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Sudbury Mining Solutions

Skills & Knowledge

PACE helps mining companies with change

February 21, 2018
by Norm Tollinsky
In: Skills & Knowledge

Customers include Barrick Gold, Goldcorp and Atlas Copco

Miners at Barrick Gold’s Hemlo operation convene to share questions and concerns about transition from 10.5 to 12-hour shifts.

This is a time of major technological change in the mining industry, but the success of new technologies can’t be taken for granted, nor can operational excellence be achieved without the buy-in of skeptical miners.

Enter Neha Singh, CEO of PACE, a Sudbury-based consultancy focused on building capacity for mining companies and suppliers caught up in the whirlwind of change.

“We’re going through a period of significant change, implementing new technologies and processes, so change is rampant in the mining industry,” said Singh.

North American mines have to compete with operations in developing countries where costs are lower, so productivity enhancing technologies and change management strategies to optimize them are critical, she claims.

Founded in 2016, PACE, an acronym that stands for Partners in Achieving Change Excellence, counts Barrick Gold, Goldcorp and mining suppliers Atlas Copco and Industrial Fabrication among its customers.

“We don’t work at the corporate level like the big consulting companies,” said Singh. “We work at individual mine sites to help mine managers, supervisors, and crews adapt to change.”

PACE consultants, including several retired mining executives who work with Singh, perform cultural assessments to diagnose an operation’s likelihood of accepting change and any obstacles or resistance to be overcome.

“We’ll show up at shift change in the lineup room at 6 a.m., for example, and follow a supervisor around for the day to observe what’s happening,” said Singh. “We’ll try to understand the history of changes that have happened, how changes were implemented in the past, how they were perceived, and how employees feel about the leadership. The best time to bring us in is before change is announced.”

New technology, notes Singh, is only as good as how people are using it. Just telling employees to use it isn’t enough. They have to understand why it’s being introduced and feel good about it.

Singh offers the example of a new technology that a vendor claims will reduce operating costs by $20 million a year, but only nets $4.8 million in savings due to a less than successful implementation.

“Our pitch is very simple,” said Singh. “Do you want to leave $15.2 million on the table? If you do, you don’t need us. We measure our success by adoption and optimizing the use of new technology.”

At Barrick Gold’s Hemlo operation, PACE was tasked with smoothing the transition to 12-hour shifts, a significant change for approximately 300 miners who had grown accustomed to structuring their lives around a 10.5-hour shift.

PACE teams went in and collected feedback from groups of 40 to 50 miners at a time, during sessions lasting no more than 20 minutes. To ensure they heard from everyone, including those reluctant to speak up, miners were handed blank sheets of paper and asked to jot down their questions and concerns.

These were ranked and supplied to management, following which communication strategies were developed to respond to the questions and concerns.

PACE also helped Barrick with the transition to autonomous mining.

Barrick had been using automated trucks for 10 years, but was planning to introduce one or two automated scoops, said Derek Polano, PACE vice-president, mining.

“We performed an assessment for impact and resistance, and learned that a number of people had a very negative opinion about it. They weren’t convinced and didn’t see the value of it.”

PACE developed a strategy for overcoming the resistance, communicated the savings in equipment maintenance, the volume of material moved and the impact on mine life.

“When it came time for the first scoop to come on site, we had everybody volunteering to be one of the first operators. Barrick had a great launch and is now looking forward to bringing in another scoop.”

Atlas Copco in North Bay engaged PACE “to take productivity to the next level,” said Singh. “We did some lean training with them and helped them implement a process to help people on the front lines innovate.”

PACE introduced the use of huddles, which bring teams together around a white board every day for 10 or 15 minutes to share ideas, solve problems and track progress.

“The biggest rule about a huddle board is accountability,” said Singh. “The idea is to get people closest to the work contributing to the organization in a meaningful manner.”

To help the mining industry adapt to technological change sweeping the industry, PACE organized a successful Digital Transformation conference in Sudbury February 1 featuring speakers from Dundee Precious Metals, Vale, Glencore and Barrick Gold.

A follow-up two-day conference is also being planned for February 2019.

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Sudbury Mining Solutions Journal is printed quarterly -- March, June, September and December. Circulation includes distribution to mining executives, consultants, suppliers, distributors, government officials and opinion leaders across Canada and around the world.

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