As economic factors outside of the mining industry’s control continue to drive pricing down, operations are cutting to the bone in order to survive. This environment poses significant challenges for organisations, including less manpower, fewer outside resources, aging equipment and lower morale – to name a few. But these issues are readily apparent and can be addressed. The bigger concerns are the ones that are not immediately obvious. One of the most dangerous conditions that this environment breeds – one that often goes undetected until it is too late – is a phenomenon dubbed the ‘normalisation of deviance’ by sociologist Dr Diane Vaughan.
The normalisation of deviance is defined as: “the gradual process through which unacceptable practice or standards become acceptable. As the deviant behaviour is repeated without catastrophic results, it becomes the social norm for the organisation.” This process is difficult to detect because it happens slowly, over a series of small, seemingly inconsequential decisions to cut corners. And more often than not, these shortcuts feel necessary at the time because teams are under enormous pressure. One of the most famous examples of the disastrous results that this phenomenon can lead to was the failure of the O-ring gaskets on the Space Shuttle Challenger. Under incredible time and cost pressure, NASA proceeded with the launch when they had overwhelming evidence that O-ring failure could be catastrophic.
Seeing the positives
But there is an upside to this phenomenon. When organisations make small, positive incremental changes over time, they can create a new, higher standard of operational excellence. Author, Darren Hardy, calls this the Compound Effect. The key point is that every day, people in an organisation make hundreds to thousands of minor decisions that collectively have major consequences. When the systems and processes are put in place to help improve this collective decision-making, the entire organisation will reap the benefits.
DINGO has spent 25 yr helping mines take advantage of this Compound Effect simply by tapping into the power of underused data. And while Big Data is getting a lot of press lately, using this massive amount of data will not necessarily lead to the desired outcome. In fact, DINGO often finds that companies are drowning in it. Sound decision-making is not typically driven by how much data a mine has, it is driven by how well a mine uses the data that it does have.
In the realm of maintenance, one of a mine’s biggest cost centres, DINGO has identified three key tools to help capitalise on data and improve decision-making across the board:
- A centralised condition management software platform.
- An integrated, close-looped action tracking system.
- Universally accessible performance dashboards.
All of the data in the world is useless unless a mine has a centralised system to collect, organise and connect condition data and then transform it into actionable knowledge.
When DINGO is engaged by a maintenance operation to implement an Asset Health program, the company frequently uncovers a tremendous amount of data that is sitting idle in Excel files, desktop folders, databases and even pdfs. Because the data is disorganised and difficult to access, people tend to ignore it and make decisions without complete information – a deviation from the norm. Over time, these suboptimal decisions affect the health of costly equipment. Based on data compiled from more than 50 mining operations across the globe, 33% of major components are regularly operating in a warning state – and more than 11% are running in critical condition.
TRAKKA condition management software. A centralised software system with the right capabilities will provide personnel with the tools to succeed and facilitate a process that drives the desired results.
While getting all of this data into a centralised condition management system might seem daunting, a good provider will offer guidance on both the right data to capture and the best way to capture it. For example, TRAKKA, DINGO’s condition management software, has an extensive data connector library, a comprehensive list of data connections that are preconfigured to seamlessly connect and interface with condition monitoring data providers, ERP systems and mobile field inspection devices.
Once the data is in the system, a predictive analytics engine can provide excellent decision support. However, a number of maintenance organisations fall down because they focus on task completion vs issue resolution. By implementing action tracking, where open issues and actions taken are fed back to the reliability team, maintenance decisions continuously improve until the equipment returns to a normal operating state.
Finally, DINGO has learnt that visibility is critical to achieving the benefits of the Compound Effect. Two important features to look for in this area are unlimited users (or seats) and a performance dashboard. Software with limited licences tend to put the control, and the power, in the hands of a few individuals, which creates functional silos and can hinder decision-making. An open system creates transparency that helps ensure everyone has complete information and context when they are making those seemingly minor decisions.
Benefits of a close-looped process. An integrated, close-looped process that tracks issues through resolution will create a cycle of continuous improvement.
Performance dashboards provide two distinct advantages. First, they force the team to come up with clear goals that are well understood from the ground up. By operating with the end in mind, people tend to make favourable choices with a higher degree of consistency that lead to the desired state. Second, what gets measured, gets done. By providing clear goals and visibly measuring them, everyone starts taking accountability for keeping the organisation on course.
Another key insight is that the mines that are successfully raising the bar are not setting lofty, unachievable goals and mandating that their teams deliver them. These mines are setting smaller, more attainable targets and equipping their teams with the decision-support tools to help them maximise on the information available.
A large North American coal mining operation provides a strong testament to the true value of the Compound Effect. When DINGO engaged with this company over seven years ago, over 50% of its fleet was running in critical to warning condition. By bringing essential condition data into an Asset Health system and using this information to systematically improve maintenance decisions, these mines now consistently operate with 90% of their fleets in normal condition. This improvement translates into over US$20 million cost savings per year – calculated through the rebuild cost of breakdown avoidance and component life extension. This number dramatically increases when labour and productivity savings are added to the calculation.
In this environment, mines know that they cannot afford to sit tight and wait for a market upswing, but most of the obvious cost cuts have been made. It is time to look for the less obvious, but potentially more impactful ones. By equipping an organisation with the systems and tools to tap into the power of existing data to help everyone make better decisions – big and small – mines will not only survive, they will thrive.
TRAKKA performance dashboard. Performance dashboards provide clarity, increase accountability and help keep teams on track to achieve goals.
Edited by Harleigh Hobbs.This article first appeared in the January 2016 issue of World Coal.