Staying in the game – the importance of engineering based decisions

Peter Fairfield
Wednesday, August 31, 2016
First presented: 
AusIMM International Mine Management conference, 22 August 2016

This paper reflects on the author’s experience working in site based technical and management roles over a 29 year period, and the past 12 years in internal and external consulting roles. It discusses the author’s experiences and observations of operations management and the significant value of the technical specialist’s role in providing management with information on which to base tactical decisions which may or may not be part of a defined strategy.

The landscape of mine management changes with the cyclical nature of commodity prices driving operating and capital prudence, as operations change their focus from expansion and growth to staying in the game. The role of the mine manager and management team in navigating through these changing times, attitudes and stages of the project life can influence the success or otherwise of many projects.

Technical knowledge is one of the key drivers in realising or destroying the value of a project or operation. As managers focus on people management, management systems and processes, recognising and understanding of the value in the underlying technical knowledge and getting back to the fundamentals/ basics can be overlooked. In reaction to the fluctuating commodity cycle, managers implement changes through optimisation, fast tracking or parallel streaming, expansion projects and changes in the application of technology. These responses occur against the background of changes in the appetite for risk, acceptance of project uncertainty and changes in personnel which result in a loss of knowledge and experience – often at critical times.
This paper shares the author’s experiences and lessons learnt in dealing with and observing these issues. The author questions whether we really understand our projects and are valuing the most important asset, our people, and in particular, the technical specialist and their experience and knowledge.

Feature Author

Peter Fairfield

Peter Fairfield is a mining engineer with over 27 years’ experience.  He has strong technical and operational background, having held on-site roles and head office roles for 19 years in underground metal mines throughout Australia and the United States, General Manager Technical Services, Manager Mining and Senior Mining Engineer.  Peter’s experience includes providing technical and operational service and support, operations management, study management and preparing independent technical reports.  Peter has added evaluation and valuation skills during has eight years in consulting and has been a member of and led SRK multi-disciplinary review teams on a number of Australian and international mining projects across the base and precious metals commodities.

Principal Consultant (Mining and Project Evaluation)
BEng (Mining), FAusIMM CP(Mining)
SRK Melbourne
SRK Latin America