Technology and the power of people the focus of Minnesota Conference keynote session

William Gleason

April 13, 2021

There is no question that recent technological advancements in communications, big data and artificial intelligence have changed the world, including the mining industry. In fact, it was technology that made it possible for attendees to meet, virtually, for the 2021 SME Minnesota Conference, which, like so many others, was sidelined from in-person meeting because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

On April 13, Stacey Koon, general manager and Lia Walker, manager-innovation, operational improvement with Freeport-McMoRan delivered the conference keynote address, “Artificial Intelligence (AI), Leveraging Artificial Intelligence to Unlock People Power,” via Zoom.

Koon and Walker discussed Freeport-McMoRan’s advanced analytics journey that began in 2008 when the company began to think about its assets collectively and not just as individual sites. The journey began with a company’s last “new” haul truck purchase in 2008 and progressed to the point that Freeport built a platform for advanced and recovery analytics.

According to Walker, the work began by creating standard measures that allowed the entire organization to speak the same way about its processes and technology. Around 2010, Remote Asset Monitoring was introduced, and in 2015 the company was ready to move into data-driven innovation, scaling technologies to all aspects of its business. During this time, Freeport was able to improve its machine monitoring to keep its equipment in operation while site analytics improved road and other site conditions. This work evolved through the stages of descriptive analytics, to predictive analytics to prescriptive analytics in which one is not just analyzing what has happened and what could happen but is looking at what should be done to influence the future.

In 2020, the company came up with a process called Freeport Edge that combines all the advancements in data analytics and pairs it with the company’s culture.

Enterprise-wide analytics and Agile transformation of six sites supported by cross-functional teams in the Americas led to gains in production of 15 to 20 percent across all sites, $1 billion to $2 billion CAPEX avoidance and more than 30 all-time records.

Freeport’s Americas’ Concentrator project was born from these efforts. It combined the use of advanced analytics and powerful new ways of working that supercharged people to deliver an entire new concentrator’sworth of additional capacity to the market — without spending billions of dollars in capital to build a new concentrator.

In the presentation (available to conference attendees through April 30), Walker covers a number of examples of data-driven innovation solutions including the use of advanced simulation techniques for haul trucks. Using that technique, Freeport developed a haul truck operator scorecard that was recognized with the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health Mine Safety and Health Technology Innovation award in 2020.

“We were having record days and weeks and had thousands of people working in these new agile ways and then COVID hit,” said Koon. “What we didn’t expect was that all of the things we had learned are what allowed us to pivot quickly. Within a few weeks, we had to turn to focus on immediate value. Copper prices had changed very dramatically and we were faced with a different environment. What this allowed us to do is pivot toward the projects that created the most value in that environment.”

The second part of the technology equation is the people who will be asked to put it use on the job site.

“We were in a place in which copper demand was expected to grow but we were also in a cost environment that was challenging. We were integrating smart and efficient ways of working to create a more sustainable and safer future and we knew that our people were going to be the key to that and that they were our most valuable asset,” said Koon. “We put this technology in their hands and that prescriptive information was allowing them to make quick decisions and boost productivity.”

Following the pivot in 2020, the company focused on:
? Annual strategic cadence.
? Scaling high-performance culture.
? Renewed focus on inclusion and diversity.
? People first.
? Scaling agile ways of working.

“We started by talking about the cool technologies and data-driven solutions, but that is only 50 percent of the work,” said Walker. “The other 50 percent of the work is the people. You have to get these right to be successful.”

The 2021 SME Minnesota Conference continues through April 15. For information or to register, click here


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