Incremental Innovation : Improving Productivity Requires a Practical and Collaborative Approach
Written by Peter Seligman, Managing Director of SRO Technology
The issues facing Australia's extractive industry comes down to supply and demand; the delicate balance between “willingness to pay” and “cost to serve”. All the reflection and historical analysis in the world isn't going to fix the problem. METS businesses are well aware of this problem and the issues that face the industry, we just need to take the initiative.
Where do we go from here?
Earlier this year, as a Director of Austmine, I was asked to provide a couple of comments on what I thought was in store for METS in 2016. In that article, I maintained that METS companies are in the perfect position to be catalysts for productivity improvement through incremental innovation.
Increasing output while decreasing costs does not entail implementing wholesale changes and new operational models. Realistically, mines can't afford to completely dismantle existing processes and introduce new ones that have never been proven in the real world. Such an investment would probably cripple an already struggling company, given that operations would have to be suspended indefinitely.
Improving productivity starts with assessing existing processes and applying pragmatic solutions. The aim is to derive additional value from in-place operations. By addressing bottlenecks and inefficiencies at different parts of an operation, productivity will improve both in the short and long term.
Pragmatism in action
You don’t have to look far to find great examples of incremental innovations that are making real “Day 1” improvements to productivity in the field. My colleagues and I at SRO Technology consistently focus on taking practical steps to make a real impact to the reliability of our customers’ measurement instruments. And there are many of our industry peers making similar inroads that regularly fly under the “innovation radar”.
Last year, we partnered with Veytech because we saw an opportunity to improve the accuracy of our tramp metal detectors. False trips provide zero value; plant managers need to stop conveyor belts, just to look for tramp metal that isn't actually there. Veytech’s unique Fluxrite product demagnetises steel core belts to mitigate the impact of splice flux on metal detectors.
By reducing the number of false trips, we can decrease the amount of downtime a mine experiences, thereby enhancing productivity. It’s a simple conceptual change but it has a significant impact on the operation of an existing instrument and the reliability of our customers’ operation, for a relatively small investment.
Through our discussions with FluidIntel, we learnt of their innovative responses to the industry's focus on efficiency and reductions in capital expenditure. In the same way SRO Technology are a customer-centric business, FluidIntel aim to ensure that their customers can get the most out of their existing systems to secure cost savings.
To this end they have introduced the Hydrocarbon Management Centre (HMC), a service offering that helps to benchmark a sites fuel and lubricant use against industry best practice. From this, FluidIntel derive a program of continuous improvement to reduce fuel and lubricant consumption and management costs on an ongoing basis – why spend money on new systems when you are still yet to get the most from what you’ve got?
In keeping with the theme of performance efficiency, the Safe-Away® DK Series Access Systems by OEM Hedweld Engineering provide a simpler and safer alternative to the standard fixed ladder or stair. These Safe-Away Access Systems work by raising to a secure position when the machine is functioning to avoid damage.
With a focus on incremental innovation, Hedweld streamlined the design of seven of their existing access systems to deliver a range of customer benefits. Some of the most important changes that have been introduced include easier and more cost effective replacements, a 10% reduction in parts to reduce spares on hand and an increased focus on standardisation across the board to simplify training, installation and maintenance.
While this is just a short list of examples, it is indicative of the innovative streak that currently characterises our industry – not always game-changing innovation but you don’t need to change the game to improve your performance.
There's no silver bullet
Everybody's waiting for the next big innovation to revolutionise the mining sector. That's not going to happen by sitting around.
Yes, METS companies are having a difficult time attracting business and convincing end users to take the leap and try a new technology, but we have the human capital necessary to resolve the issues mines and quarries are currently facing. All we have to do is collaborate to present the cost-effective solutions we know are feasible and demonstrate our value by taking a small risk with incremental innovations.
Bottom line: It's up to us to implement the positive changes the mining sector needs, so let’s take the initiative together.
At the risk of getting philosophical, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with just one step…”, so what are you going to do today to take just one step forward?