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Load & Haul

Good load and haul operations, as seen at this quarry in Melbourne, are about moving material by the quickest route in the shortest time.
Good load and haul operations, as seen at this quarry in Melbourne, are about moving material by the quickest route in the shortest time.

The 'crystal ball' for creating the future

When implementing efficient, cost-effective and productive means of loading and hauling aggregate, there are various tools for operators — but not long-term thinking. Steve Franklin outlines how operators can think more strategically about the earthmoving process.

We all, through our actions — and inactions — contribute to the future and what lies ahead of us. The decisions we make result in sometimes good or bad outcomes. Some people are considered “lucky” and others “unlucky”, but when you boil it all down, it really comes down in large part to the decisions we make now and their impact in the future.

Some people in later life will even go so far as to utter the immortal words: “If only I knew then what I know now…”

And if this was the case, what value would they place on that insight all those years ago?

If we look at many of the most successful business people, we see people with insight and the courage to back ideas that can at first seem counter-intuitive. We are seeing people who can determine how things might be in the future based on their actions and mould that future into one that is advantageous to them.

So what’s all this got to do with load and haul? Actually, quite a lot.

Most quarry businesses operate in a dynamic environment. Large contracts come and go, demand moves up and down in pace with local economics and projects. It is a continual challenge to meet market, community, stakeholder and regulatory demands.

Increasingly we are seeing situations where senior managers truly need a “crystal ball” to help them determine which decisions to make.

“Gut feel” and “intuition” can only carry one so far, no matter the experience of the person involved.

‘Chess’ on a macro scale

In the late 1990s, as an operations manager in the contracting mining industry, I started to see sites that we could not successfully schedule by experience.

"The decisions we make result in sometimes good or bad outcomes."

I hired our first ever scheduling engineer to (manually) work through all the permutations of how the pits could progress to ensure we met client requirements and didn’t dig ourselves into a corner.

Despite dire pronouncements on the cost to the business and the “plans always change” brigade, that scheduling engineer paid for his annual salary in the first month – he warned us against making decisions that would adversely affect our future, which we simply couldn’t predict. He was a great investment and sold me on the idea of scheduling.

Fast forward 20 years and we now have tools I could only have dreamt of then. The interesting thing, however, is the problems and solutions and broad concepts remain pretty much the same. When you are extracting a deposit, you are in many ways playing a “chess game” on a macro scale and need the ability to predict the impact of your opponent’s moves and how they will affect your own game plan.

Good load and haul operations are about ensuring you know what material needs to be moved from what location and by what route, with the smallest number of resources possible, generally in the shortest time.

If you can’t answer the questions posed above, you must compensate by having more equipment, working more hours and having more slack built into the system. These things reduce efficiency and drive up costs.

Interestingly, the vast majority of businesses do not see this approach as extraordinary. In fact, it is considered not only quite normal but in many cases prudent.

Even more remarkably, systems and processes that would help predict what material needs to be moved from what location and by what route, with the smallest number of resources possible and generally in the shortest time, are generally seen as “expensive” or “unnecessary”.

We have recently spent time meeting manufacturers and suppliers that are introducing truly cutting edge technology and systems that give more insight into operations than I could ever have hoped for all those years ago. Personally, I am tremendously excited by the future I see and the potential gains to be had.

Anticipating the future

We are moving rapidly into an age when you will start to see a tremendous convergence of data and systems that allow more effective decision-making, and key in this will be the ability to help you predict and create your own future.

Simulation of the pit will become the new “normal” in plotting the most efficient load and haul scenarios.
Simulation of the pit will become the new “normal” in plotting the most efficient load and haul scenarios.

By way of example, we provide scheduling (long- and short-term) services to many clients. One client recently was keen to know the impact of taking on a long-term supply contract, and to know how much they could promise to sustainably produce.

As a result of having a good geological model of the site, some robust scheduling rules and productivity data, we already had an effective scheduling model. Determining the supply agreement parameters was as simple as sitting with the client and running “what ifs” on the spot – we had it worked out with a high degree of confidence in a single morning!

We were able to identify that under the current operating plan, delivery would fail after a few years. We could then test the reasons why, look at an animation of the sequence, debug the problem and know with certainty what load and haul equipment we would need, how long development could be held off and how much was needed to be moved each year to enable them to meet the contract.

This client was creating the future he envisaged by identifying ahead of time what the likely barriers would be, and testing scenarios to mitigate those before they arose — much like the chess master who thinks through all the possible permutations of moves and counter-moves before they commit their move on the board.

There will be those who will tell you this approach is nonsense, that things change, geology is variable, clients unpredictable and occasionally the roof falls in. All those things may be true, and I have certainly seen my share of calamities and screw-ups but the truth remains that “forewarned is forearmed” and when all is said and done, do you want to be creating the future or be the effect of it?

The new 'normal'

Simulation in many forms will become a new “normal” in the quarrying industry as it is in other related industries such as mining and construction.

Load and haul requirements can be accurately determined, and redundant equipment redeployed to better and more effective use. This is not the domain of the dealer and tools such as TALPAC, Komatsu’s Optimum Fleet Recommendation program and Caterpillar’s Fleet Production and Cost analysis; while these have some use (and are better than nothing), they are not the tools I am talking about when I am talking about scheduling tools.

Instead, I am referring to packages such as Deswik Scheduler, Haul Infinity, Spry and the like which bring new insight and understanding to load and haul operations.

These tools and the people who drive them should not be seen as a cost but as the “crystal ball” that helps you make the best decisions possible and makes you truly shine as a manager.

Steve Franklin

Steve Franklin is the founder and a director of Cement & Aggregate Consulting, an Australian-based organisation providing consulting, software and training internationally to the cement and aggregates industry. Steve has a specific focus on improving decision-making using advanced 3D visualisation, scheduling and simulation, and has been at the forefront of this area for the past 10 years, pioneering the use of advanced scheduling, simulation and optimisation tools in the cement industry in particular. Cement & Aggregate Consulting’s clients include LafargeHolcim, Aggregate Industries, Mondo Minerals, Boral, UltraTech Cement and Fulton Hogan.

Tuesday, 23 October, 2018 10:29am
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