Sometimes small changes can add up to big improvements. Take Turquoise Ridge. Heading into 2016, the Nevada mine was forecasting annual production of 200,000-220,000 ounces of gold. As the year draws to a close, the underground operation is anticipating production of 255,000-275,000 ounces, its best year ever.*
“We challenged our people to raise the bar this year and they did,” says Nigel Bain, General Manager of Turquoise Ridge. “I couldn’t be prouder.”
Like all Barrick mines, Turquoise Ridge was asked last year to find ways to become more efficient and productive. The company was reeling from a three-year slump in the price of gold, along with the rest of the gold mining industry, and it was clear change was needed. Barrick’s digital reinvention is a critical part of that change, but digitization alone won’t achieve the fundamental transformation that the company is undertaking. Only a collective and sustained commitment to operational excellence can do that. Shedding preconceptions, working collaboratively to identify better ways to do things and then executing those ideas are at the heart of Barrick’s transformation.
We challenged our people to raise the bar this year and they did.
At Turquoise Ridge, underground haulage has traditionally been a bottleneck. Unlike Barrick’s other underground operations, which truck ore to the surface, Turquoise Ridge hoists ore to the surface via a single, 1,700-foot mine production shaft. Just to get ore to the shaft, haul trucks must travel a full mile underground through a small network of tunnels.
“It can be a real challenge sometimes,” says Jon Laird, Operations Superintendent at Turquoise Ridge.
Last year, the mine commissioned a review to identify ways to improve underground haulage. With Barrick keeping a close eye on spending, a costly improvement project wasn’t an option, so the review focused on what could be done under existing conditions. It found that small changes in time management, communication and tracking could significantly improve performance.
For instance, the best opportunity to improve consistency and add time back to the production day was by meeting aggressive targets for the first and last haul loads of the day. To that end, the mine began setting aggressive but achievable targets for these haul loads. Smart boards were installed that displayed each driver’s performance against these targets. Results are updated daily, so drivers receive near real-time feedback. Accountability is strict, fair and consistent. Supervisors follow up quickly with drivers who fall short of targets to review what happened.
“There may be a good reason why they were behind,” says Randy Moon, General Supervisor, Operations Support. “But usually we find the target was missed for reasons that were preventable. The problem almost never happens again and I’ve never had to discipline anyone.”
A 12-year veteran of Turquoise Ridge, Moon works in a small office in the operations level of the mine’s administration building. Several white boards hang on the walls of his office. Some are new, displaying data that the mine used to track on a more ad hoc basis or didn’t track at all, like the location of trucks and other mine equipment at the end of the previous shift. Daily haulage targets are also recorded and updated. Moon and his fellow supervisors also track whether short shift-changeover meetings are taking place and whether he himself met with his lead operators to review plans and targets for the upcoming shift.
While these changes may seem relatively small, the change in mindset that they’ve engendered is anything but. Communication has improved dramatically between supervisors and haul truck crews and among supervisors themselves. Everyone is aware of the day’s expectations and follows up to report variances, Laird says. “We’ve educated everybody on just how critical every minute of every haulage day is,” he says. “And that message has sunk in.”
To be sure, there were growing pains, Laird adds. Crews strained initially against the heightened expectations and closer monitoring, but as performance improved along with communication and accountability, everyone bought in fully. In years past, ore haulage rates at Turquoise Ridge rarely exceeded 45,000 tons per month, Moon says.
This year, haulage rates have never dipped below 50,000 tons per month and they’ve hit a high of 70,000 tons.
“We’ve come a long way,” Moon says. “My crews are happier than they’ve ever been, and they don’t hesitate to share feedback.”
More changes are coming. While most of the company’s major digitization projects are being rolled out initially at the Cortez mine, Turquoise Ridge is also beginning to digitize. Supervisors are now equipped with tablets, which provide real-time access to important data such as survey maps, mine plans and daily work schedules. The mine is also implementing an underground Wi-Fi network to improve communication underground.
For Moon, who is 62, the new technology is a positive. “Some people think I’m old school,” he says. “But I’m not. The more technology I can learn, the better off I am and the better off my crews are going to be.”
* Figures represent Barrick’s 75 percent interest in Turquoise Ridge.