Canadian Industry leaders debate state of mining technology (Sudbury Mining Solutions Journal – May 18, 2017)

Following are edited excerpts from a Centre for Excellence in Mining Innovation (CEMI) panel discussion at the PDAC March 6th featuring Zachary Mayer, manager, mine technical services, Kidd Operations, Glencore; Rick Howes, president and CEO, Dundee Precious Metals; Fred Stanford, president and CEO, Torex Gold Resources; and Conor Spollen, COO, Canada and the U.K., Vale Canada. The discussion was moderated by Steve Paikin, host of the popular TV Ontario current affairs program, The Agenda.

Steve Paikin: What are the most pressing technology problems facing the underground mining industry?

Zach Mayer: At Kidd, we’ve done a lot over the last four or five years…We have autonomous loaders and Canada’s largest ventilation-on-demand system. We have wireless communication, proximity warning, collision avoidance and super sophisticated geotechnical modelling.

From my perspective, the hardest thing is just selling the idea of why we need to put all this stuff in, what it’s going to do for us. Coming up with a business case has always been a challenge. Luckily, we have the right people in the right places who understand the KPIs we’re going after.

Rick Howes: It always comes down to people and whether the desire and the interest are there to change and improve. If you’re doing these technology things, the first thing you have to do is get those who are on the front line of the organization to become part of the solution and help to make it happen.

Fred Stanford: For some reason, we drop ore into ore passes and think we’re using gravity, but actually we’re wasting gravity. We drop the ore to the bottom of the mine and then we use a lot of power to lift it up again. We have a mine that’s 400 metres above the processing plant. We could have put in an ore pass, dropped it down through the mountain and driven a tunnel into the side of the mountain to get it, but we chose not to. We use a new technology called a rope conveyor that uses the potential energy of the gravity and actually generates close to a megawatt of power. It makes our ore transport cost negative. We actually make money moving our ore.

Steve Paikin: There’s this saying that culture eats strategy for breakfast. What do you do to change the culture to help provide solutions?

Rick Howes: I learned some lessons about people from my career in Sudbury and Timmins. The key is how you engage people. We spend a lot of time planning change. We involve our people to help define the work they will be doing. We spend a lot of time getting people to buy in. Once that’s done there’s a better chance of success.

Fred Stanford: People take a huge amount of their identity from their work and if you can make their work better and more efficient, they generally appreciate that. If you map the process and they see where the issues are, then people generally don’t resist change…if you can engage them in designing the solution, they won’t be resistant to it. Everyone has rational self-interest and if the change you make is counter to that, then it’s best if you know that ahead of time and make some alternate arrangements so their life is better, not worse as a result of the change.

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