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A Lean approach to digital transformation in mining

Implementing digitalization in mining is no easy task. Like any continual improvement process, it requires strategy, structure, and measurement. With a Lean Six Sigma approach, you can see what is working, what is failing, and how you can improve going forward. In this post, we apply the Lean DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control) improvement cycle as a framework to approach digitalization in mining.

Define: Find the value of digitalization

Define - Find the value of digitalization

Digitalization in mining is often driven by a belief that technology will improve productivity and efficiency. But digitalization can only add value if you know why you are doing it and what the ultimate value will be. If you don't attach specific business values to digitization, you’re just digitizing for the sake of it. With an unfocused approach, you risk spending a lot of money without improving the bottom line. In fact, there is even a risk that you might fall backwards and become less productive.


Successful digitalization is dependent on operations, not just technology. That’s why mining leadership must clearly articulate their vision for change and the value it will provide.

Key point: Prioritize business value. Don't just digitize for the sake of it. Focus on projects that address critical business needs.

Measure: Map your path to value

Measure - Map your path to progress
Disruption is always part of digitalization. Before diving into that disruption, the mine leadership team should create stability in the organization. To create stability, you must establish a baseline understanding of current mine performance. That can be done through a thorough assessment of the business culture, current processes, asset capabilities, and technical readiness. Then, you need to agree on how to measure the outcome of digitalization. With a metric-focused perspective, you must ask: What is the current baseline of each KPI in each phase of production, and what is required to actually move the dial?


To support each performance area, you can rewrite KPIs for each product in terms of productivity, efficiency, safety, and cost — or whatever metric you want to focus on. Those KPIs are what you use to accurately measure progress throughout your digitalization journey. With a Lean Six Sigma approach, you can see what is working, what is failing, and how you can improve going forward.

Key point: Don’t get trapped in vanity metrics. To unlock the full potential of digitization, focus on key performance areas that can be demonstrably improved.

Analyze: Identify areas for improvement

Analyze - Identify areas for improvment

With a comprehensive understanding of current operations, you can start identifying where digitalization will create the most value. Whether it's optimizing equipment utilization, increasing productivity, or enhancing safety protocols, the focus should be on areas with the highest potential for improvement.


A mine is a value chain made up of many inputs, from exploration to enablement through processing. When you start to define success metrics for a key performance area, you need to understand all the touchpoints in that environment. Say you want to implement automation, such as putting a new remote-control boom in the mine. You need to understand what influence that will have on the overall mining process, both downstream and upstream.


Once you understand the mine, then you can bring in the technology partner and say, “Okay, I want to implement this automation”. Then, the expert can train the operators, and you can start to implement changes at the operational level.

Key point: Start small and scale. Begin with a pilot project on a smaller scale to test the waters, gather data, and refine the approach before deploying across the entire operation.

Improve: Implement tactical planning

Improve - Implement tactical plans

To overcome the traditionally siloed nature of the mining business, operational strategy is crucial to success. So, it is essential for mining general managers to understand and champion the tactical layer of digital initiatives.


You’re going to do things differently from the way they have been the last 50 years. Digitalization means you move from post-event measurement to proactive planning and real-time monitoring.


With digitalization and automation, the machines in your mine are no longer just tools, they become data-collection points. That data is a commodity that must be mined, processed and turned into value for the business. That requires a significant shift in organizational culture, roles, and responsibilities. That’s why the tactical layer is essential for translating the overarching vision into actionable strategies that drive results.

Key point: Start mining data. Ensure consistent and reliable data collection, management, and analysis. Data is the fuel that drives informed decision-making and continuous improvement.

Control: Drive change management

Control - Drive change management

Effective change management is vital to successfully navigate digital transformation. Consider not only technical aspects but also the organizational landscape – culture, processes, and workforce skills.


Once new technologies are integrated, and new processes are implemented, it's critical to establish control mechanisms. How do you manage the anxiety that change creates for people? How do you keep people from falling back to old behaviors? To ensure the new processes and technologies deliver the desired results, leaders must consistently address resistance to change, foster open communication, and provide adequate support and training for employees.

Key point: Take a people-centric approach. Recognize that digitalization involves significant change for employees. Address concerns, provide training, and build a culture of continuous learning and adaptation.

Turning strategy into results

Of course, digitalization is about much more than adopting methodologies and checking boxes. Success requires a long-term perspective and putting in the work every day. It also helps to have experienced partners.


With solutions that drive the digitalization of mining combined with real-world expertise, Epiroc partners with mining companies to support successful digital transformations. Whether you need help scoping your project, identifying key areas for investment, integrating technologies or implementing change management, we’re here to support you onsite, in the control room, and in the boardroom.

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