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Creating agile mining companies  

There has been much talk over the past 18-months about the need for agility in mining… Agile operations, supply chains, business models. But what does it mean to be agile and how do we go about instilling this quality in an industry that is famously stoic when it comes to change?

Agility implies the ability to move quickly when necessary. At an operational level, this would at first seem simple. Mobile equipment like trucks and shovels can be redeployed quickly, right? Technically yes, but effectively, no. The siloed way in which mine design, planning and scheduling processes have evolved mean that information or data regarding changes in one area are often not transmitted to other functions quickly enough to mitigate efficiency and operating losses. 

Further downstream, agility is even harder to create in mineral processing operations (because most are large-scale, capital intensive fixed assets), and in mineral supply chains (because most processes are still paper based). And this is why creating true agility requires a holistic approach; it really goes hand in hand with a business’ digitisation and optimisation efforts which must be driven from an organisational level and baked into a company’s DNA. It’s an ethos or mindset applied in every decision-making opportunity, rather than a box ticking exercise.

The end goal would be a company that can quickly and effortlessly adjust its operations and processes to changes in both upstream (metal demand, prices, economic/political) and downstream environments (orebody, socio-environmental, climatic etc.). Although this is difficult to create, it’s not impossible with time and the right leadership.

Agility plays into almost every theme The Intelligent Miner has covered this year so, rather than trying to eat the elephant in one bite, this month, we’ll be examining a few operational changes that can contribute to greater agility and putting them in context. For instance, haulage and the move from ultra-class fleets to swarms of smaller, intelligent trucks, mobile mineral processing plants and mine design using concepts like modularity.

And I’d encourage you to revisit our archives, re-read a few articles and examine their message through an ‘agile’ lens. It’s everywhere when you start looking for it.


Next month on The Intelligent Miner: going deeper with data 

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Reading list
Eight of the most interesting articles I've read on agility in mining
UBC: Swarm–Based Truck-Shovel Dispatching System in Open Pit Mine Operations
An academic paper on the swarm intelligence approach, which uses the behaviour of social insects to model and simulate a dispatching system for open-pit mining
Boston Consulting Group: The New Technology Frontier in Mining
A look at emerging digital and biological technologies that could revolutionize the mining industry, disrupting traditional business models
Australia’s Mining Monthly: Enter the swarm 
Some insight into whether a swarm concept could streamline ore haulage operations
The Intelligent Miner: C-Leaning up the mining industry
The philosophy of Circular Lean Mining offers a unique opportunity for companies to rethink their business models, maximize value and reconnect with consumers
Anglo American: Picture this, the Modern Mine
Anglo's Modern Mine concept, part of its FutureSmart Mining approach, re-imagines the underground mine, covering tech such as continuous haulage, reef miners, slot borers and robotics technology
AT Mineral Processing: Mobile Mineral Processing Equipment: The State of the Art (Part 3)
A thorough review of mobile processing plants. Part 3 focuses on mobile beneficiation plants, and looks at opportunities to further develop the technology for European deposits
E&MJ: Making the Most of Modules
An examination of how modular design can give major advantages in the construction of processing plants
Stantec: 6 steps for effective modularization and preassembly planning
Some of the key reasons why modularization and preassembly planning can be a game-changer for construction projects
Last month on The Intelligent Miner
We explored maintaining a social license to operate
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