Home > Mining > Expert Contributor

Lean Mining: Is it Really Possible?

By Jorge Cristerna - MULTILED
Operations Director


By Jorge Cristerna | Dirección de Operaciones - Mon, 07/24/2023 - 12:00

share it

The Lean philosophy has been growing in popularity in the business world, particularly as it applies to  manufacturing or administration. Its popularity is not casual: The philosophy has a positive impact on overall performance within every company that applies this technique correctly. 

This  can be applied in almost any business or production process, from manufacturing to marketing or Customer Service. The methodology rests on three simple ideas:

  1. Create value from a customer perspective.

  2. Eliminate all sorts of waste (anything that does not add value).

  3. Continuous improvement. 

These ideas are protected by two big pillars:

  1. For the people involved in any part of the process.

  2. Responsibility and shared leadership. 

When we talk about Lean methodology, it is easy to imagine the continuous improvement in all the productive processes within a company, but the reality is a bit more complex. It is about productive processes, systems and people, all simultaneously working together. 

A good idea can come from any level of the organization, so this methodology is not only for the leadership of the company (managers, directors, shareholders). On the contrary, Lean is a tool that helps  everyone in the organization to do things properly,  while constantly improving processes.

Nevertheless, the global mining sector has yet to fully embrace the Lean methodology, which started around 53 years ago with the TPS (Toyota Production System). Why is  Lean thinking absent in most of the mining industry?

All the challenges that mining faces are fascinating, from geology to technology and from social and environmental responsibility to taking care of our people in mostly extreme environments. Of course, some companies in the sector have implemented Lean programs, but adopting these changes has been too superficial and centered mostly on using tools like 5S or Ishikawa. As a result, the impact and effects are limited, and the industry has not yet seen the importance and need for change in managing practices and leadership behavior. 

Among  the big challenges that mining faces is the fluctuation in commodities prices. When planning, there should be a close focus on this challenge because when prices are high, the need to increase production exponentially is greater in order to  generate more income. When prices are low, cost reductions, dismissal of people and even the closing of operations are common in the mining sector. Our industry is highly dependent on  fluctuations in commodities prices and Lean could provide a good solution, leading to more profitable companies, innovation investment, talent development and better conditions for communities. 

Some other challenges are social responsibility, technical difficulties (deposits are increasingly difficult to reach), environmental care, safety in operations, profitability, logistics, managing multiple processes, technology adoption, quality of life and work for our people, and multiple other challenges that can be tackled with a  Lean approach.

The priority should be on creating room for change in mentality, and the reason is pretty simple: Mining is getting increasingly complicated  and the effort to face this difficulty creates many intricate processes and procedures that instead of facilitating the mining operation, make it more complicated and even bureaucratic, slowing the natural speed of the operation and giving back no added value in the end. All this because each effort is isolated, disregarding the organic whole. The end result is that for every improvement in every area, there is a new problem somewhere else in the process, created from these newly implemented changes. 

To properly introduce a Lean methodology, we need to clarify the challenges we are facing (all of them) and how they are related to each other, face the need for  honest and responsible improvement, and identify the real source of each problem, while working with respect and teamwork (everyone matters). 

Here are some points to start working your plan to create a deeper Lean view in your mining operations:

  1. Understand and specify  the Value from the clients’ perspective for every part of the process (internal and external clients), and according to what you do (mining company, contractor, supplier).

  2. Identify all the steps in your operational flow chart, analyze the value generated by each person in that chart and eliminate (if possible) all of those who do not add any value for the client. 

  3. Accelerate  the fluency of your resulting operational flow chart, taking care to ensure that this does not affect quality for your customers.

  4. Make it a pull process instead of a push process (continuously make it easier for your customers to acquire your service or product, removing all pain, guilt or difficulty for the customer). 

  5. Restart all these processes! If we do not create a continuous improvement culture, all of our previous efforts will be in vain.

Are you ready to improve (and keep improving) how you work, think, produce and add to this beautiful, fascinating and challenging industry?. 

Photo by:   Jorge Cristerna

You May Like

Most popular