Fleet Management Systems - Magic wand, or tool?

Many mines implement FMS systems at great cost - and never really derive the full benefit. Why is this?

Willie Jacobs

7/24/20233 min read

Life is interesting in the dawning of the information age... there is no doubt that incredible wealth will be generated through us coming to terms with the true value of information and how one can leverage this in every aspect of business and life in general. The availability of data in every shape and form has made it possible to understand and optimize processes throughout all industries, and it continues to expand.

All the above being said, I do believe there is a risk in "leaving" things to be magically "fixed" by systems - in my humble opinion, many systems are purchased and employed with the assumption that they will override the broken or inefficient existing practices by their sheer power and optimization ability (which is what they are sold on) and that improvements will come streaming out the other side. And this is not just in FMS (fleet management systems), but I have seen the same in a wide range of systems, including ERP roll-outs.

What do I mean when I refer to "leaving" things to be fixed by systems? FMS, as with systems large and small, are tools, not magic wands... no matter what the sales executive will tell you. If the operation is not well managed and understood, an FMS may actually bring you very little benefit. It may end up, as in so many cases, as a very expensive data recording tool.

Eli Goldratt, in his audiobook "Beyond the Goal" (2005), discusses the reality that new management and integration systems (specifically referring to ERP's in this audio book) will require the un-doing of some established management practices and rules to enable the system to bring maximum benefit. He discusses what he calls the entrenched local optima rule - where the supervisor was always required to make sure that his/her team remain busy all the time to do as much as possible. Where an ERP is introduced that integrates across the organization, the system may actually indicate that the right thing a supervisor may have to do, in some cases, is nothing - when there is sufficient stock in the system. But unless the local optima rule is un-done, "busy teams" will remain the measure of effectiveness. No wonder the roll-out of ERP and other systems has spawned a massive implementation and "customization" industry - in countless cases, the expected benefit of implementing an ERP is diluted by actually re-designing it to accommodate the retention of "current".

Lets consider an under-trucked operation with multiple loading faces. Local optima (at shovel unit level) will push every shovel to have trucks queuing so that the shovel can load continuously at maximum productivity (maybe hourly dig rate). When there is a shortage of trucks, all the shovels will be pushing for priority... and you know what they say about the person who shouts the loudest... What the shovels won't necessarily have sight of are elements such as the truck congestion rates on ramps through to the dumps or tips, the truck fuel levels and potential queuing at the fuel stop, the impact of inspections, and maybe hundreds more factors impacting system (not just unit) performance. In this case, the focus should be on optimizing truck fleet (and again, NOT unit) performance...

Now, surely an FMS can assist and indeed, optimize while taking all these variables and scenarios into account? Yes, it has the potential to do so... but only if the operation gives it the freedom to do so. And this freedom rests on the release of the local optima rule (each shovel pushing to dig as much as fast as possible)... and this often requires not just a memo, but a culture change.

My point? A poorly managed fleet will remain lacking in performance with or without an FMS. In order for optimization driven systems to operate successfully, there has to be a clear understanding of the "as-is", the "to-be" and what is required to move from one to the other... this can be aided by an FMS, but will not magically appear because an order is signed for implementation.