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Improvement in the Mining Industry

Continuous Katelyn Kring, SA-8652

In the summer of 2017 I worked for a mine as its Continuous Improvement Intern. Continuous Improvement is the incre- mental improvement of processes. These improvements cre- ate more efficient workers and satisfied customers, producing higher quality goods. It eliminates waste, increases profits, streamlines work, and values safety. As a geological engineering student, I was elated to secure a job in the industry I plan on working in after graduation. Continuous Improvement skills and topics are not something a typical Geological Engineering student comes across in his or her course of study, but these practical skills add value to an employee and are crucial to a successful company. Because of Continuous Improvement’s necessary pervasiveness throughout a mine, I interacted with personnel from every department of the company and gained a comprehensive understanding of how a heavy metal mine operates.

Continuous Improvement’s foundation at a mine is 5S, a simple lean manufacturing tool. 5S stands for Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain. The first three steps are simple and revolve around organizing and cleaning work areas. At a mine these areas include anywhere from an office cubicle or conference room to a maintenance shop or truck wash. Once the first three steps are complete for an area, rules and visual standards should be posted. The final step, Sustain, is the most critical and difficult of the five. Sustaining 5S is best done through an auditing program, where areas are scored on a regular basis on standard criteria. 5S reduces the time and motion workers spend looking for tools and cleaning off work areas before beginning a task. Clean work areas are essential to maintaining a safe work environment and preventing slip and trip hazards. A strong, sustained 5S program creates a culture in which employees take responsibility for their work area and are more productive. Over the summer I organized a celebration for an office that completed the first four 5S steps; charted 5S implementation data; and toured 5S areas to compile photographs for a before and after storyboard.

Once a mine implements 5S it can look at improving its processes. The people who have the best improvement ideas are the ones closest to the work. Developing an improvement suggestion system accessible to all employees, vendors, and contractors associated with the mine is integral in capturing ideas. Once an idea is suggested, it needs to be directed to a team who can evaluate and carry out a solution. Working closely with review teams at the mine, mill, and administration sites I tracked project updates, calculated annual savings and implementation costs, and developed charting tools to track the program. Communicating review team decisions to idea initiators and coordinating actions between team members is essential to making these improvements happen and to reap- ing the benefits. This communication is also key to developing employee buy-in and sustaining the program. Every week

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during my internship at least one new idea was submitted and reviewed. The ideas improved the environment, production, cost, quality, safety, and community relations.

One idea concerned the dust produced when filling a cement hopper to be taken underground daily. An employee noted the current task created a health risk for workers who monitor the hopper when it is being filled and an environmental hazard as the dust is released into the atmosphere. He submitted a short video of the current process to make it easier for the review team to visualize. He suggested adding a cover to the hopper to contain the dust. The mine review team immediately agreed the process needed improvement, and actions were taken. Supervisors spoke with operators about the process to receive their input, and engineers were sent to the area to review and design process improvements.

To further a culture of Continuous Improvement, a mine needs to invest in its staff. By providing Lean Six Sigma Green Belt Training to key employees from each department a mine can target high value projects and provide the resources neces- sary to solve its pressing problems. Green Belts are employees trained in Lean Six Sigma process improvement. Besides classroom training, to become Lean Six Sigma certified a person must complete an in-depth improvement project demonstrating competency in the methodology. I developed training material and tools for employees to use when working on their Green Belt Certification Projects. These projects are following the DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control) problem solv- ing strategy to tackle complicated problems and to save millions of dollars. By the year’s end these projects will improve core logging efficiency, maximize haul truck tonnage, and implement better dust control around the mill’s crushing circuit.

Without strong Continuous Improvement programs, a mine is stuck working inefficiently, without communication between levels of the organization. Beginning with 5S and building up to complex, multi stage improvement projects, a mine can reduce costs, increase safety, and minimize environmental impacts.

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