What I Have Learnt From The Last 1,000 Interviews

Owning and leading a business for over 14 years has taught me a thing or two about interviews and has certainly sharpened my intuition for picking the best candidates. During the 14 years we have hired over 150 people, interviewed around 1,000 people face to face and screened at least 5,000 candidates. So what has been so special about the 3% of people that have applied to us that we actually employed?

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Minerals Transport Infrastructure

With the exception of gold projects, large mineral deposits require bulk product transport infrastructure to get the product to market. On average they say it takes 30 years from discovery to development for a large mineral deposit.  Most of this time is taken up building certainty and gaining the approvals required in order to build enough confidence to invest the capital. At any one time there are lots of projects that are waiting for certainty around the infrastructure and in many cases there are whole mineral regions that remain undeveloped.

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From the Director’s chair

I’m writing to you today from my new desk in our open plan office. It’s quite a cosy layout, with everyone effectively sitting on one great big long centre desk. Prior to our move I had an enclosed office, which at the time I thought was great because nobody hear confidential phone calls or see my screen when. Well now I’m fully converted to open plan. It can get a little noisy as we don’t have any policies about silence and making phone calls in quiet rooms, and in fact, a little banter is encouraged. The brilliant part is that now everyone knows what is going on with everyone else’s work. Collaboration has really lifted and the time we spend in meetings has declined because you can just yell out. Everything seems to happen faster in this environment.

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Why grads don’t operate equipment anymore

I started my career 18 years ago on a salary of $50,000 which was good money at the time. Mining was in a downturn and there weren’t too many jobs around. I sent 85 job applications and got one interview which thankfully went well and I got the job. Throughout the early part of my career a truck operator would get paid around $85,000 and most grads aspired to operating equipment for 6 months, motivated in large part by the extra money. Senior engineers in the 90’s were also actually mostly senior, many had aged enough to go a little grey or bald so it was understood that career aspirations would most likely take a while to play out.

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The cost of high mining intensity

During the mining boom years, the focus was on producing as much as possible from the resource to take advantage of higher prices. OEMs did very well selling the addition machinery required to achieve the extra production. So now that commodity prices are low and capacity is already installed, the main game of late has been to drive economies of scale by pushing production even higher. This approach carries a penalty that might not immediately be obvious.

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Focus on the trucks to decrease costs

In a truck shovel operation, all we ever talk about is the excavator. We schedule the excavator, measure it’s productivity, compare various models and make judgements about which ones perform best. But In fact, the excavator doesn’t put any material in the dump or stockpile, its the trucks that do all the work and incur most of the cost of moving the material. So we should really be looking at which is the best truck to use. Assuming that the truck and excavator size are appropriately matched (between 3 and 5 bucket passes to fill a truck), the performance of the excavator only comes into the equation during loading which is perhaps 2 minutes out of a total truck cycle time of 20 minutes. So if the excavator hits some hard dig and takes 3 minutes to load a truck, the excavator productivity will fall by 50% but the truck productivity will only fall by 5% which hardly affects the unit cost of the operation.

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Reduce Coal Loss to Improve Profitability

What is the biggest factor that you could control at an open cut coal mine to generate return? For me it would be loss and dilution. Small improvements deliver big increases in cash generation, usually at minimal or no additional cost. Commonly, most of the coal losses occur at top of coal as blast energy breaks up the coal and makes it difficult to separate cleanly from the waste. Big gains can be made by improving blasting practices to avoid fracturing the coal.

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