Your mine is a race car. Here’s why.

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8 minute read

You’re in the driver’s seat, strapped in and lower to the ground than most people are used to from being on the road. The space is confined and your suit and helmet are hot – it’s lucky you’re not claustrophobic. The road ahead is long and full of tricky turns, and the speed you’re about to experience can only be described as majestic – though initially you found it intimidating.

There is danger out there. You could crash. Realistically, people could die.

But you’ve been training for this. Strategising with your engineers and management team, plotting your course. You know what you need to do, and your vehicle is equipped with the latest, most innovative driver and safety technology.

Your fans are in the stands, championing you because you make them proud and excited. Your pit crew and engineers are experienced, knowledgeable experts with clear roles and responsibilities.

You’re all in this together, and your goal is to win.

The engine revs, the car vibrates, and before your senses have fully caught up, you’re off.

What does this race car analogy have to do with mining?

Surprisingly, quite a lot!

In a race car team, there are five primary elements and roles that work seamlessly together for the greater goal: to win the championship. These elements are the race car, the owners’/managers team, the driver, the pit crew and the race engineer.

On a mine site, it’s not all that different:

      • The car is equivalent to the processing plant;

      • The owners’ team and management teams could be seen as the General Manager, Operations Manager and Superintendents;

      • The driver is the operations team;

      • The pit crew is the maintenance team; and

      • The race engineers are the metallurgists and reliability engineers.

    In a motor car race, the goal is to win the championship without crashing, whilst simultaneously growing your fan base and showcasing your team’s innovative technology.

    What’s the goal of your mine site?

    The six capitals

    A race car team’s success – just like your mine site’s success – is about more than financial gain.

    The concept of the Six Capitals of Value Creation speaks to the idea that an organisation’s value is created not just from financial gain, but rather from a broader range of interactions, relationships, activities, causes and effects (Source).

    The Six Capitals include:

        • Financial capital (funds available for the business to use)

        • Manufactured capital (e.g., buildings and infrastructure)

        • Intellectual capital (e.g., knowledge and intellectual property)

        • Human capital (e.g., staff safety, competencies, experience and motivation to innovate)

        • Social capital (e.g., stakeholder relationships)

        • Natural capital (renewable and non-renewable environmental resources and processes)

      Figure: Our take on the Six Capitals and their application to the mining sector

      If we look at our race car/mine site analogy through the lens of the Six Capitals, we might say that the goal of a racing car team is to win the championship (financial capital) without crashing (human and manufactured capital), whilst simultaneously growing its fan base (social capital) and showcasing the team’s innovative technology (environmental and intellectual capital).

      On a mine site, then –  

        • Winning the championship is making profit (financial capital);
        • Without crashing relates to maintaining safety and availability onsite (human and manufactured capital);
        • Whilst growing your fan base is maintaining licence to operate and community support (social capital), and
        • Showcasing innovative technology is about maximising production with minimal environmental impact (intellectual and environmental capital).
      Racing cars from above
      Image: A race car team is made up of many people working together towards a greater goal.

      Collaboration is vital to team success

      Whether race car team or mine site, collaboration is vital to your team’s success.

      Did you know that in a F1 Pit Crew alone, there are more than 20 specialised team members responsible for different elements of stabilising the car, changing the tyres, making adjustments to aerodynamics and releasing the car back onto the track? Each of these team members is specifically trained to be part of this crew.

      More broadly, each role discipline in a race car team is distinct but interconnected:

        • The owners’ team provides the resources (education, capital expenditure (CAPEX), operational expenditure (OPEX));
        • The driver drives within the parameters set by the race engineer to obtain the fastest lap time possible whilst preserving tyres, brakes and fuel to complete the race;
        • The pit crew changes the tyres, brakes and fills the fuel tank as quick as possible, or repairs the car when there is unplanned damage;
        • The race engineer recommends the parameters for the driver to operate to (braking force, acceleration, engine RPM); and
        • The design team develop a vehicle that can win races and withstand the race environment based on past wins, failures and new regulations.

      When it comes to collaboration among a race car team, you may see the driver, race engineer and chief mechanic huddled around the engine of the car or a computer, debating things like:

        • Where the driver can brake differently or modulate the throttle to save tyres and fuel;
        • How the mechanic could adjust suspension stiffness to provide the driver an edge; or
        • How the race engineer might adjust the pit strategy to out-manoeuvre the competition.

       

      What you don’t see is the race engineer lining up the car on the grid.

      Or the driver jumping out during the pit stop to change a tyre.

      Even though a pit crew member can drive the car, they are not the expert and wouldn’t be expected to win against seven-time World Drivers’ Championship Titles winner Lewis Hamilton. Instead, each team member has clear responsibilities and key performance indicators (KPIs), and it’s the whole team’s responsibility to win the race – as a team of collaborators.

      And win they do: Did you know that a Formula 1 team has been awarded the Laureus World Sports Award for Team of the Year three times?

      The link between race car teams and mining teams

      Although the driver may get all the glory for winning a race car championship, success is a result of many specialist team members working together. The same goes for the mining sector. It is not just the responsibility of operations to win the championship, but of a strong, collaborative team effort.

      And, just like a race car driver wouldn’t jump out of the car to change their own tyre, you wouldn’t want your metallurgist operating the plant, or an operator refurbishing a pump – even if they were able to. Otherwise, they would leave a gap in their role (which is where their expertise lies) to perform a task that is beyond their realm of expertise. This is surely not the best use of their time – or your money.

      What you would expect is for operators, maintainers, metallurgists and engineers to work together contributing their individual expertise, whilst understanding the strengths and weaknesses of their team members, to ‘win the race.’

      As in racing, each of these roles need to work together – for example, to understand which variables contributed to your recovery dropping below target, and what needs to be done as a team to mitigate the deviation and get back on track.

      The problem with silos

      As in many sectors, the mining industry can suffer from siloed work environments.

      There is frequently a lack of communication, for example, between the mining and processing groups. Similarly, KPIs can be allocated to the wrong people, or to individual team members when really their achievement is dependent on a broader team working together.

      The outcome? Misunderstandings, wasted time and missed opportunities.

      For example, if there’s a drop in recovery in your flotation circuit, there might be a misunderstanding about which levers can and should be pulled to get this recovery to come back up. Afterall, there is no magic recovery improvement button you can ask the Metallurgy Superintendent to push. This means that production deviations can take a long time to address – often not being resolved until the next production meeting. The delay can cause significant opportunity costs and frustration.

      The same can happen when there is confusion between who can actually control and influence a production variable, from an accountability and responsibility perspective. In the example above, is the Metallurgy Superintendent alone actually able to control recovery? Or do operations, maintenance, metallurgy and reliability need to work together to understand what variables contributed to recovery deviating and what collectively needs to be done to mitigate the deviation (like in the race car analogy)? An individual focusing on just what they can control alone can lead to spending effort on the wrong (recovery) lever, and again cause opportunity costs.

      Image: Technology can help you finish strong.

      How technology can help you win

      Digital tools, like historians, Power BI or Mipac’s MPA and TCard software can help your mining team win the race. By empowering individuals and enabling collaboration, digital tools can address production deviations in real time instead of waiting until the production meeting. The right digital tools, configured correctly can:

        • Automatically detect production deviations as they happen and alert the responsible role with recommendations that role can action.
        • Escalate production deviations to management based on their severity;
        • Capture action statuses and outcomes of actions so management can provide additional resources when required;
        • Provide insight on previous actions taken to resolve similar problems;
        • Enhance communication and collaboration between experts to accelerate deviation resolution;
        • Notify stakeholders when a deviation has been resolved;
        • Establish impacts to overall performance and options to close the gap; and
        • Prioritise project efforts to prevent recurrence.

       

      The finish line

      At the end of the day, your team’s success is your business’ success.

      The mining industry has a lot to learn from other sectors, and mining and racing cars have a surprising amount in common – from the distinct roles filled by highly experienced and expert personnel to the need for collaboration and correctly designed and allocated KPIs.

      And the magic that can enable and empower your people to pull it altogether? Digital tools that can help you empower individuals and enable collaboration to create value and minimise opportunity cost.

      What do you think? Are you driving a winning race car?

      Meet the expert

      Dominic Stoll, Mipac's Digital Solutions Manager, is an experienced minerals process engineer with more than 14 years’ practical experience across a variety of plant, project, commissioning, consulting education, management and commercialisation roles. Dominic has significant experience integrating people, business, and technological leadership across the mining value chain, delivering end-to-end solutions that unlock client value.

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