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In September of 2022, autonomous aerial robot systems pioneer Exyn Technologies engaged USC Consulting Group to perform an independent evaluation of the AL4 Autonomy being utilized in the ExynAero underground drone.
The detailed study focused around one main objective; to gain practical exposure to the use of this technology by the survey team, while surveying active headings.
The ExynAero uses a LIDAR unit mounted to the drone in order to perform cavity mapping surveys inside of open stopes.
Over the course of a two-day visit USCCG was able to observe surveyors mapping live stopes utilizing the new drone technology on the ExynAero in comparison to the traditional boom and scanner CMS method. The observations yielded immensely positive results including:
- 45% faster surveying times underground
- 24% more volume realized in the same cavities as compared to traditional CMS
- Added safety by increasing distance between working area and the brow from 1-3ft to 50+ feet
- Reduced physical strain in set-up / take-down of equipment
As a follow-up to the evaluation of mining’s top innovations, USC Consulting Group worked with both Northern Star Resources Limited’s Pogo Mine and Exyn Technologies to prepare a white paper detailing these findings. This free white paper is available for download below:
There were many benefits that were observed during the study, which included improved safety, survey quality, and time savings.
“It (ExynAero) is infinitely safer to use… we’re nowhere near the brow now, doing jobs around the corner in some cases. The safety aspect is definitely one of the driving factors to why we purchased the gear.” – Chief Mine Surveyor, Pogo Mine
Working at or around the brow is widely regarded as one of the most hazardous places in any mine. The National Institute of Safety and Health (NIOSH) still lists it as one of the top five major causes of lost time injuries in underground mining, accounting for almost 10% of reported injuries.
Read the full report of benefits in our white paper: ExynAero vs Traditional CMS: A Study of Mining’s Top Innovations
If you want to learn more about this study or you’re interested in speaking with one of our Mining experts, please contact us.
*Photo credit: Richard Bishop
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USC Consulting Group is a world-class operations management firm that for the past 50 years has helped mining companies around the globe improve their business performance by increasing throughput, reducing costs, eliminating waste, increasing productivity, improving quality and leveraging existing assets.
Your process improvement experience starts with USC digging in to begin to learn what truly makes your mining operations tick. We conduct detailed diagnostics, at the point of execution, whether underground, in the pit, surface, processing plants and support services to gain an understanding of impediments to increased performance. We’ll handpick a team uniquely qualified to address your specific challenges. We’ll observe how you do things around the clock, shift to shift, engaging directly with the people on the front lines – production, maintenance, engineering, and all support departments. Then we’ll collaborate with you to turn our findings into a detailed, workable plan, complete with tools from our well-rounded toolkit.
This is the point when most consultants leave you with a binder and walk out the door. Instead, we’re developing a project plan, organizing work breakdown structure, developing performance goals, determining measurement metrics and making sure our jointly developed strategies get the desired results. Managing data and information in the mining environment is vital for continuous improvement efforts. As part of our implementation process, we will help you enhance how your organization makes use of key data and information. Knowing where the right data and information lives and putting it to value added purposes is essential to managing a successful business. Leveraging enabling technology such as Microsoft Power BI helps to achieve, and then sustain the desired outcomes. Our LINCS® Lean Information Control System will enhance your existing Management Operating System (MOS) by smoothing the change process, providing timely feedback on KPI’s to process owners and actionable business intelligence to key decision makers. We openly share the results of our collaboration to increase and maintain operating excellence, and provide the extra horsepower needed to put ideas (both yours and ours) into action. We help deliver on your goals by empowering your performance. In fact, we’ll help you audit, verify, and sustain results for years to come.
USCCG’s Mining team uses the best of tried-and-proven, and emerging, methodologies to bring about enterprise-wide Lean Transformation, resulting in significant operating and financial gains, all at a very attractive ROI.
Discover more about our work in the Mining industry and contact us today to start your process improvement experience.
Of the more than 62,000 employees working in American mines, over half staff maintenance departments, according to data from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. This operational distribution has developed because of the ascendance of automated mining technologies, which have reduced the need for production personnel but increased maintenance demands significantly.
Despite the intensified focus on maintenance activities, firms in the sector continue to struggle in this area. Many are leaving efficiency gains and cost savings on the table. As research from EY revealed, many also depend on deficient communication strategies that separate maintenance and operations teams.
These less-than-ideal mining maintenance tendencies carry serious consequences – especially for mining companies with expansive open-pit operations where cost-effectiveness and operational efficiency reign supreme. Stakeholders at these sites can, of course, avoid financial fallout linked to declines in productivity by bolstering maintenance strategies. But before embarking on improvement efforts, open-pit leaders should pose some key questions to better understand their baseline needs.
Here are a few queries that might help mining maintenance leaders gather the data they need to move forward:
How are work orders processed?
Work orders constitute the backbone of maintenance operations. These documents and the internal mechanisms by which they move throughout the organization are critical in the age of automated mining technology. Yet maintenance departments within many firms do not have such formalized workflows in place to keep mission-critical assets up and running and instead rely on hastily delivered spoken reminders among technicians. This often leads to costly downtime and production pauses.
Ideally, mining companies should maintain digitized work order processes that allow operational staff to configure detailed service requests with all the information technicians need to make repairs in a timely manner. Open-pit maintenance leaders managing looser processes centered on in-person exchanges should embrace this methodology to make headway.
Is the right technology in place?
Mining technology continues to move forward at breakneck speed, catalyzing transformation in the industry along the way. Advanced tools such as automated drills and driverless trucks allow firms to mine continuously and reach new operational heights, according to the MIT Technology Review. Sadly, many of the back-end maintenance systems that support such cutting-edge assets are not as advanced and rely on nontechnical processes. Again, this creates risk.
To keep up with innovations unfolding in mines, open-pit maintenance leaders should adopt digital tools such as enterprise resource planning and computerized maintenance management software.
What is the ratio of planned to reactive maintenance?
Reactive maintenance strategies were common decades back. Now, with the rise of asset sensors and sophisticated data collection and analysis tools, organizations across all industrial sectors must maintain predictive methodologies to keep costs down and stay competitive.
Reactive maintenance is often four to five times more expensive than planned work, which is why firms should develop and sustain 80-20 maintenance ratios, wherein technicians devote 80 percent of their time to scheduled asset management activities and 20 percent to repairs. Open-pit mining operations failing to maintain such balances must work toward implementing proactive maintenance strategies designed to improve efficiency and reduce costs.
Mining maintenance leaders supporting open-pit facilities would be wise to kickoff improvement activities by answering these critical questions. Those in need of additional guidance should consider reaching out to USC Consulting Group. With nearly 50 years of experience, we can help open-pit maintenance stakeholders improve their processes and boost productivity. Connect with us today to learn more about our services and work in the mining space.
Truly innovative asset management covers all aspects of monitoring, analyzing, and maintaining capital equipment. Does your business have all its bases covered?
Now recovering from economic instability over the last decade, companies in asset-intensive industries have begun to invest in new and recommissioned equipment. In turn, these decisions ignite a fervent interest in improving uptime quality through optimized workflows, reliability-centered maintenance, and proactive decision-making.
Download our latest e-book “Asset Management: The Rise of Reliability” to discover asset management best practices from our team of experienced operational experts. Here are the seven points examined and discussed therein.
1. Work management
A work order is more than just a slip of paper. Its life cycle extends further than most businesses realize and should include information valuable to future successes in asset management.
2. Downtime tracking
If you fail to understand the nuance of downtime tracking, you will fail to sustainably decrease it.
3. Preventive and predictive maintenance
Reward awaits those facilities that understand what these two cutting-edge maintenance methodologies entail and how to execute on them properly to achieve new heights.
4. Asset criticality review
Are you allocating your resources to the machinery that matters most to your business? Align your goals with your actual asset management processes with a comprehensive ACR.
5. Equipment history capture and analysis
Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. Do you know what sorts of data you should capture about your assets today in order to make informed decisions tomorrow?
6. Root cause failure analysis
Assets fail for any number of reasons, but they boil down to three basic types of failure. Learn these as well as tips for digging below the surface when failures strike.
7. Operator equipment care
Line operators can work wonders for an innovative asset management program – if only their leaders know how best to utilize them.
Asset-intensive industries have cautiously maintained their commitment to present and future major capital investments in the wake of the 2008 economic collapse. Total capital expenditure, which includes the purchasing of both equipment and structures, has grown without pause since 2009, according to a recent report from the U.S. Census Bureau.
But ventures today are not the same as they were before 2008. They now come with new perspectives on how best to improve reliability across the business with tightening margins, ensure throughput or productivity by reducing downtime and preserve mission-critical assets effectively, intelligently, and affordably throughout their life cycles. To some degree, all industries with large-scale assets cared about these principles in the past, but now many – energy, oil and gas, process industries, telecom – must do so in the face of trends rapidly transforming their sectors.
Considering major capital investments? Here’s how enterprise asset management and maintenance can save you from dire financial straits.
Are you caught in an asset utilization trap?
Industries with heavy assets owe it to themselves to develop innovative and more robust asset management practices, lest they fall victim to an endless cycle of profligate capital spending.
Let’s use an example industrial businesses have no doubt experienced: how to respond to low asset utilization. A mining company crunches the data on month-over-month utilization for its fleet of articulating vehicles. Asset management metrics return a utilization rate of around 45 percent, same as it’s been for more than a year. Utilization has plateaued, so company stakeholders decide that increased capital investment on newer trucks will resolve their issue with stagnant asset-related revenue generation.
Chances are good that it won’t, definitely not if low utilization stems from maintenance and scheduling. An ill-prepared asset management program in charge of a larger fleet will only exacerbate the utilization problem, not fix it.
If this mining company, or any other asset-reliant business for that matter, truly believes in the doctrine of continuous improvement, they will turn their attention to the real culprit: underdeveloped asset management operating systems and reliability-centered maintenance. Here’s how to build out these areas and create an asset support network that drives higher utilization:
Get granular with preventive or predictive maintenance
All industries that rely on heavy equipment or high-tech plants must gradually, but assuredly, move toward a proactive versus reactive stance on enterprise asset management. Repairs and calibration must either happen on a time-based cycle (preventive maintenance or PM) or through advanced sensors and preemptive failure detection (predictive maintenance or PdM).
However, these are very broad recommendations asset management teams will probably already understand the value of. What specific details should PM and PdM adopters lock onto if they want to boost utilization?
Pinpoint ideal KPI metrics: Find the measurements that align best with your mission as an organization and can report capably on issues surrounding asset utilization, then automate the acquisition and visualization of those measurements so you understand them in real time.
Investigate data hygiene: Key performance indicators must be accurate to serve operators, technicians, and supervisors. Review where your data comes from, who handles it, and what may adversely affect its veracity.
Standardize cross-functional transparency: Businesses that democratize information allow their workers to contribute to and analyze all data related to asset health. Build visibility into the entire asset management operating system – reporting, inspecting, scheduling, repairing, confirming, and documenting – and leave no area of your business in the dark.
Devote more resources to root cause failure analysis
Are mechanical failures on critical assets really the result of something mechanical? You’ll never know without comprehensive root cause failure analysis (RCFA).
Although deficiencies or outright failures may present as technical glitches, best-in-class asset management processes must dig below the surface to reveal what’s actually causing asset functionality – and ultimately utilization across the board – to drop.
Returning to the hypothetical mining company from before – perhaps utilization rates were low because heavy trucks require a lot of maintenance. What kind of maintenance? Technicians report back that the most common work order is repair or replacement of shock absorbers. To the untrained eye, this appears rational given the rough terrain and capacity requirements of the job. But practitioners of thorough root cause failure analysis don’t stop there. They ask the following:
- Are these universal issues experienced by competitors?
- Are these failures caused by the roads we drive on?
- According to the manufacturer’s specifications, are we overloading these trucks?
- Is a lack of communication between operators and maintenance professionals to blame?
Immediate remediation of one, some, or all of these concerns will improve the reliability and availability of assets, raise utilization rates, and may even deter unnecessary capex and opex spending. In order to achieve this high level of awareness over the condition of capital investments, however, asset-intensive businesses must first invest their time and effort into fleshing out RCFA.
Want to learn more about how to improve asset utilization through asset management and proactive maintenance? Contact USC Consulting Group to speak to an operations management consultant today.
Like any other industry, metal manufacturing can benefit greatly from a reduction in operational expenses. Smarter, data-driven processes have the potential to eliminate waste in smelting and deliver sustainability at ore extraction sites even during troubled times. What lies ahead for metal producers the world over, and how might operational excellence help them rise to the occasion as their industry matures?
“2017 looks to be an upward-trending year for steel and iron ore prices, but only barely.”
Pricing forecasts show slow improvement
After the commodities boom peaked in 2011 and plummeted thereafter, any small gains to entrenched businesses are welcome. According to Knoema, 2017 looks to be an upward-trending year overall for steel and iron ore prices, but only barely. The projections also show a plateau throughout the rest of the decade, a sign that market value will not soon return to the twofold or even threefold per-tonne prices the metal industry enjoyed at the start of the 21st century.
With this in mind, businesses should feel comfortable instituting opex-cutting initiatives like predictive analysis for asset performance or standardized operating procedures for changeovers. After all, operationally efficient strategies will allow the companies that adopt them to become more responsive to not only their needs, but the needs of their customers, as their interests and expectations shift because of pricing. Operational excellence, therefore, makes room in the budget to build a better, more attractive product with a lower risk of financial turbulence.
Labor costs increase as ore grades decrease
Much of the metal industry’s costs upstream of smelters revolve around labor – around 40 to 50 percent in the mining sector, for example, according to a 2016 study from Deloitte. Industry leaders know the implausibility of simply pushing mining staff to extract more ore at a faster clip. Even though the depletion of high-grade ore deposits across the globe has led to the development of equipment potentially capable of cost-efficient low-grade ore extraction, the exchange has not been commensurate. The loss of high-grade ore opportunities currently trumps any gains reclaimed through innovation.
Operational excellence helps low-grade ore mining become more cost efficient.
With prices as low as they are in 2016 and mining companies squeezing what they can out of already overextended mines, something else has got to give. Metal producers need eyes on upstream operations and actionable intelligence to know how, where, and when to optimize effectively, particularly if they wish to avoid labor fallout from unobtainable operational demands from their workforces.
Economic improvement in other sectors pushes metal to produce under strain
As dim as the short-term outlook appears for many metal producers, long-term growth in areas like construction and automotive provide a silver lining. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, construction output volumes around the world will increase 85 percent between now and 2030, with China, India, and the U.S. leading the charge. And while U.S. auto sales might stagnate over the next couple years, the incorporation of new gadgets into the average vehicle could prove to be a boon to rare metals used primarily in electronics. Moreover, project sales boosts in China signal even more innovation requiring a bounty of diverse materials.
As we mentioned earlier, operational excellence make businesses lighter on their feet and should not be seen exclusively as a method for tightening spend management. After all, the best defense is a good offense. So while metal producers incorporate new processes designed to navigate the disruptions affecting their sector, they shouldn’t lose sight of the opportunities for success on the horizon. To achieve them, however, these companies will need flexibility and agility, both of which they can gain through operational insight and optimization.
Can smarter asset management and maintenance strategies address mining issues of today, as well as those on the horizon?
When they supply manufacturing and other process industries with the minerals they need to service their customers, the U.S. mining industry also performs an incredible service to the stability of the nation. The mining industry processes hundreds of billions in minerals each year, and once delivered to other sectors, the materials added more than triple their worth to the economy, according to the National Mining Association. Mining is the fuel for the engine of production.
An industry so valuable to the economic integrity of the U.S. requires reliability-centered maintenance initiatives to protect and preserve mining assets over their entire life cycles. By investing in regular, data-driven repairs, mining assets have the potential to last longer, and their owners avoid cost increases related to inefficient operation, downtime and replacement, among others. But mining is an industry like no other, one with its own set of unique challenges.
Long hours of operation take their toll on mining assets
So long as there are minerals left to mine, a mining company’s extraction process will continue to be lucrative. But while mine workers and equipment operators in the U.S. average just over 44 hours weekly, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the assets they utilize on the job may virtually never really stop running. According to literature published by the state of Illinois detailing a day in the life of a coal miner, many mines operate 24 hours per day. So, while workers might come and go according to their shift schedules, on-site assets function around the clock.
“Operation without end increases an asset’s susceptibility to inefficiency and breakdowns.”
These conditions present two problems for mining assets and the legacy maintenance strategies used to protect them: First, running machines constantly for long hours obviously puts an incredible amount of physical strain on the equipment in question. Operation without end increases an asset’s susceptibility to inefficiency and breakdowns. Furthermore, when assets run on a 24-hour operations schedule, any downtime – planned or unplanned – detracts from site efficiency.
That said, planned downtime as part of a reliability-centered maintenance strategy can take advantage of data communicated between machine and managers to reduce time to repair. If mining telemetry effectively predicts machine deficiencies capable of spiraling into full-blown failures, maintenance crews can plan downtime to address these smaller concerns rather than waiting for a big, expensive breakdown. The ability to schedule maintenance in advance delivers benefits all its own. If a mine has any off hours, even a handful a day, maintenance can devote that time to their work orders accordingly.
As mining demand rises, so does the significance of uptime
If the previous points didn’t stress the importance of asset reliability and continuous production, hikes in mining demand will. Industrial and technological trends have added pressure to the mining industry, compounding the need for maintenance programs designed specifically to enhance uptime.
By the NMA’s assessment, the average computer chip contains upwards of 60 different minerals and elements, all requiring mining operations. Moreover, the latest technological advancements may involve expanded mining operations to extract new metals – in 2011, Technology Review discussed how the U.S. is the largest consumer of cobalt while, at the time, mining none of mineral itself. That has since changed.
“As businesses move back stateside, procurement will need to follow suit.”
Additionally, reshoring may also increase mining demand in the U.S. According to the Reshoring Initiative’s 2014 data report, America went from losing 140,000 manufacturing jobs per year to overseas companies to gaining 10,000 per year in the last decade. As businesses move back stateside, procurement will need to follow suit, lest they undermine the cost efficacy of relocating to the U.S. by sourcing abroad.
Reliability-centered maintenance for mining assets keeps equipment availability high and mines in operation. As heightened demand pushes productivity to the limit, every machine extracting or transporting minerals will require support from a maintenance plan working alongside asset management best practices to secure availability.
The prosperity of future mining operations depends on the industry’s ability to respond to forecasted demand, so why not use the same principle to enhance asset functionality? With reliability-centered maintenance, mine workers and machine operators turn asset data into actions, thereby reducing maintenance costs, eliminating large-scale failure events, improving safety and throwing their full weight behind value-added operations.
An ancillary component to all mining operations, perhaps more so than any industry, is mining safety. Everything mine workers and their foremen do throughout their day-to-day itinerary should include extra attention to adhering to mining safety standards and improving on them wherever possible.
Though the U.S. Department of Labor’s Mining Safety and Health Administration reported workplace fatalities have plummeted over the last 40 years from around 250 annually in the late 1970s to under 50 in 2014, securing employees against risk protects them as much as the business itself. After all, time spent recovering from an injury chips away at a mining company’s productivity. In the end, it’s in everyone’s best interests to increase minig safety and prevent harm for both medical and financial reasons.
Taking extra precautions need not complicate the task at hand – safety and efficiency aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, foremen and managers seeking to optimize processes and improve the quality of their risk prevention can do so by simply focusing on improving efficiency in target areas.
As the first step to the mining process, fragmentation can have an incredible impact on mine development and even auxiliary operations. Proper fragmentation can align ore extraction with daily objectives, which subsequently allows workers and engineers to utilize mining and transport equipment at peak efficiency. It’s important every load sent to the surface doesn’t fall short of its predicted capacity, otherwise mine operators unnecessarily expend fuel, pay staff to work longer hours, and wear down machinery, all for a less-than-anticipated return. As such, implementing an intelligent, data-driven approach to fragmentation that consistently provides adequate resources helps everything after and beyond flow smoothly.
A clean, controlled explosion can help miners perform their duties with greater efficiency.
With all that in mind, we are talking about explosions, however controlled they may be. Luckily, some of the greatest mining safety tools also promote efficiency. According to a study by the Department of Mining Engineering at the Federal University of Technology in Akure, Nigeria, to protect workers from inefficiency, as well as safety hazards like fly rocks, miners should pay closer attention to rockmass and blast parameters. Just as a well-executed fragmentation sets up workers for ideal extraction conditions, a comprehensive assessment of rock density and placement of explosives enhance the effectiveness of the fragmentation. Additionally, competent adjustments to blast hole diameters and borehole depth reduces overburden and minimizes extraneous equipment use, which again, cuts down on energy, wear-and-tear, and time spent on-site that detracts from extraction.
When an occupation includes handling high explosives as part of the job description, it can feel as though a piece of everyday operations will be left to chance. However, mining professionals know that’s far from the truth. Businesses can takes steps toward calibrating their fragmentation, fine tuning it until it maximizes production and mining safety.
“Without ample attention paid to communication services, miners and engineers can lose productivity and decrease mining safety.”
Communication in the mining industry remains a multifaceted issue with a variety of considerations. Mining is one of the rare instances of workers performing 12 to 14 hour shifts over many consecutive days. In this business model, foremen and managers get the most out of their teams, which keeps production moving and on quota. That said, without ample attention paid to communication services, miners and engineers can lose productivity and the resources they need to stay safe.
Network communication provider Globecomm broke down mining communication into two basic hemispheres: reachback and mine site communication. Reachback communication connects the quarry with the outside world via telecommunications and Internet, typically used as a means for connecting “boots on the ground” with headquarters. However, as the Internet continues to grow in popularity as a source of entertainment, a reliable Wi-Fi or wired connection for workers to use during downtime keeps spirits high after intense physical labor. Moreover, during the workday, reliable web services and telecommunications also allow miners to perform research, supplying them with the information they need to do their jobs safely and efficiently.
To that same end, high-quality communication between workers can not only keep continuous processes in full swing, but at a blast site that uses explosives and industrial equipment to rend solid rock, it can also save lives in an industry. Workers should always have a reliable channel of communication to prevent accidental injuries. Additionally, as mining technology continues to advance, companies will also begin integrating more data-powered machinery, which will also require a strong network connection on which to transmit information.
Foremen, miners and engineers understand mining safety is not an option in their line of work, but a necessity, one that doesn’t have to be leveraged against filling orders on time and at allocation. By employing mining safety measures as a means to highlight areas of operation in need of an efficiency boost, these workers can have the best of both worlds.