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Staying in the Game – the Importance of Engineering-based Decisions


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Author P J Fairfield


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 what 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 value in 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.


Fairfield, P J, 2016. Staying in the game – the importance of engineering-based decisions, in Proceedings International Mine Management Conference, pp 67-74 (The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy: Melbourne).