Streamlining is the process by which efficiency is improved through resource, time, or cost reduction, and productivity improvement. In general, streamlining may involve automating manual processes, increasing uptime, and reducing process redundancies and inefficiencies. Thus, streamlining may require capital purchases, changes to staffing levels or process flow, and complex statistical analyses.
For mining operations in particular, which tend to be large in scale, changes to process flow or equipment can be costly. However, over the course of a mine’s operational lifetime, the time and resource savings may be worth the initial investment.
One way mining operations can be streamlined is through the automation of manual processes. Automation is attractive for mining operations because it tends to decrease process variability and operational costs while increasing safety and product quality. Additionally, manual processes rely on human resources with human needs, and tend to be areas susceptible to operational bottlenecks. So process automation can also increase production capacity in addition to the aforementioned benefits.
In general, process automation involves analyzing the existing manual tasks involved in a process and researching and implementing compatible alternatives. In many cases, although automation would be useful for process streamlining, it is not applicable due to cost or technological limitations. Processes that are highly specialized or require expert-level judgment may be prohibitively expensive to develop or unable to meet quality requirements. Thus, it is important to understand the return on investment (ROI) that stands to be gained through automation.
To estimate ROI, compare the value of the process at its current production capacity (subtracting all necessary costs associated with the current resources) with the value of the process at its post-automation production capacity (subtracting any capital costs and additional operational costs incurred).
Uptime, the amount of time a unit is in operation, can also be improved through streamlining. Uptime can be affected by factors such as equipment maintenance or repairs, human resource allocation for manual processes, raw material delivery, and in some cases, environmental or political factors.
There are three major ways in which uptime can be improved in the mining industry:
As mentioned, advanced mining technologies can increase production and product quality; however, technological advancements related to equipment dependability or repairs can also reduce downtime. Moreover, in addition to technological improvements, equipment dependability (and thus uptime) can be improved by performing regularly scheduled maintenance according to an optimized schedule (i.e., not too often, but without waiting until repairs are necessary, as either extreme can result in unnecessary downtime).
Because mining can be affected by multiple factors, emergency preparedness and training is very important. In case of an emergency, such as an earthquake or a mining incident, employees that are properly trained are more knowledgeable about staying safe during an emergency and know how to resume operations promptly after an emergency.
In addition to increasing production capacity and improving uptime, processes can also be streamlined by optimizing resources. Resources can be optimized either through process expertise or analytical methods. Either way, resource optimization ensures operations are running at a point where an additional unit or employee would provide a lower return than the previously added unit or employee.
It is important to note that various types of resources may be linked, and a decrease in one type of resource may affect subsequent processes. For example, if a GK screen was capable of lower horsepower requirements, how much money could be saved and invested in other areas of the process to improve operations. It is important to account for as many variables as possible during resource optimization to avoid changes that could result in idle resources.
To learn more about streamlining your mining operation, contact General Kinematics today. Our expert engineers have decades of experience in making all types of processes more efficient and can help you build a system with state of the art equipment to fit the needs of your operation.