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Mining depends on nimble logistics

NNBW Staff
editor@nnbw.biz
Lime is delivered to Newmont's Twin Creek Mine.
Rick Wilking/Newmont Min |

It truly takes a village to make a large gold mining operation run smoothly, and much of the burden of ensuring Newmont North America’s many mines scattered across northeastern Nevada are well stocked with consumables, parts and emergency equipment falls on its logistics team.

Newmont operates a central warehouse in Elko to keep miners stocked with respirators and other consumable goods, and it has drivers on standby who are instantly dispatched at any hour to make sure broken machinery is fixed with proper parts when motors, belts or other equipment fails. After all, mine sites don’t measure downtime in days or hours but rather in minutes.

The centralized warehouse also allows Newmont to purchase goods in bulk and better control the flow of inventory and re-allocation back out to various sites, says Rhonda Zuraff, director of communications and external relations for Newmont North America.

“Timeliness is a big factor in why we have that facility,” she says. “From a cost perspective, we are to negotiate pricing, and there’s also the cost in time. We don’t have to order direct from a distributor, so we have more time to keep our equipment running if it is a preventative thing, for example.”

“In the end, it really falls back to us as a logistics department to see where we pull from. Do we cut back on delivery to one site and divert to another site?”Kelly MalanNewmont Nevada

Newmont also relies on “hot shot” teams that remain on standby in case crucial parts or pieces of equipment need to be delivered to keep machinery running. The miner’s vendor partners have couriers who will pick up and deliver parts 24/7, 365 days a year.

But warehousing is a relatively minor part of Newmont’s logistics focus in the state. The logistics team has to ensure each mine has enough raw materials to keep mining and processing ore — and each mine site’s requirements constantly change, requiring careful juggling of materials and transportation.

Kelly Malan, logistics supervisor for Newmont Nevada, says one day a mine might burn through 100 tons of lime, then spike the next day to three times that amount. The difference is four or five additional transport trucks headed to one site.

“You have to change the amount of product you use based on the chemistry of the ore you are processing, and there is just no way to forecast that,” Malan says. “There’s a huge emphasis on our team to get it right.

“In the end, it really falls back to us as a logistics department to see where we pull from. Do we cut back on delivery to one site and divert to another site?”

Fortunately, Malan notes, when it comes to bulk goods some Newmont mine sites have much larger storage tanks and silos than others and can run a bit lower if bulk commodities need to be rerouted on the fly to a different location.

It’s also invested heavily in a remote monitoring system that measures on-site materials to ensure each mine is properly stocked and there are never any shortages of critical goods or raw materials.

“We try to take a lot of proactive approaches, especially when it comes to chemicals and bulk goods,” Malan says. “We have remote monitoring, so not only does the logistics department have access to those levels, but our carriers and vendors do to so we never should run out — everything is monitored on a hourly and daily basis. We put a lot of work into our telemetry system to eliminate run outs.”

One of the biggest challenges of mine-site logistics is ensuring every vendor or supplier and their employees adhere to rigorous mining safety standards. Every driver entering a mine site, regardless if they are transporting lime, sulfuric acid, cyanide or copy paper must receive proper training from the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

Newmont also provides additional safety training and contractor on-boarding, notes Rhonda Zuraff, director of communications and external relations for Newmont North America. During the on-boarding process, Newmont executives sit down with carriers and walk them through mining processes and procedures and company expectations.

“They are held to the same standards as our own employees,” Zuraff says.

Labor, as with over-the-road long-haul truckers and other areas of the logistics and transportation, remains challenging — especially with a graying workforce of drivers.

The median age of drivers holding a commercial driver’s license is 55, Malan says, and many others are hitting retirement age. Their replacements are hard to come by. Although most long-haul drivers aren’t employed directly by Newmont, driver shortages are especially pressing for a company that can’t afford to lose even a second of productivity waiting for a delivery.

Many of the transportation companies that do business with Newmont have tapped slowing industries, such as coal mining or oil drilling, for workers, Zuraff says. Carriers also have sponsorship programs with on-the-job training.

Northeastern Nevada’s rugged weather and relative isolation also can wreak havoc on transportation and delivery schedules. A recent shutdown on Interstate 80 between Wells and Salt Lake City delayed product coming from Utah, while weeks of below-freezing weather (and the subsequent thawing) can hamper vehicular traffic at mine sites.

“When we have storms where all the highways are frozen, the weather definitely becomes an issue,” Malan says. “And at a lot of our sites, there is quite an incline or decline to get into and trucks just can’t get in and out.”