When the Canadian Wear Technologies A-Team are called to address issues pertaining to mining wear parts, it’s not long into our discussion that the topic of bottlenecks comes up. Bottlenecks occur in even the most successful hard rock mining operations. Not to be mistaken with short-term constraints such as crusher breakdowns, bottlenecks are processes that limit the overall pace of production. They result in production losses that cannot be recovered.
Typically, using modeling through IT systems, many mining operations approach debottlenecking in isolation. These systems do not always integrate resulting in data needing to be layered and carefully analyzed in order to identify issues. The modelling scenarios used generally focus on a single point in time and do not consider variation in performance over time. This approach may result in a bottleneck being eliminated but the lack of quality real-time integrated data results in new bottlenecks in the operation arising. Thus creating a continuous cycle of production losses to varying degrees and is less productive.
To successfully address bottlenecks, companies must look at the operation at a macro level aligning planning, mining, processing and the supply chain. Necessary information gathering at the onset which includes identifying what peak performance is for each step in the operation, the interdependencies that exist and how the system evolves as the steps change.
A macro approach to debottlenecking requires the right decision makers are involved with the process including IT experts, technical engineering, production, maintenance, business analytics and finance. Once this collaborative team has been established, they can move towards overall process improvement and operational efficiencies.
The not-so-easy 3-step approach
Mapping: Identifying key processes, throughput variability, quality performance and buffers gives a clear view of the production chain.
Modeling: Once the map is created, modeling can be used to identify opportunities for productivity improvements. It will help better understand constraints and determine capital expenditures for outcomes.
Implementation: Creating an implementation is the third and final key step. It is necessary to understand and accommodate for the impact of individual changes on the entire operation. This requires analyzing the shifting constraints and determining total system capacity and plant output potential. Equally, it considers the impact on short-term production losses over long-term performance goals.
Another consideration during the implementation phase is using buffers and stocks to assure better throughput. Monitoring buffers throughout the operation can help with the implementation and identify shifting bottlenecks.
Most mining operations do not achieve full potential of their assets. However, taking strides to debottleneck using a macro approach will help eliminate production constraints permanently and reduce overall costs.