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Newcrest Mining: Innovation Unearthed for 2020

Newcrest's Friska Wirya is heading up change to deliver innovation at the Australian mining major

How do you implement massive change with positive disruption? We hear from Friska Wirya, Head of Change at Newcrest Mining, about how the Australian mining major is embracing innovation and managing the people-side of change to meet its future goals.

When it comes to managing change, Newcrest Mining is leading the way in the industry. Newcrest’s digital transformation efforts with its automated online crowdsourcing platform (developed in partnership with Unearthed) were recognised with the METS Ignited Collaboration Award 2018 at last year’s International Mining and Resources Conference (IMARC). Allied to the company’s quest for positive disruption, Newcrest has made significant inroads with safety, operating for the past three years with reduced TRIFR rates and one of the lowest, all-in sustaining costs of any gold miner listed on the ASX.

“The only area we have yet to dominate is culture,” explains Friska Wirya, Head of Change at Newcrest Mining. “It’s about ensuring our culture evolves into one that will make our 2020 aspirations a reality.” These aspirations are about forging a stronger Newcrest with exposure to five tier one ore bodies by 2020 – a goal supported by the company’s five pillars.

“You can have all the right processes, systems and policies, but it means nothing if we don’t get our culture and behaviour right. All the checks and balances can be in place, but they are futile without the correct integration and an understanding of what constitutes optimal behaviour in the business”, adds Wirya.

In the quest towards Industry 4.0, Wirya believes what sets Newcrest’s approach to digital apart in the mining industry is its breadth. “Whereas, others have chosen to do a narrow, deep dive into a particular area, our digital program is comprehensive. We've got initiatives spanning data science, machine learning, IOT, AI, augmented reality and virtual reality. Besides our crowdsourcing platform, at Lihir (a gold mine in Papua New Guinea) we're using augmented reality in the open pit mine planning process, so 3D visualisations allow our stakeholders to have a shared understanding of each stage of development. It enables key risk mitigation, protects against rework and improves engagement. The next step for that is to test augmented reality (AR) in providing remote support.”

Wirya explains that with the AR approach it’s possible for an expert on a video call in Melbourne to mark a screen with an overlay of an exact spot to instruct a technician. “This reduces travel, saves time and increases efficiency,” she confirms. “It also improves collaboration between site and head office.”

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Newcrest employs dozens of digital initiatives across its sites with most falling into two categories: predictive algorithms and optimisation models to provide actionable insights. “At Cadia, we use a model that anticipates equipment failure for our mills,” reveals Wirya. “We fed the model two years' worth of data on several variables for accuracy and this has given us a better understanding of equipment wear and tear. It enables preventative action rather than reactive maintenance and the best part is it's scalable. Once the logic is proven it can be applied to other motor applications. You build once and can apply multiple times.”

What advice does Wirya have for others in the sector contemplating change? “I'm always vocal when it comes to promoting innovation and collaboration. With any level of change people are sceptical unless they've seen it work first hand. It's a matter of identifying who your key stakeholders are and finding out what will encourage them to be more open to change. You need to widen your sphere of influence and promote wins no matter how small. It’s about shifting the needle from opportunistic to systemic change.”

Newcrest Cadia Drilling

Highlighting the importance of strategic partnerships to aid change, Wirya calls out Israel as one of the world’s innovation hotspots. “We’ve allied with Israel’s largest artificial intelligence (AI) firm, Razor Labs. Our links with industry bodies such as METS Ignited see our team involved in shaping the future agenda to develop initiatives geared to cultivate innovation across our industry. We’ve also partnered with Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) in India to assist us in identifying opportunities we can accelerate.”

Wirya is proud of the progress Newcrest is making, generating both grass-roots bottom-up innovation through its Edge process and cultivating top-down support and understanding of how digital can contribute to, and unlock value at, each step of the mining chain. “I think we're only just scratching the surface of what's possible,” she says. “AI is changing how we connect… We're connecting faster and one-on-one, as we get individualised recommendations on Netflix or eBay and it's also automating how we connect. How can we leverage these capabilities in our industry? We're only just starting that journey; I think AI is going to become more pervasive.”

Newcrest Cadia Mine

With industry grades declining and productivity plateauing, Wirya believes now is the time to seize the opportunity to collaborate and innovate – with industry, academia and government - because the pace of change is not going to slow down. “We just can't afford to continue with business as usual while more nimble companies try new approaches,” she reasons. “They embrace innovation and fail the right way. They fail fast. They fail cheap and they get back up. They learn quickly from what didn't work and this turbo charges the speed at which they’ll arrive at the right solution.”

However, Wirya stresses that underpinning the quest for innovation with the development of skills is key. “I think the industry struggles to recognise that investments in digital technology only bring value once people accept and adopt the changes inherent in digital technology. You should not invest so much in the right tools without paying equal, if not more, attention to the people that will ultimately be using them. Up-skilling and retraining, it's an afterthought right now and they have to become the norm, not the exception. It's scary but the reality is workers will have to up-skill continuously simply to stand still financially. This means as miners we need to build more agility into our human resource capital and mine planning.”

Looking to the future, Wirya concedes that the adoption of digital solutions will cause upheaval, however a culture that encourages innovation and the ability of technology to remove people from high-risk tasks will ultimately empower and enrich roles: “Highly manual tasks may be automated but we’ll support employees to make better decisions. Instead of fearing and denying the future, we should embrace an amazing opportunity to reimagine work paradigms, expand job roles, and revolutionise how we retrain and up-skill.” 

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