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Q&A: Innovation and productivity in the mining sector

​​Austmine 2015: Transforming Miningis just around the corner, so with its emphasis on innovation and productivity, we decided to catch up w...

|Apr 30|magazine17 min read

​​Austmine 2015: Transforming Mining is just around the corner, so with its emphasis on innovation and productivity, we decided to catch up with SRO Technology's Managing Director, Peter Seligman about innovation, collaboration, productivity and the greatest challenges across the mining value chain right now. Peter is a qualified engineer, who has been at the helm of SRO Technology for 2 years now, the latest role in a career spanning property, infrastructure, mining and investment banking.

As an Australian-owned mining equipment, technology and services (METS) company recognized as the world leaders in innovation and technological advancement, how important is it to keep innovating and collaborating within the industry as a whole to ensure its future?

No single mining equipment, technology and services (METS) business can solve all the challenges faced by the customers in our industry. Real innovation and advancement comes from connecting adjacent technologies in an effective and efficient way.

For example, at SRO Technology, we focus primarily on designing and installing belt scale, metal detector, bin level and density gauge systems for the mining industry. However, we regularly collaborate with a range of partners to ensure that our customers get the right mix of technology and support to solve their problem.

METS in Australia is a highly fragmented industry, made up of many great niche players and a few larger generalists. In order to obtain its strong global reputation, businesses within the Australian METS sector have had to collaborate to both compete on a global stage and access the combination of technology required to solve high-end problems.

To remain competitive and profitable, it is critical that METS businesses continually innovate in a collaborative way. Fundamentally, collaboration (and in many ways innovation) are not optional extras--they must be core to business as usual.

SRO Technology has a field service team of engineers and technicians as part of your wider service offering. Field service management is a huge area of focus for many organizations, with significant opportunities existing to improve customer satisfaction, efficiency and productivity. What are the biggest challenges with having a field service team? How does it allow you to better deliver for your customers?

It all comes down to the customer, followed by the team and then our profitability.

The first and most important challenge is having the right technician with the right expertise available at the right time to solve the problem for the customer. This reliability requires a business focus on recruiting, training and retaining a great team of people, and then having sufficient unutilized capacity to respond to customer needs. This approach demands real confidence in the vision and strategy of the company in order to invest in the team--any lacking clarity of purpose will only undermine the confidence to build and field a strong team.

Ultimately our customers want accurate and reliable output from their measurement instruments. Our field service team frequently fixes problems on site before those problems begin to significantly impact accuracy. They do this by working with what’s available on site to keep the customer operating reliably whilst a longer term solution is resolved. This real-time problem solving is valued by our customers in an environment where the cost of downtime can have a significant impact on net productivity and efficiency. Extending the useful life of critical instruments is also of great value in the current capital-constrained, productivity-focused environment.

Our field service team is on the front line of our customer relationships – their insight and regular feedback allows us to constantly look for ways to improve the customer experience.

The transport of ore around the site and processing plant is obviously a critical part of the overall mining value chain. Where are the biggest risks in this part of the chain? How can miners ensure the most efficient conveyance of resource on site?

I believe that a significant commercial risk in the movement of ore and product through the mining process is not having accurate and reliable measurement information. If you cannot rely on your information, or you are inadvertently relying on inaccurate information, you will make decisions that will drastically impact your efficiency and you may not truly understand the flow and position of material and product across the site.

A great opportunity to improve the efficiency of material movements, and therefore productivity, on site is to improve the accuracy and reliability of measurement instruments. More accurate information will more readily identify inefficiencies in the system and allow process engineers and other members of the mining team to refine the process.

For example, a small error in the belt weighers supporting a crushing and screening process may influence a misinterpretation of the sizing of the screen or the effectiveness of the crusher. A minor error in the bin level system that controls the loading of trains or trucks may under or overload vehicles, requiring either material to be removed or dispatch vehicles to not be fully loaded. A small error in the resolution of a tramp metal detector could allow tramp to pass into a critical process, or cause a false trip that results in unnecessary, costly downtime. The smallest error in a density gauge may influence the wrong specific gravity in a float tank, sinking valuable material, or sending precious product slurry to tailings when it should be retained.

Improving the accuracy and reliability of measurement instruments across the site will increase the resolution of information available to key decision makers and allow them to refine their process to maximize efficiency.

What do you see as the biggest opportunities for the mining industry in Australia in 2015 to improve productivity?

Increasing productivity is all about getting more output from less input. Therefore, more accurate and more comprehensive measurement of product and processes on site will allow for a better understanding of the productivity challenge--and subsequently the success or failure of productivity initiatives.

Firstly, measurement instruments must be properly applied on site to avoid errors inherent in application and deliver more accurate information to decision makers. These instruments are essentially the nerve endings of the mining information system. Regardless of the inherent accuracy in any instrument, if it is not properly applied it will never deliver its optimum accuracy. Technology is increasingly ‘plug-and-play’; however, failure to ensure proper physical application will not deliver accurate results.

Raw data can be interesting, but relevant and useful information derived from that data is far more insightful. Translating raw data into useful information to target critical key points in the production chain and then communicating those insights effectively from the site through to the boardroom will allow a better understanding of productivity at every level in the organization and the steps required to improve it.

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