Agile Mining Leads to Breakthrough Results

January 20, 2019 Kate McLaughlin

New strategies to plan and execute mining projects—from the ore body out—brings impressive results


In the quest to improve profits, investors are pressing mining companies to find ways of doing business more cost effectively and productively. In response, mine operators are embracing the use of “agile” techniques. Agile development is an approach to project delivery, which has been used especially for software development, that is characterized by the division of tasks into short phases of work and frequent reassessment and adaptation of plans[i]. In the case of mining, an agile development approach makes use of emerging technologies and critical-path strategies that minimize time to production while removing workers from active areas and improving safety.

Stantec‘s experts lead mining clients through an intense process of assessing the current state of operation or project, and then brainstorming and visualizing how the operation needs to perform in order to meet stakeholder requirements and drive value. With the desired future state in mind, the team can then identify creative strategies to help move the mine forward.

To facilitate this approach, Stantec, a specialty consulting firm that develops mining projects around the world, is promoting a set of “agile” techniques coupled with both new and established technologies to drive value for mining companies. Agile Mining entails creating a roadmap that considers each project’s unique constraints and business drivers with the end in mind. For mining projects, applying this powerful, adaptive approach—from the ore body out—leads to breakthrough results.

For example, instead of designing a mine using conventional bulk methods, we ask: what can be done to move from batch mining techniques, to continuous mechanized mining and haulage processes, or even towards a fully autonomous and continuous in-situ mining method in hard rock? Moving towards continuous mining methods allows the team to address the required digital transformation. If the current design utilizes localized PLC/HMI control, we ask: how can it move towards integrated process and business networks on surface based on real-time data analysis, and then to remote operations centres off-site?

Agile Mining holds promise for driving both the productivity of mining operations as well as reducing the environmental footprint. For example, Stantec’s mine designers have found that by reducing the diameter of the traditional 5.5 by 5.5 metre drift tunnel to four metres square—a fairly minor shift—the volume of waste material requiring removal can be reduced by as much as 50 percent. _q_tweetable: New techniques drive the productivity of mining operations while reducing their environmental footprint. _q_An impressive gain! Beyond that, there are opportunities to develop these smaller drifts faster, while ensuring the safety of the workforce. To operationalize such design changes, Stantec helps miners identify and then adopt new technologies to meet their vision or envision ways of using older technologies differently. One of the key learnings from applying Agile Mining to mining projects is the importance of efficiently exploiting the capabilities of new technologies in unconventional ways rather than trying to apply new technologies to conventional designs. In other words, new technologies require a rethinking and redefinition of the issues.

Only when the destination is known can a roadmap to that future state be developed. While the Mine of the Future may mean different things to different people, Stantec’s vision is not about applying new technologies in the same old ways. It is about rethinking how the ore can be accessed, extracted and processed. It is about the pursuit of zero harm and zero impact for the mines and the communities in which they invest. 


Figure 1 – Conventional Mining Facility


Figure 2 – Mine of the Future


The keys to successfully implementing an Agile Mining approach are 1) commitment and early adoption of new and innovative technologies, 2) cautious optimism where we advocate staged approaches in order to not overwhelm the project team, and most importantly 3) collaboration.  Having integrated systems and teams that include operators, suppliers, and technical experts is critical to project success. 

For mine planning, Agile Mining includes combining the execution plan with brainstorming, research and a life-of-mine vision to produce a technology and infrastructure roadmap.  Working through this process iteratively requires a ‘learn as you go mentality’ where the team is willing to prototype solutions, test them, fail fast when necessary, but also learn fast, and redirect to different innovative solutions and approaches.

Ultimately, we work with the mine to develop a vision of how they want to exploit a particular ore body. From there, we brainstorm and map how to best solve the unique challenges posed by each mine site. By having a fast, smart and sustainable roadmap to the ore body, Stantec is supporting agile miners of the future to emerge as industry leaders.  

About the Author

Kate McLaughlin

Kate McLaughlin is a mining engineer at Stantec with more than 20 years experience implementing quality improvement methodologies in underground base metals mines. Her expertise includes deep mine design and production engineering, Six Sigma DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control) process optimization, Lean Manufacturing, and Six Sigma design for capital projects.

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