May 2007

Innovation Page

Benchmarking and mining - Supporting continuous improvement

By G. Winkel

Across the globe, industries have completed a lot of work to define standardized key performance indicators to benchmark their relative performance. It’s an objective way to gauge your company’s progress in key dimensions as compared to leaders in your industry.

Over time, industry sectors like refining and utilities operations have used benchmarking to promote innovation and kindle continuous improvement efforts. Benchmarking provides a perspective on what’s possible when best practices are applied to successfully boost performance.

In the past few years, surface mining has also been making inroads into benchmarking. With the support of the Surface Mining Association for Research and Technology (SMART), an organization with some 25 mining firms worldwide and four universities participating, benchmarking was seen as an opportunity to improve overall mining industry performance. Mining has continued to employ ever more advanced technologies in increasingly complex and integrated operations that define new levels of performance achievement and best practice. For each participating mining firm, benchmarking supports learning about best practice achievement in a performance dimension as a means to augment those dimensions where best-in-class performance has already been achieved.

The SMART Benchmarking Project was initiated in 2003 with three oil sands surface mining firms from northern Alberta, Canada. The vision for this initial effort was to provide a means for low-cost continuous benchmarking that would expand to include all types of surface mining operations.

The first step in this process was to engage a third party consulting firm with mine engineering and mine planning experience to manage the benchmarking data and confidentiality of information for the participants. This firm operates in North America and Australia.

To support a sustainable benchmarking effort that would easily accommodate new mining participants over time, an innovative approach was devised. The project development is designed in a staged format, so that new mining firms can join the already participating mining firms at any time. This has kept costs to a minimum and enabled ongoing expansion of the program capability to ensure viability for all participants.

So how does the benchmarking actually work? Every quarter, participating mining firms submit monthly mining information related to production, availability, utilization, and other time-based metrics as determined by the participants. This incoming data for trucks, shovels, and support equipment is normalized based on agreed-to common definitions for key performance parameters. The information is summarized and reported quarterly, to enable participants to determine their relative standings and explore opportunities to achieve better performance. Provision has been made within the benchmarking framework for firms to network with each other in areas of interest.

This benchmarking has really taken off. The current database now has nine participating mines representing operations in iron ore, gold, diamonds, coal, and oil sands. The database now regularly reports on the performance of approximately 300 haul trucks and 70 shovels across the mining industry.

The figure shows a newly designed web-based reporting format, where member companies can compare their performance data to others.

As can be seen in this article, surface mining has now entered the benchmarking field with a sustainable process that supports continuous improvement. Benchmarking data raises the bar on what’s possible when mining firms across the world continue with their innovative efforts.

Benchmarking can also provide your company with the means to leverage best practices in mining. For more information visit the SMART website.



Gord Winkel is the vice president of Aurora Bitumen Production, Syncrude Canada Ltd.

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