In my youth, one of my favorite MTV videos (back when MTV played videos) was Run-D.M.C. and Aerosmith’s “Walk this Way,” with its iconic scene of taking a sledge hammer to the differences between rap and rock n’ roll. Both genres originated from the blues music of the Mississippi delta but diverged into distinct groups. Over the course of 50 years, they became separate scenes. This video showed, at the end of the day, it’s all music.
In much the same vein, short-term planning and operational execution diverged the same way. After taking the plan for the period (year, quarter, etc.) mines used to plan for the shift, execute, then plan for the next shift, all in one (albeit manual) process. Many small and medium-sized mines still operate this way.
Technology allowed us to optimize those two separate processes. Planning software gave better plans for which bench to push back, in what sequence, to develop the mine, get the haulage roads in place, and execute the sequence of mining optimally. Mintec and its MineSight software (now HxGN MinePlan) began solving these very problems in 1970.
Simultaneously, modern fleet management systems began to more optimally execute the load and haul process in ever more sophisticated ways. Dynamic assignments of trucks to shovels, optimized fueling and auxiliary assignments all built the operational task of mine control into a discipline all its own. Thus, planning and operations became two separate groups, one chucking a plan over a wall, the other chucking actuals back.
However, forward-thinking mines don’t just “Walk this Way,” they are beginning to “Talk this Way” (try reading that without Steven Tyler’s voice in your head). Real-time action is driven by real-time planning. That real-time action is updating the real-time plan, to execute the next round even better. All this then updates the medium and long-term plan, which is sometimes called life-of-mine digital execution.
In the underground mining space, the similar phrase “short interval control” (SIC) is increasingly used. It’s apt given the implicit clunkiness of shift changes, the persistent lack of communications, and the focus on a sequence of tasks, not a cycle of material movement. (I’ll cover that another day.)
Effectively, this looks like:
In this vein, the real-time executive is updating all the way back to the long-term life-of-mine plan. Every phase of mine planning and execution update each other, subject to the constraints of the feasible solutions and actual actions.
Examples of this could be:
- Long-term decisions on mining methods and extraction sequences that must be delivered through the medium term through execution in the short term.
- Unplanned downtime of critical equipment, like an ore-loading shovel, updating the short-term execution plan for the time frames of future pushbacks, the annual financial forecast and, to a lesser degree, the effects of the life-of-mine plan caused by the delays of immediate cash flows.
- Changes to short-term plans. For example, a decision to relocate equipment causing delays to real-time execution as a real-time trade-off between real-time execution and the medium-term financial gain.
- Medium-term budgetary projects, such as a capital roads’ improvement project, that will impact the short-term plan and downstream execution, but improve the medium-term production and improve the long-term life-of-mine profitability.
It’s easy to see how the processes are all interlinked, but how does a mine functionally break down these silos?
System integration or system fusion: Do the tools your mines used in those disparate processes share data? Better yet, do they form a unified Operational Management System (OMS) to provide a unified single source of the truth to move that data up and down the time horizon, from long term to execution? I’m admittedly biased towards Hexagon’s Enterprise suite, bringing a potent option across that technology space, but you can also fill in the gaps with data flow between legacy and new systems.
Breaking down the physical walls: When I visit mines, I see the challenge created by physical barriers between these departments. Operations is in the field, dispatch is in the basement, scheduling only works day shift with a shared office with the surveyors, long-term planners are sitting with geologists and geotech, or back in a remote HQ – or some combination thereof. While I will willingly extoll the benefits of a remote operation center, there are real, tangible benefits to co-locating these roles to foster a better flow of communication, especially given the clear dependencies between these functions.
Breaking down the roles: This one goes back to the origins, back to the white board for some radical thinking. If the tools become one tool in the case of a true enterprise OMS platform, is it also time to think of the multiple roles consolidating into one role, or at least fewer roles? Can scheduling and execution become one 24×7 function, not one day-shift scheduler and a series of 24×7 mine controllers? If short-term scheduling and medium-term planning see the immediate impact of their decisions in the life-of-mine NPVs, does the task of long-term planning become redundant as a role and just a function of those tasks? I’m not saying I know the answer, but I do see value in questioning the status quo.
There’s never one universal right answer, nor should there be. Every mine is different. Changes in ownership strategy, control versus operator mining, mining method, mine location and available skills, mine size and multi-mine best practices, and more can all impact an OMS strategy.
The value lies in discussing and thinking about what is possible.
Andrew Crose, Director of Sales, EMEA
Andrew is a miner at heart and has participated in digital strategy, IoT, big data, and other technology initiatives with some of the world’s top mining houses. He is a Six Sigma Black Belt trained in process improvement on projects in the mining industry. Andrew brings more than 15 years’ experience in sales management and operations, with the last 10 years in the mining industry. He is responsible for the development, maintenance, and management of sales processes for the Operations’ product portfolio.