An oil sands mine operator was looking for its next game-changing improvement following a series of debottlenecking and optimization investments. Company leadership believed opportunity must exist in their current asset, but were struggling to highlight it given all of the improvement they’d achieved. With assets running near nameplate capacity the leadership team was worried increasing output would involve capital expansion that would be costly, time consuming, and resource intensive. They asked Stroud to help understand just how much opportunity existed within their current assets and realize a step-change in performance to further debottleneck the mine.
Finding More Opportunity
To understand the full potential within the facility the mine team conducted a Zero Based Analysis to highlight all theoretical opportunity that existed. The team found that reducing the clogging and cleaning of oil sand in the processing equipment, which operations believed was an inevitable cost of processing molasses-consistency bitumen, presented enough opportunity to exceed performance goals. Seeing that much opportunity was thrilling for the leadership team, and posed the formidable challenge of solving the biggest, oldest, and dirtiest problem in the plant.
Operations had optimized their process controls to manage the variability caused by bitumen’s natural stickiness and inconsistency. Despite focused control efforts, bitumen gummed up mechanical equipment leading to frequent cleaning downtime and reduced machine rates to control for any inconsistencies. Through challenging the perceived limitation that bitumen couldn’t be consistently dumped, a team of company experts and a Stroud facilitator developed a capital-free fix that smoothed the bitumen inlet to the process. By eliminating the variability of the bitumen into the plant, overall throughput was increased while simultaneously reducing downtime from cleaning.
The team increased ore preparation throughput by 16% through tackling the plant’s “stickiest” long-standing problem. In the process the organization gained new process knowledge that was leveraged across other similar operations. Following the team’s success the organization set to tackle their next operational challenge to realize even further capital-free capacity enhancements.