August 2009

Can it be done? Can it be done better?

Consultants and specialists provide the expertise needed to extract the most from human and natural resources

By R. Bergen

Daniel Dumas talks with shaft miners in front of sinking buckets at the Lakeshore Gold Timmins project | Photo courtesy of Dumas Contracting Ltd.; Photo by Claude G. Gagnon

Minerals and metals – impassive, unrefined and hidden by overburden – may make an otherwise unremarkable hinterland outpost interesting. However, it is the readily mined energy and knowledge of experts engaged in developing these resources that puts these places on the map.

While they are not the raison d’être of the industry, they are its savoir faire. The “unsung heroes” of the industry – contractors and consultants, researchers and service providers – do not have mines bearing their names, but their identities and character are built into operations around the globe.

Treasures in the trash

With each operation, there is value to be unearthed, but also hidden potential in the day-to-day processes to be harnessed. From the earliest studies, through the construction and evolution of the mine and the industry, to shutdown and reclamation, new lessons can be learned and applied, and new tools brought into service.

“Nine or ten years ago, we looked at how our earthmoving equipment tires were being used,” recounted Michael Reich, training manager for Michelin. “In the scrap pile of a typical quarry, we’d find that as much as half the tread was left on the tire when it came out of service, no matter what brand it was. This was an asset the company was underutilizing in a dramatic manner. With any product, if you only use 50 per cent of it, you would be disappointed.”

In response, the company developed an end-user seminar that brought together operators, dealers and Michelin representatives to work out ways to get more value from the product. Reich said that the constrained supply of the past several years has motivated mining companies to learn how to get the most out of their tires. “In the last three or four years, end-users have been more receptive to change,” he said. “Now we’ve seen people double their tire life and, even though tire supply has gotten better in most sizes, we don’t see a lot of the people going back to their bad habits.”

The key to mining value from the seminar, explained Reich, is letting end-users be active in it. “These guys’ jobs are not to use tires, its to move material,” he said. “If we simply dictate to them what they should do, when it is not practical, they won’t do it. So, on the final day of our seminar, we develop a plan with each customer to improve their tire performance. Then, six months later, I follow up to see how they are doing.”

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