To anyone who has been paying attention, the Langlois mine has come a long way since initial construction in 1994—and this is clearly due to the involvement of Nyrstar, an integrated mining and metals business with operations throughout the world.
It was a rough start for the mine which experienced a number of obstacles throughout the years. After being purchased by Breakwater Resources Ltd. in May 2000, the project actually reached commercial production in July of that same year only to have operations suspended a mere 4 months later due to problems that were associated with the main ore-press system and low zinc prices. The cost of this hiccup? The call for a complete rework of the mine’s design and overall plan—and a few years’ time. It wasn’t until 2005 that Breakwater once again announced the Langlois mine would officially be developed.
Once again, effort, time and countless resources were expended, including extensive engineering, metallurgical testing, re-design work and exploration, and production commenced in late 2006, with commercial production announced in July 2007.
Unfortunately, operations were again suspended in November 2008 due to the decline in commodity prices and the general deterioration of the economic outlook globally.
Time for a Change
After acquiring the mine in 2011, operations resumed during the first half of 2012—but only after many changes were implemented. The mine was successfully revamped through various stages of rehabilitation, and the mine’s surface infrastructure was greatly improved; however, the greatest change had nothing to do with the structure at all—the entire strategy changed, as the main motive behind the Langlois mine quickly became the desire to deliver consistent production results while continuing to streamline operating costs.
Nrystar’s general manager Yves Desrosiers spoke exclusively with Business Review Canada, and when asked to explain the success of the mine post-purchase, Desrosiers did not hesitate:
“It’s mainly strategy. We talked to people, involved them in the process of improvement and kept them included in the process [as it continued].”
As the mindset of management began to change, achieving specific goals became a priority—and although earning a profit has always been a top goal, the approach to doing so was also an important factor.
“Production goals were put into place that could be achieved with hard work,” Desrosiers explained. “We put the energy into achieving these goals.”
In order for these production goals to work, action plans were given to each department. Particularly, the end result or the desired result was given to each department.
When asked about the new maintenance plan, Desrosiers first talked about the triumph of taking the availability for the mining fleet equipment from forty-seven percent up to seventy-eight percent. Then, a program was put into place according to suppliers recommendation on maintenance program of the equipment, followed by a strict rule regarding the maintenance of the equipment.
“If we are supposed to do maintenance on Wednesday, it should be on Wednesday,” Desrosiers said.
It’s very important for equipment to be taken to maintenance when it’s scheduled to do so—not after. This plan of action has been completely organized with the maintenance superintendent so that they are fully aware of all service dates.
Furthermore, the five worst pieces of equipment were removed from the fleet, allowing mechanics to focus all efforts on repairing or maintaining only the best pieces of machinery in the fleet. As a result, less time is now needed for maintaining the equipment.
With the new maintenance plan intact, along with the hiring of “talented and seasoned people,” production has already increased by thirteen percent from last year. Nyrstar has hopes for Langlois to increase production another ten percent this year. Changing the mentality of employees during production has also been accredited to the increase. In short, the staff is able to have fun while working.
Specifically, Desrosiers called the turnover rate from twenty-three percent to six percent a “huge improvement.” He also touched upon the importance of communication and implementing field visits. In particular, getting management involved and in the field allows for employees to ask questions. “We’re all in the same game,” he stated.
When discussing the new recovery plan, Desrosiers briefly stated how mill operators are now left to do the job in which they were trained to do; operators are trusted to make any necessary changes they see fit. With the assistance of the recovery plan, improvements to the mine are now at ninety-four plus percent. Future investments are now looking to development and exploration.
Bringing the conversation full-circle, Desrosiers ended the interview by again touching upon the importance of the Langlois mine’s employees. Reaching heights never imagined a few years ago, the success of the mine has been credited to the hard work of the staff:
“The success of the Langlois mine is a team result,” Desrosiers concluded.