Volatility in the mining industry, caused by shrinking global demand and record low commodity prices, has left mining companies looking for ways to re-tool their organisations and processes to cope with what some are calling the ‘new normal’.
Mining majors are beginning to exhaust classic short-term fixes such as Anglo American’s massive restructure that would release 85,000 workers over the next few years, and are now looking to other sources to achieve long-term productivity and process improvements.
In the shadow of these challenges, Deloitte released ‘Tracking the Trends 2016’, a report designed to focus on the current issues in the mining industry and provide suggestions on where miners can go to meet these challenges.
"We previously focused on Deloitte’s recommendation to invest in innovation and the massive productivity gains achieved by several mining companies by leveraging technology.
In another strategy, Deloitte suggests mining companies build bridges with other industries to learn and incorporate lessons on process optimisation. The manufacturing and automotive industries in particular have a long history with lean production systems, as well as investment in robotic technology.
"The Ford Motor Company is a salient case-in-point," says Deloitte. "In 2006, the company lost more than $12bn following a collapse in consumer demand. Between 2011 and 2014, however, Ford realised annual profits ranging from $6.2bn to $8.3bn."
One of the reasons for this dramatic turnaround, of which we at ASI have a particularly intimate knowledge, was Ford’s willingness to
’embrace emerging technologies, such as robotics, self-driving vehicles, connecting vehicles to the cloud, and hybrid and electric vehicle development.’
Since 2011, ASI has been working with Ford to develop a robotic durability testing programme. This improves safety by removing test drivers from the most jarring test tracks and improves productivity by allowing vehicles to test 24/7.
The same automation technologies that delivered productivity and safety improvements to Ford’s durability testing programme can be realised within mining vehicle automation.
"Although there are as many differences between the automotive and mining sectors as there are similarities," Deloitte concluded,
"forward-thinking miners can likely make unanticipated productivity gains by taking lessons from this example."
Looking to and leveraging lessons learned by other industries may hold the key for improving productivity for mining companies, but this is just one of the suggestions offered by Deloitte.