What's behind the worldwide decline in mine equipment performance?
March 6, 2013 | Best Practices
This disturbing trend, reported in a news item on International Mining magazine's website, was uncovered via an analysis of equipment trends in the 2013 AusIMM Revision of Monograph 19 on Australasian Mining and Metallurgy Operating Practices (AMMOP):
- Draglines are down 15% since 2003,
- Electric rope shovels are down 40% since 2003,
- Hydraulic excavators are down 30% since 2008,
- Wheel loaders are down 39% since 2007, and
- Trucks are down 41% since 2006.
International Mining's analysis of this technical paper presentation doesn't cite causes for this significant drop, but we have our suspicions:
Equipment has become much more complex: Today's production machines incorporate a wealth of electronic controls and monitoring tools, making the operator's job more challenging. Tools and systems that were supposed to make the operator's job easier and increase his or her productivity seem to be having the opposite effect.
Training of new hires is rarely as rigorous and structured as it needs to be. Trainees learn the basics, and then pushed into the production circuit, with experienced operators providing some period of mentoring, which is often unstructured. An effective training curriculum can't just deal with the "whats" (here's what each control is and what it does). It must also help trainees understand how to react to typical problem scenarios (e.g., excessive speed on grade, handling unstable ground conditions or working in inclement weather).
Paying attention to best practices in instructional design and adult learning can also pay big dividends. Structuring training to be aligned with the way in which people learn best results in trainees being better able to retain and apply what they have learned.
A growing number of mines have invested in high-end simulator hardware, which is part of the training puzzle but is far from a total solution. We've talked to mines that have put new trainees on these sophisticated training tools too soon, and have watched them quickly become overwhelmed. For best results, simulators need to be integrated with computer-based training and structured on-the-job training.
A lack of ongoing training and performance improvement: Training shouldn't be just a one-time event for new trainees. Often, the performance of equipment operators increases to a certain point, and then plateaus. They get comfortable performing their tasks in a certain way. But they don't know how to further advance their skills. Nor do they have an incentive to do so.
Ideally, remedial training should be offered to help operators learn and adopt best practices, which can help them improve their productivity and safety. Another effective strategy is to conduct skills assessments of your operators, which show where they are performing well and where they need improvement. This, in turn, can help you to develop individualized training and mentoring programs to help them perform at higher levels than they dreamed possible.
Crisis? What crisis?
The SME paper cited by International Mining warns that the mining industry is now entering a period of potentially lower mineral prices and reduced margins. This will force many mines to lower their operating costs by leveraging greater production out of less equipment. Reversing this decline in machine and operator performance is critical for success during these challenging times.
We believe best-in-class equipment operator training is a key part of the solution. To view all of our possible training programs click on the "Training Products" link on our VISTA homepage.
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