As the global mining industry pushes deeper and ranges farther for vital minerals, its leading firms are just beginning to adopt “lean” techniques – common for decades in manufacturing industries – for mining greater value from their operations.14
At Oyu Tolgoi on Mongolia’s vast, windswept South Gobi Desert, where nomads still watch over their herds, a new copper and gold mine stands poised to lead a struggling industry on a great leap forward. The mine, developed by British-Australian multinational metals and mining firm Rio Tinto Group, is a test case for applying the same lean principles that most manufacturing industries adopted at least three decades ago as protection from the buffeting winds of rapidly shifting markets.
Miners know rapid economic shifts all too well. After years of boom, in which demand outstripped capacity and efficiency was a luxury few had time to consider, commodity prices have sagged and new strikes are rare. Many mining companies are responding by slashing capital expenditures and pulling back on critical investments. It’s a no-growth strategy the industry has turned to time and again, closing mines, laying off workers and hunkering down until the next boom.
For the first time, however, a few innovative mines are following a different path.
“We’re in the early stages of a paradigm shift in mining,” said Mike MacFarlane, a Canadian engineer, industry consultant and retired executive vice president of AngloGold Ashanti, one of the world’s largest mining companies. “In the United States, the auto industry in the 1940s and ’50s had no peers; in the ’60s and ’70s, still no peers. In the ’80s, little Japanese cars changed everything. I would say the mining industry, in the little Japanese car analogy, is in the mid-’80s.”
Read the rest of this story here, on COMPASS, the 3DEXPERIENCE Magazine
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