A mature underground mining operation needed to substantially reduce its production costs to buffer against falling metal prices. The organization had made the difficult cuts to preserve cash in the immediate term and now sought a means of genuinely improve mining performance, with a substantial, in-year cash flow impact. The challenge was that performance had been flat for many years, creating a sense that the operation was already performing at its full potential. However, without meaningful improvement, it would be difficult to ensure profitability and secure future capital investment to proliferate the operation.
The leadership team chose to focus on improving tons per blast, in order to mine the same amount of ore with less cost. They had observed that other operations were able to achieve 10% more tonnes per blast and they sought to close the gap. Mine supervisors worked hard to create well-prepared rock faces to decrease drilling complexity and facilitate good blasts. Changes to the drill patterns and equipment were tried. But it was difficult to track the effectiveness of these measures and they were naturally met with skepticism from seasoned miners. Arguments were made as to why the benchmark comparison to other operators was unreasonable in their case. Despite the extra attention, tonnes per blast remained flat and Stroud was engaged to seek a breakthrough in mining performance.
Together with a team from production, mine planning and rock mechanics, they:
Built a first-principles understanding of what controls the tonnes per advance drawing attention to previously unexploited levers on performance like the cross-sectional area of cut-and-fill advances.
Systematically tested changes to each lever across a variety of rock types to understand which of them would improve performance the most.
Devised an implementation campaign, based on communication, engagement and performance tracking to ensure the value-creating operational changes would be sustained (and they were).
The key improvements realized included optimizing the placement and amount of explosives, retrofitting equipment to maximize drilling depth and further systematizing the assessment of ground stability in order to maximize the cross-sectional area of advance.
Twelve months later, the team achieved, and sustained, more than a 20% improvement in tons per blast, producing millions in increased annual cash flow. A new confidence to challenge the status quo then kickstarted the pursuit of other opportunities to improve performance across the mine.
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