Streamlining production, increasing productivity, and cutting costs are important goals for any business, even mines and gas producers, according to Dr. Andrew P. Schissler, former Penn State faculty member and presently Principal Mining Engineer, Tetra Tech.
While improving mining processes is important in Pennsylvania, a state that ranks fourth in the nation in coal production with 59 million tons mined annually, it is also essential to other states and countries where mining is part of the economy. It has been estimated that mining indirectly and directly contributes $1.8 trillion to the $12-13 trillion U.S. economy and employs nearly 500,000 individuals who extract minerals and metals such as coal, diamonds, gold, iron ore, and lead, as well as aggregates.
Schissler helps the mining industry use business process improvement (BPI) methods to analyze continually occurring processes and make changes that lead to permanent improvements. BPI methods involve employees in finding those solutions, “because the miners extracting the product are the best ones to improve it,” said Schissler, who has 38 years in the industry and a Ph.D. in Mining and Earth Systems Engineering.
In 2004, Dr. Schissler and Peter Fordham, Principal at Norbridge, Inc., organized Penn State's first Industry Summit on Mining Performance to spread the word about BPI's benefits. The conference, since 2004 has been held five times at mining centers across world (Pittsburgh, Denver, Tucson, Toronto, Rapid City, S.D.) which has drawn 750 mining executives and employees, industry suppliers and customers. Schissler and Fordham along with a 22-person Industry Steering Committee are organizing the sixth summit to be held May 14-16, 2013, in Pittsburgh.
Most of the major mining companies worldwide, and suppliers such as Caterpillar Inc. and P&H Inc., have used BPI programs such as Six Sigma to improve problem solving, reduce costs, and improve productivity according to the mining executive keynote speakers at the previous five summits. Summit VI tentatively has two top-five worldwide mining company CEOs offering the keynote addresses.
Fordham, the co-director of the Summit series said, “Twelve years ago, most mining companies were not utilizing process improvement techniques and did not recognize the benefits,” adding that now many companies have active programs and are generating significant gains.
The sixth summit will focus its pre-conference activities on field trips to mines in the southwest Pennsylvania area, the home of some of the world’s safest, lowest cost, and most productive coal mines, and practical training workshops on process improvement in mining. It will also showcase a roundtable discussion between mining companies and the four sponsoring academic intuitions of the conference (Penn State, University of Arizona, University of West Virginia, and the University of Pittsburgh), where leaders advance tools and initiatives in the process improvement area.
The summit will have 18 papers presented from mines that span the breadth of minerals including metals, precious metals, industrial minerals and fuel. The papers, as in the past, will focus on how mining companies increase safety, productivity, and cost control. The organizers would also like to include additional papers specific to shale gas operations, particularly from companies working around Pittsburgh.