rapidly changing conditions.
Thanks to our own background in consultancy, we know how to seamlessly wire our software into the behaviours and work management systems your team currently relies on. We can set up our software and facilitate its configuration and implementation in a matter of weeks, allowing your operations to seamlessly move past the constraints of your current spreadsheet and whiteboard-based systems. This will allow your team to coordinate work and to operate the mine remotely if required.
But even more importantly, our software will create a strong foundation for your operations to reach their full potential – during unprecedented times and beyond.