March/April 2014

President's notes

Implementing innovation

By Robert Schafer

Rob-SchaferUsing a new smart phone app to manage the day’s demands at work is innovation implementation, just as drilling a new blasthole pattern while using ammonium nitrate/fuel oil (anfo) prills from a new supplier to get better yet cheaper rock fragmentation is. These are both relatively low-risk changes that will not have long-term negative operational and cost impacts and will not undo an operation or career if they fail. But what happens when a decision is made to install a high-cost, automated fleet that promises to dramatically lower the costs of excavation and bulk materials handling? Or what about a new mineral processing technology that has not been used commercially but is backed by tests hinting at enormous advantages of improved recoveries with less reagent, energy and water consumption? A risk analysis on implementation in either case suggests that if performance falls short of expectations, hundreds of millions of dollars may be lost and the mine schedule set back 18 months.

Do the COO and mine manager steel themselves and choose these options over standard, successful operating practices? Only they can answer this question, but we should not stand back, wish them well and wait to see which leap to implement an innovation moves the industry forward and which punishes the leapers.

There are other questions we would all profit from having the answers to: How and when have paradigm-shifting innovations been put into practice in a mining environment? What inspires decision-makers to take the risk to implement innovations? Where does innovation occur as incremental steps and where as sweeping changes? How are novel practices and technologies implemented and used at a new operation, and how are they at an old mine where a tired operating system needs revamping?

Where are innovations in mining coming from today? Is corporate R&D making headway? Is university research, oftentimes sponsored by industry and government, a success story? What about R&D from equipment suppliers? What are the obstacles?

We, as an industry, need to get accustomed to our uncomfortable position as risk takers. Our future depends on it.

Robert Schafer
CIM President

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