Mining industry and business excellence

Mining has been incorporated to mankind activities since the earliest times.  During the Stone Age, humans fashioned tools from a variety of rocks, including flint, chert, basalt and sandstone. These materials were initially collected as loose rocks and, as demand grew, open pit and underground mining methods were developed. Initially, early humans were motivated to mine for survival. They focused their efforts on manufacturing utilitarian objects such as tools, hunting implements and storage vessels. Eventually, as they became more skilled at survival, they turned their attention to using earth materials for uniquely human endeavors, such as adornment, art, spiritual practices and ritual. The Stone Age eventually gave way to the Bronze Age when early man discovered the technique of smelting (Adapted from Kogel, 2013). Silver mines in Laurion (Greece) and Rio Tinto (Spain) are well known examples of ancient mining sites.

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Figure 1: Stone tools have been used by humans for at least two million years

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Figure 2: Famous Carrara marble in Italy

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Mining is closely associated with our daily lives as well as our economy. Rock and minerals (e.g. bauxite, iron, copper, limestone, phosphate, lithium, uranium and gold) are used in industries such as electronics, power generation, construction, farming, healthcare, metallurgy, among many others. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, about 40,000 pounds of minerals and energy are needed each year for every American. In 2014, the total value of world exports of mining products reported by the World Trade Organization was $ 3,789 billion.

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Figure 3: Mineral, metal and fuel consumption

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Mining can be defined as the activity, occupation, or industry involved with mineral extraction. Mining is preceded by geological investigations to locate the deposit, economic analyses that prove it is financially feasible and following by development and actual extraction of minerals, including required preparation, beneficiation and marketing. Also, once the deposit is depleted, reclamation and closure of the mine site complete the mining enterprise. In some cases, reclamation can be carried out as extraction is taking place: progressive reclamation (Adapted from Miller et al., 2010).

Typically modern mining operations are characterized by five specific stages: prospecting, exploration, development, exploitation, reclamation and closure.

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Figure 4: Mine Cycle

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The mining industry is known for conservative thinking and reluctance to change – the desire to be “first to be second” is a common refrain when it comes to implementing new technology. And yet this is not entirely true. Creative financial deals, new ways to focus on safety and, in some cases, new approaches to community engagement, health and wellness are fine examples of innovation. Furthermore, considerable risks are taken with exploration in remote and challenging places, and some of the best acquisitions are made when market conditions appear negative. The industry is willing to be adventurous and has the ability, albeit not always evident, to protect against downside risks (Adapted from Thompson, 2015).

An interesting aspect of the mining industry is “the general improvement paradox”. When times are good, it is often not possible to justify technological improvements to an operating process because the down time cannot be paid for by the incremental benefit. Unfortunately, when times are bad, the business cannot justify the increased capital investment that it needs to run at lower costs and higher efficiency (Adapted from Shook, 2015).

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Business excellence is about developing and strengthening the management systems and processes of an organization to reach its full potential. It requires achieving excellence in everything that an organization does (including leadership, strategy, customer focus, information management, people and processes) and most importantly achieving superior business results. (Adapted from Mann et. al, 2012).

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Lastly, I would like to re-enforce the concept of creativity and its important association with practicality. Creative solutions must consider nuts and bolts, be economically feasible and add value to stakeholders.

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Figure 5: Customized truck unloading stemming stones for blasting

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