EDITOR: | June 20th, 2017 | 2 Comments

In Search of Excellence – Introduction – Part 2

| June 20, 2017 | 2 Comments

Let’s continue. Last “In Search of Excellence” article (Part 1) we discussed culture as:

“The way things are done around here. It’s who we are, it’s what we believe, it’s what we stand for and at the end of the day, it’s the way we operate.”

I presented you with the first of four situations where you may see excellence as a result of culture in play and what it may look like. And I asked you to think of remaining three situations of where you might see excellence. Well let’s look at those situations.

Situation Two: Feasibility Study Developer, new technology, new industry to the area, new risks, maybe competing with the Chinese. What would excellence look like? Why? Because this is what a Feasibility Study Developer must establish as it’s culture from day one if it wants to have a culture of excellence going forward.

There are many ways to demonstrate excellence at the Feasibility Study phase. But there are problems afoot! Costs! Both for the Study and the eventual CAPEX. How do you demonstrate that excellence to a better goal is advantageous rather than a fit-for-purpose design? How do you get approval for excellence in safety management rather than a system that just meets all regulatory standards? How you perhaps delay the Study whilst visiting similar projects to identify best environmental practices? As a Project Manager, you have to set the rules for these questions. But the rules have to comply to the values of the business. So you have to ask the questions. Each and every one of them. So what would you be asking for?

For a start – Organisational Structure – as a minimum, the senior staff should be already on board who have responsibility to build, commission and operate the eventual project. Their understanding of, their acceptance of, and their commitment to, the excellence demands approved by the Board and that are fully costed in the Feasibility Study budget, is mandatory.

As an example, I want to expand the excellence in design approach to enable you to see those things that are perhaps not present in a fit-for-purpose approach. The fictional Project is a Rare Earths Project looking to produce separated individual rare earths as a long term goal. It is planned to construct the project such that for the first 5 years only intermediate rare earth products are produced for sale to others, so a heavy REE oxide concentrate, a Nd/Pr oxide concentrate, and perhaps a Ce/La oxalate concentrate. This excellence in design question is about the solvent extraction circuit and the issue is fire protection. Now, for the un-initiated, fire and solvent extraction plants do not go well together. There has been a number of disasters where small fires rapidly escalate and the entire solvent extraction plant (at least) is totally destroyed. Such a catastrophe in a new project would be the financial end. It must be avoided. But what level of fire prevention, detection, and response would you design in? Now I know there are standards for these designs. And you as a member of the public should appreciate (and feel safe) that these fire safety standards cover all major chemical facilities. But I have given you a few clues to demonstrate a commitment to excellence in the design of the separation plant. I mentioned that at a later stage the plant is to be modified/expanded/re-configured to produce individual rare earth oxides. Hello! Wake Up! It’s a Culture of Excellence Time! How is the current design going to change according to the year 5 installation? And critically, how is the fire design going to manage that? As a hint, you don’t want people with oxy-acetylene torches cutting into anything in your current solvent extraction plant (or anything else to do with the solvents) to tie in the new facility. As a further hint, you don’t want any un-authorised access either, even accidental. Everything to do with the year 5 project expansion has to be thought of and designed into the year 1 design risk assessment and build.

It is this excellence in design that your people will see, that the regulator will be involved in and fully appreciate, that is there for all stakeholders to be involved in, that lays the strongest of foundations for the building of your culture of excellence. Believe me it’s hard work! And it may seem a little over the top! But it is worth it. The long term savings in a proactive approach to design can be considerable.

There are as many opportunities for excellence in design at the Feasibility Study level as there are chapters and sectors in the Feasibility Study index. This is the opportunity not just to take risk out of a project, but to engrain excellence. For those of you who are directly involved or just interested in reading further, you may wish to start your education process by looking at the Safety Case approach – A demonstration of the Safety of an installation, in design, in construction, in operations, and in management.

Safety Case Guidance Note – WorkSafe Victoria
Safety Case Guidance Notes – NOPESEMA

Looks like I’ve reached my word limit and again will need to continue with Situation Three and Four later. If you want to think about them, they are repeated below.

Situation Three: Commissioning Manager, new technology, new industry, inexperienced operating crews, nervous regulator. You guessed it! What would excellence look like? Guessed it again! Why? Because this impacts on your developing culture.

Situation Four: Chairman. How do you progress from Junior Explorer through Feasibility, through commissioning and operations, trying to ensure that a culture of excellence is being developed and maintained?

Thought to Remember. “Think not of Excellence as an outcome. Think of Excellence as a process.”

Steve Mackowski


Mr Mackowski is a qualified engineer in mineral processing with over 30 years technical and operational experience in rare earths, uranium, industrial minerals, nickel, kaolin ... <Read more about Steve Mackowski>

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