What needs improvement? When we look at what part of a process or part needs to be ‘improved,’ doing so builds upon the work of ancient empires, Newton, Watt, Nikola Tesla, Hertz, the Wright Brothers, Turing, and the people who invented the Nespresso machine.

There are an overwhelming amount of improvements that can be made to mining through automation – even existing automated systems. Increasing efficiency and safety is the overarching aim of many of Cortex’s projects. In doing so, we investigate smaller issues: which parts are failing most frequently, the order of processes, the placement of a control switch. While the majority of our mining automation is retrofitting existing plant and equipment, sometimes redesigning the process from the ground up is required.

Right back to the wheel, an invention only works when it’s used correctly.

These small changes fit under the banner of kaizen, the Japanese management concept of tiny improvements adding up to massive advancements over time and with scale. One of the guiding principles in the Toyota’s factories, kaizen requires input from the factory floor as well as leadership teams.

In designing a new mining automation process, we call on mechanically-minded workers from the field to give input on new, more effective ways of carrying out the tasks. These workers are future consultants, troubleshooters and off-site operators. Knowing the nuts and bolts of an operation ensures we’re solving the right problem (and the problem right). As an example, you’re likely familiar with the Empty Box problem.

“A toothpaste company’s automated factory regularly shipped toothpaste boxes empty – without the tube inside. So, they brought in a team of engineers to devise a solution. They spent months (and thousands of dollars) on a new, precision digital scale system which would detect empty boxes, then ring a bell to stop the line. A worker would remove the empty box and start the line again. It worked brilliantly.

“But after reading reports that the new scales were picking up zero empty boxes, the CEO came to inspect the work. There he noticed a $20 pedestal fan a few metres ahead of the scales, blowing any empty boxes off the belt and into a bin. The CEO asked a line worker who put it there. An employee pointed to the kid from maintenance, who said he was ‘sick of walking to the scales every time the bell rang’.”

Process improvement should ideally involve big-picture thinking and input from people at all levels of the business. Understanding a problem from multiple levels helps create a more fitting and elegant solution, which is at the core of Cortex Intelligence Systems.