Gary Lane, MD of SiMINE@MandelaMiningPrecinct, on operations of the future and accelerating the development of an organisation’s skills and capabilities
Article: JSE Magazine
Q: What motivated the creation of SiMINE?
A: The global mining sector has seen a significant reduction in productivity in the past decade to 2015 – 55% in Australia, 38% in SA and 28% in North America. This is due in part to the increasing complexities of mining deep and remote orebodies, and the ineffective performance management of the mining value chain.
In comparison, other industries such as aerospace, motoring and manufacturing have shown a significant increase in productivity. What they have that mining doesn’t is a high maturity of ‘systems thinking’; those that relate to the understanding and managing of a complex system of interconnected activities, integration of a full life cycle including design, OEMs and significant industry collaborations.
Our work in the mining industry has shown a low level of maturity in understanding and managing the complex dynamic systems that usually make up the mining value chain. This is typically true for those in leadership positions, and so we developed SiMINE@MandelaMiningPrecinct to help expose them to what we call operational systems capability (OSC), with the objective to help them achieve a quantum change in operational performance.
Q: What is SiMINE?
A: SiMINE is about people and accelerated change. It is a physical simulation of typical mining activities such as drilling, blasting, loading, hauling, run of mine, processing and outbound logistics. It exposes management to the challenges of performance managing of a typical mine, made up of a complex system of interconnected activities.
Firstly, SiMINE exposes mine leadership teams to lack of systems maturity in their organisation (dissonance). Secondly, it’s an experiential programme to accelerate the development of OSC skills within the overall organisation.
Thirdly, it is a testbed for the mine of the future that will integrate future roles, levels of work and corresponding performance measures, work and management routines, and all the supporting data and technology required. We developed this unique programme and OSC framework by leveraging and integrating our team’s extensive experience with change management, experiential adult learning, systems thinking, dynamic system modelling, optimisation, work management and theory of constraints.
We believe that by accelerating the development of an organisation’s own skills and capabilities, sustainable long-term value – compared to the traditional management consulting engagements – will manifest.
Q: In what ways will mechanisation and technology transform the sector?
A: Technology does not necessarily mean an autonomous mechanised mining operation. The use of the latest digital technologies relating to operational planning, virtual, augmented and mixed reality, artificial intelligence, data analysis, drones and industrial internet of things, has the potential to contribute to massive efficiency improvements – but only if the organisational and people challenges around change are addressed.
As mentioned, each orebody is unique and therefore not all mines would be appropriate for mechanisation. But where applicable it can play a major role in at least improving safety by removing more people from danger areas, increasing productivity and therefore return on investment. This increased safety and productivity would extend current operations and make more resources accessible and economical to mine, which would have a significant positive impact on the longevity of the industry, the economy and therefore job creation.
Q: Why has the mining sector been slow to embrace 4IR, Mining 4.0 and digitalisation?
A: Mining is complex, as each orebody is unique – requiring a specific mine design, mining method and therefore technology choice. This, together with safety priorities, means that the industry is slow to innovate and embrace new technology and approaches, so it rather sticks with a tried-and-tested formula.
The mining industry also often focuses on point solutions or technology that promise big things but result in little or no improvement in operational performance. What the pullback in demand and commodity prices has exposed is an industry with declining productivity, resulting in negative returns on capital. The industry has, as a result, realised that it must change to remain competitive and thus embrace what 4IR and digitalisation promises.
There is a danger, though, that 4IR and digitalisation has been over-hyped and may not yield the returns expected given that some mining companies lack a clear vision and focused strategy for what 4IR and digitalisation means for Mining 4.0, and the fear of missing out has driven investment in numerous digital projects.
Q: Who benefits the most from SiMINE and what skills are acquired?
A: The programme incrementally covers an entire mining organisation, allowing it to gain the tools and understanding to identify specific projects to continually add value. Our approach is to start with the CEO and executive team, providing them with a one-day SiMINE experience on how to effectively performance manage a dynamic system. This top-down approach is the way to effect real change because it helps them understand how to focus on priorities that really add value. It also results in them being able to ask the appropriate performance management questions, and thereafter entrench an integrated systems approach. Business improvement teams are exposed to our detailed two-week SiMINE experiential programme, which provides them with the tools and approaches required to understand and maximise system performance.
All our programmes start with facilitation skills that are critical to planning and leading effective meetings because these human interpersonal skills are often the biggest obstacle to effective change and implementations. These new skills are put to the test immediately after the programme as a facilitated session with key stakeholders, to define the value stream operational map and how to manage it.
The full programme includes different experiential programmes for all functions in an organisation inclusive of HR and finance. SiMINE also exposes students to careers in the mine of the future, given that these professions are often outside of the traditional mining engineering route, such as skills in digital, virtual reality, mechatronics, industrial engineering, systems engineering, software development and data science.
Q: Why is simulation so impactful?
A: A dynamic simulation model of a mine is a critical requirement to understand the real impact of the interconnectivities, buffers and stockpiles, asset maintenance strategies, stores holdings and the impact of the inherent variability in equipment performance and ore characteristics. To achieve this we work with ESTEQ Mining, which has leveraged the dynamic simulation modelling technology and capability from other industries for the mining industry.
A ‘flight simulator for mining’ simulates what is real and can test all the options and initiatives that can maximise performance. In essence this is a ‘digital twin’ of a mining operation – and a mainstream operational planning requirement for the mine of the future.
Q: How do positive simulated outcomes compare with real-life scenarios?
A: The physical SiMINE mining simulation replicates all the real challenges associated with leadership, role clarity, system flow, variability, change management and, importantly, the emotional aspects of the role. Even though it is a simulation, the participating teams are immersed in something that feels real, and we can therefore accelerate the development of the human factor skills required to effectively manage a mine.
ESTEQ Mining can very quickly configure a dynamic simulation model of a client’s actual operation, which can be used in conjunction with the OSC to develop the leadership teams’ skills with role playing, simulated operational levers and interventions that can be applied to their own specific operation.
Q: What will the multidimensional mining system of the future look like?
A: No one knows for sure what the mine of the future will look like but it will be an organisation that is agile and able to adapt to the accelerating change of external environments associated with prices, demand profiles and disruptive technologies and business models.
Q: What is the significance of SiMINE being sited at the Mandela Mining Precinct?
A: The Mandela Mining Precinct is a public-private partnership between the government and the industry to drive collaboration, R&D and innovation, and to advance the manufacturing capability for the next generation of mining equipment required. This fits well with our vision for an experiential mining simulation that can accelerate the development of the organisation’s OSC.
SiMINE recognises the strategic importance of the Mandela Mining Precinct for industry collaboration and collective investment in the future of mining in SA. Our vision is for the country to once again play a significant role in leading mining R&D globally.
Irrespective of the mining method, degree of mechanisation, technology and level of digitalisation, the ability to effectively harness maximum value from its unique orebody and value stream will differentiate them.
Q: What is your vision for the company?
A: The vision for SiMINE is to build a testbed for Mining 4.0. Our aim is to make the future mine tangible by integrating the digital solutions and technology architecture, and accelerate the development of the organisation of the future.
Leading and managing a mine of the future with real-time digital data requires very different leadership and decision-making skills across all levels of an organisation.