From good to great

By and |  January 6, 2014

At 3M Wausau’s Greystone Quarry in Wisconsin, the team there used Lean Six Sigma methodologies to greatly improve operations.

3M Wausau is the oldest continuously operating plant in 3M, worldwide. It was purchased from Wausau Abrasives in 1929, which means decades of experience in mining, crushing, screening and coloring technology. It also means years of doing things a certain way. “We started asking ourselves, ‘What will it take to be a world-class quarry?’ and the answer was to implement new technologies and change some of our work practices,” says Jay Lukkarila, 3M mining process engineer.

3M (Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing) has the word mining in its name because its origins are in mining corundum in northern Minnesota and using it to make sandpaper and other abrasives. The company deployed Lean Six Sigma in 2001, so it made sense to start the Wausau improvement process by chartering a team to analyze current practices and set a course for implementing change.

Making improvements
The DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control) methodology used in Six Sigma calls for gathering data and taking a very analytical approach to what changes are needed and the critical improvements needed to improve performance. “We wanted to improve productivity, reduce costs and put together a sustainable lifecycle plan for the quarry,” says Grant Miller, 3M Lean Six Sigma Black Belt.

“We knew we needed to get better to preserve the mine life. If you’ve got a large-scale, flat bench you may be able to get away with a simplified drill and blast program. But we have a number of difficult areas at the Greystone Quarry and our geology is complex. We found we needed improved software and drill technology to help optimize our blast design.”

Once the Lean Six Sigma team gathered the needed data and analyzed the results, they called in expert consultants to help devise smart improvement solutions. Consulting engineer, Bill Hissem of Sandvik Construction, a supplier of drilling equipment for the mining industry, had a long-standing relationship with Lukkarila and was called on to help explore new technology solutions. “To their credit, the Wausau team knew their practices had become institutionalized. They were successful, but now they had to look into the future and reevaluate,” Hissem says.

New drill, new possibilities
In the quarry was a Tamrock DK40S down-the-hole drill on a fixed-base platform that allows for five-degree movement adjustment. It worked well for large-scale, flat benches. But there are many smaller, more challenging benches on the site that require a different approach. “The degree of fragmentation directly impacts everything downstream,” Hissem explains. “So we came to the conclusion that the site could greatly benefit from 3D imaging technology and a new, more flexible drill for the shorter benches.”

Working with a local Sandvik dealer, they brought in a smaller drill with improved flexibility (the Di550) for working in tight, confined bench conditions. The newer technology is able to drill holes at various angles so explosives and orientations can be placed more optimally.

“This drill has better balance, better reach, and higher accuracy and precision,” Hissem says. “We took the worst possible bench condition in Wausau to test our concepts in terms of being able to stage and drill the shots needed, and exceeded all expectations.”

Productivity improvements
Today, 3M is able to work both drills simultaneously to greatly increase productivity while improving fragmentation. A drill monitoring system for both drills tracks the depth of the hole and the rate of penetration to clarify density changes and voids. Wausau also introduced a Drill Log to track all drilling activities and allow operators to make notes about the strata and what was drilled.

3D laser profiling technology helps the team devise a drilling plan for the blast before explosives are set. After drilling, they “boretrack” the front row of holes to measure drilling accuracy versus the design plan, and they generate a comprehensive technical services report. This unified approach results in more accurate and predictable results. “Drilling is a 40-hour event and blasting is a four-second event,” Hissem adds. “Neither happens during the attention point of a human, so we gain an extraordinary benefit from gathering data and metrics to evaluate what was done and plan for the next shot.”

3D imaging
Blake McMullin, technical services engineer for Orica Mining Services, agrees. He was brought in to do a preliminary 3D survey in the Wausau quarry and then put 3M together with a vendor who set 3M up with an imaging laser and blast-design software. This technology allows 3M to create complex blast-charging designs, analyze and optimize the designs and generate reports to help better manage blasting. It also allows the team to verify results against blast designs so they can improve their future blast design performance.

“They’ve made a giant leap forward in Wausau,” McMullin says. “We ran an introductory blasting application course for their blast crew and management to make sure everyone was up to the global standard. This and more training, along with their new laser and drill, are moving them quickly in the right direction.”

Miller agrees. “High precision GPS helps us determine if everything was done optimally in terms of angle and orientation,” he says. “Precision drilling and blasting makes all the difference in terms of productivity and preserving the mine life.”

The work is never done
Part of the Lean Six Sigma mentality is that the work is never done and there are always more opportunities for improvement. “We have made big improvements in loading, hauling and crushing operations in conjunction with drilling and blasting,” Miller says. “There is a communication plan in place and site workers currently hold daily meetings to get direction and report results.”

Wausau management wants to make sure people are always excited about what other improvements can be made. By setting new goals and expectations, they see the next best thing around the corner and are always working to achieve it. In short, they are moving from good to great. The goal is to be a truly world-class quarry, and they’re getting there fast.

Sandy Corbett has written and produced marketing and training communication tools for more than 20 years. Visit her website at

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