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Innovations in underground hard rock operator efficiency – through simulation-based training technologies and processes


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Author G K Karadjian, J A de la Torre and I R Cerna


The La Colorada underground mine in Zacatecas, Mexico is a mechanised cut-and-fill silver mine with a capacity of 1250 t/d. The project focused on training the mine’s experienced operators for a fleet of underground trucks, through the use of a training simulator. The project was run by the simulator vendor, in collaboration with the mine’s maintenance, safety and production management.

A training program was created targeting maintenance reduction, productivity improvement and increased utilisation and availability. Operators were first acclimatised to the simulated environment, had their current performance baselined, then received targeted coaching, with the process repeated to reinforce learnings. Concurrently, production, maintenance, and safety data was being measured in the real world to measure skills transfer. Due to limited telemetry available from the equipment, many of the data points for the project were sourced from maintenance logs, and accounting data.

Equipment failure data measured from unscheduled maintenance records showed an overall 6.5 per cent decrease in unscheduled maintenance following the implementation of the training program. This rate of reduction correlated with the significant decrease in equipment abuse behaviours measured within the simulator during this period. Additionally, overall maintenance activities showed a significant decrease, confirming that reductions in unscheduled maintenance were not achieved through increases in scheduled maintenance. The reduction in equipment damage also increased availability and utilisation of the truck fleet. This highlights that the maintenance improvements not only reduced maintenance costs, but made the fleet available for more production. Moreover, the variability of the operator performance was decreased by 86 per cent, and the difference between their best operator and the worst is less than the baseline; this showed a gap where machine abuse, productivity and cost are impacted directly.

This project illustrated that even small-scale mining operations with an experienced operator workforce can achieve positive return on investment (ROI) from simulation-based training. It also highlights that in the absence of equipment telemetry, alternative data sources such as accounting data and maintenance logs can be used to quantify ROI from training.


Karadjian, G K, de la Torre, J A and Cerna, I R, 2017. Innovations in underground hard rock operator efficiency – through simulation-based training technologies and processes, in Proceedings 13th AusIMM Underground Operators’ Conference 2017, pp 53–58 (The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy: Melbourne).