The good news is that mining companies have been working on financial cost cutting, and have been enjoying some success in the process. The bad news is that this success really only seems to be for the short-term, and the methods behind the savings could actually be hurting the industry's performance as a whole… at least according to Jan Kwak, the Managing Director of Hatch, one of the mining and mineral processing industry's largest consulting firms.
This issue was discussed at length during the recent Global Cleantech Summit held in Finland. An objective look was taken at the ways in which mining companies are aiming to scale back on spending, where they're going wrong, and where they could stand to improve. This is of great significance because the long-term efficiency of the industry will make the greatest global impact in terms of energy costs and consumption.
Out with the Old
Before long-term goals and solutions can be established, the industry must first take a hard look at its current processes. In recent years, consulting firms like Hatch have noted that many mining companies are making efforts to save money via retrenchments, scaling back on new capital investments, the disposal of assets, and cutting down as much as one-third of its global workforce. Unfortunately, experts like Mr. Kwak believe that this seems to only be a shortcut to temporary economic stability. He purports that less focus and emphasis should be placed on these, instead being directed to practical, long-term solutions. Instead of zeroing in on size, mining companies should be more interested in operating in the most efficient way possible through monitoring the intensity of capital, labor, energy, and mining.
In with the New
Historically, the mining industry has not been one that has encouraged much in the way of innovation. The same methods and procedures are typically followed throughout the years without questioning their efficiency or effectiveness. The time has come, however, for a change. A growing number of organizations such as AngloGold Ashanti are now making research and innovation a top strategic priority. Instead of trying to find the simplest means to cutting corners, the new school of thought is focused on finding ways to improve business for good. Many ideas were shared at the Cleantech Summit, which examined the best ways for companies across the globe to boost efficiency.
In South Africa, for example, it has been noted by Hatch that the greatest opportunity for performance improvement lay in the reduction of variability throughout their labor processes. There's no reason for workers to be used to complete heavy manual labor that can be tackled by machines when there are other tasks that could benefit from their wisdom and initiative. Other consultancies like Finland's Outotec are focused on the region's management of tailings dams. They advise companies to reduce the area of the tailings dams, thus reducing the water it needs and lowering ongoing expenses. Water recycling through minerals processing is another great means to this end.
There are a plethora of ways in which global mining companies can cut down on waste and improve efficiency. New technologies are being developed to lower the amount of waste rock going into mills, and to conserve water. In addition, mining companies are advised to focus on ensuring that operations run continuously and without interruption, predictive maintenance, and embracing digital technologies for process control systems and processing management and feedback.
Ultimately, if we hope to minimize energy expenditures on a global scale while still reducing our carbon footprint, we must look at the root causes rather than trying to cut corners. Check back for more updates on what's happening in the mining industry as it continues to grow and adapt. And, as always, be sure to reach out to NuEnergen for further details.