Growth & innovation

Delivered $270 million in value through business improvement initiatives

Our approach

We are focused on continuous improvement in key areas of our business; including marketing, asset management, mining and processing.     
Collaboration is an important part of business improvement. By establishing common systems, solving common issues and sharing knowledge and experiences across sites and the wider Rio Tinto Group, our business is able to improve efficiency and create additional value.

Common practice working groups who focus on specific work areas (such as loading, haulage and dumping, or coal processing) identify and implement business wide initiatives.

2011 Activity

Early 2011 saw the start of a Rio Tinto Coal Australia-wide programme aimed at maximising our business potential.

At the core of this programme lies a strong focus on innovation and excellence, driving us to lead the way in industry best practice. This work involves increasing productivity, decreasing costs and embracing more efficient, smarter ways of working.

Over the past 12 months, the programme has recruited more than 140 new improvement focused roles across Queensland and New South Wales, dedicated to building on and identifying major value-adding projects across 10 workstream areas. These projects have the potential to protect a substantial amount of production each year.

The workstreams include support functions such as planning, mine operations improvement and mine monitoring and control; through to service functions such as offsite repairs, long term maintenance planning and fleet contract management.

To support the range of improvement activities, a standardised Improvement Framework has been introduced across our business. This framework provides a range of training and coaching programmes, and tools and templates to support teams in prioritising and managing work through to completion.

In 2011, we delivered more than $270 million in value through business improvement initiatives. In 2012, more value-adding improvement projects are set to roll out as we further embed the Improvement Framework into the way we work.

Case study: water cart project designed to deliver environmental and business benefits

Our Mount Thorley Warkworth operation in New South Wales  embarked on an improvement initiative to install three new water truck fill points, where the mine's fleet of six dust-suppressing water trucks refill before distributing water across the haul roads throughout the site.

Managing the impact of dust in a responsible and economical manner is important to the site, to minimise the impact of mining on neighbouring communities.

With growth planned within the mine footprint, the site's planning team simulated the route taken by water trucks. By better locating water fill points across the site, the team reduced each water truck cycle by at least 14 minutes and 6.5 kilometres, and increased the effective use of water carts by more than 30 per cent. This represents a potential increase in capacity of 36 effective operating hours per day across the water cart fleet, or an additional of one to two carts.

As well as the environmental benefits of improved dust management, this initiative also reduces the need to run extra trucks, lowering diesel consumption. It also minimises capital expenditure by removing the need to purchase a new cart, estimated at $3 million.

Case study: Clermont Project Deliverance

Project Deliverance was an improvement programme implemented at Clermont Mine in 2010 to address a significant shortcoming in meeting overburden removal targets. It brought people, processes and projects together and resulted in significant improvements and change to meet a common goal.

The programme incorporated well defined processes, systems and tools to cater for the measurement, monitoring and reporting of progress towards achieving the mine's targeted coal schedule. This required 1 million tonnes per week moving through the In Pit Crusher Conveyor (IPCC) and 1.1 million Mbcm overburden per week being hauled.

Project Deliverance, as a mechanism to achieve and sustain the coaling schedule, identified the need to focus on three principle areas:

  • The amount of material moved by the IPCC
  • The efficiency of the Load and Haul fleet
  • A rapid expansion of the fleet.

The project focused on health and safety improvements, the appointment of a Project Management Office, improvement of IPCC downtime and IPCC availability. In order to successfully achieve operational targets and address the principle areas, the following key metrics were set as essential deliverables:

  • The IPCC must move more than 1Mt per week and 1.1Mbcm via ex-pit haul within a year
  • Trucks must have greater than 60 per cent effective utilisation
  • The fleet needed to be expanded by five trucks and one excavator.

As a large number of projects needed to be undertaken to meet these deliverables, collaborative expertise, careful planning and coordination of systems and processes was essential for success. This included the commissioning of a Project Management Office for Project Deliverance. The projects were scoped and led by key operational Superintendents, with project support enlisted as required. People were sourced from across almost all areas of the Clermont Region business to make up the project teams.

Project Deliverance presented an opportunity to increase the consistency of operator and crew performance through the introduction of visible and relevant key metrics displayed on a single scorecard. This allowed operators to compare their performance against relevant benchmarks to reduce performance variability and drive personal improvement.

The programme was vital to the success of Clermont Mine not only because of the programme's immediate contribution to the operation's performance capacity, but also through guidance towards how to manage major improvement challenges. In this way, the programme provides real "deliverance" from repeating the same actions and experiencing difficult times again in the future.

The implications for Rio Tinto as a wider group are that there is a proven model available for replication across any site to enable underperforming operations to meet target levels of performance. The focus on reviewing processes and communications between all work groups to align projects towards a common goal was critical to effecting change.

By September 2011 the IPCC had demonstrated meeting production targets of one million tonnes for a sustained period of time, a remarkable achievement for the Clermont Mine team. The benefit to the business continues under the direction of the appropriate project leaders and projects will be governed under the Mutual Recognition Unit (MRU) project plan framework.

A new Business Improvement process framework has also been rolled out across Rio Tinto Coal Australia to complement the learnings from Project Deliverance.