Going underground

I had been in Australia for two days having left my family in the UK to assume my role as the Managing Director of LMR Pty Ltd. I was not expecting to find myself 800 metres underground talking about boggers and crushers! My experience at Toyota has helped me enormously when facing complex organisational issues and I imagined applying Lean techniques to mining would be no different but a mine is still a mine. The only Toyotas in sight are the ones shuttling people to and fro on site.

I did wonder how I would collect the data for the Value Stream Map on the trip to the mine. How would I apply capacity, utilisation and other metrics to the operation, but more significantly, how was I going to handle being underground.

The day we arrived on site, however, my nervous disposition disappeared completely when I saw the professionalism of the clients approach to safety and their briefing on procedures given to visitors. After ten minutes I was fully relaxed and ready to go. Mark and Phil had done their best to wind me up for a couple of days. They claimed there was an express lift that took us down to the bottom of the mine and that the drop was so fast that I must hold on to my helmet and gear because of the negative g. You can imagine my relief when we climbed into a Toyota Land Cruiser for a sedate trip down to the bottom. The Value Stream Map went well. We soon found that the Lean diagnostic tools applied themselves just as well as in a discrete manufacturer and were able to highlight opportunities for discussion with the client. My lasting impression of the time underground was the meeting with two geologists. We had been working on cycle times of the boggers shifting ore when they arrived and could see we were first timers underground. They asked us whether we had experienced how dark it was in the mine when the lights were out, explaining that there is dark, and there is really dark. We all switched off the lamps and were engulfed in darkeness that really was dark! With the lights back on we spent another ten minutes talking through their roles. They were an enthusiastic, dedicated pair and proud of their contribution to the company.

When it was time to surface after the first day I was relieved to be above ground. It is not a natural environment, but I marvelled at the engineering feat that allows people to work safely on a daily basis so far underground. As I said, the Value Stream Map was a success and well received. Our work continues with the mining organisation and Lean is making a difference. I just wonder where LMR will send me next and whether I will need a mining helmet or a wetsuit.