What about your haul roads and quarry floor? Are they smooth and level for comfortable riding? Imagine yourself bouncing around the cabin of one of your haul trucks for 8 to 10 hours a day. At the end of the day, it’s not so much the stress of the job that has taken its toll on you; it’s the physical beating of riding on your haul roads or quarry floor. Take some time and invest in smoothing out those surfaces. Establish a practice for keeping them smooth, well drained, and comfortable. Driving the haul trucks at slower speeds because of poor conditions is another form of waste that lean scrutinizes.
You say, “I’ve never noticed any black belt on my conveyor.” No, you probably have not, and the reason why you have not is that your whole production system is being slowed to the biggest bottleneck within your production system. Take the bottleneck out with the help of lean tools and expertise; watch your production rates climb. Lean takes waste out of your value stream and improves product flow.
If you are considering how waste equates to financial returns, simply consider the savings on labor and equipment expense. If you can get the same production (using lean philosophies and management techniques) but with two fewer hours of production daily – that’s 12 hours weekly of saved equipment/fuel expense and 12 hours of labor expense for the same (or improved) production. Repeat after me, “Ka-ching!!”
Let us suppose you won the lottery and are now the proud owner of an offshore power boat. You have a racing crew and the boat/crew manager says that with the money you have invested, you should have engines that, combined, generate at least 1,250 horsepower, which enables sustained speeds in excess of 125 miles per hour. You are told this is what you should be getting from the capital you have spent on your rather expensive hobby. Because you have a good business head on your shoulders, you ask the obvious question, “Are we getting 1,250 and 125?” That same sort of question applies in the aggregate business. Most quarries have a secondary plant which further crushes the rock into a product more suitable for its customers. Within the principles of lean, the act of measuring is critically important. To understand the impact of our decisions, we must understand our “baseline” and to understand our baseline performance, we must measure it. An old axiom goes, “if you don’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” Measuring can be accomplished in a number of ways, but the most common within a quarry environment is belt scales.
So, in consideration of our power boat example above, your desire would be to see the radar-measured speed your boat is generating rather than listen to the experienced manager say what speed he thinks you are getting – data over intuition. It’s with this data mindset that this author first realized the lack of measurement within a quarry, specifically at the secondary plant. There was a belt scale measuring the tons per hour leading into the tower, but despite there being several conveyors protruding from the tower, only one had a belt scale on it. I asked the operator, “How do you know what’s on the other belts?” The answer wasn’t specific or impressive. The lesson learned was to put belt scales on final product conveyors or where measurement is necessary. This act had indirect benefits as well – it helped in measuring and managing inventory.
Now that we can measure, we can get back to asking ourselves some questions about the plant. If a manufacturer of a cone says that it can produce 450 tons per hour, are you getting 450 tons per hour? How do you know if you don’t measure downstream within your production system? Are your screens efficient or are they “blinding over?” Once again, measuring can indicate if you’re making the product you most need or if you’re sending good rock into the base stone pile.
Does your operator have to intentionally slow down the plant because some conveyor belt is undersized? Are you assisting your operator and their running of the plant by utilizing technology (cameras, sensors, amp gauges, etc.)? If the answer is “no,” then you may be costing yourself more money than you know in unnecessary labor hours, unnecessary equipment hours, unnecessary electricity, and suboptimal product flow. A holistic examination of your plant using industry software and lean principles may be warranted to achieve your full return on investment. Get your 1,250 and 125!
Investment or optimization?
Within the industry, a tug-o-war exists over whether to invest in bigger equipment or rolling stock to get productivity improvements or emphasize best practice techniques together with prudent on-the-ground management. While there are advantages to capital investment, this author proposes optimizing what you have before going to the bank with hat in hand to finance plant or rolling stock improvements. It’s important to note that within the lean methodology, the need for investment (and employee training) may become quite apparent, and you should follow common return on investment calculations to help in the decision process. But if you’re not sure what your plant and equipment can actually produce, by all means try these techniques first. In the vast majority of cases, you will be pleasantly surprised. The good news is, unlike the infomercials often seen on television, these lean techniques put money in your pockets, not charge you in equal month-to-month installments.
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