A unique asset
Since becoming President and CEO of Canadian miner North American Palladium in 2015, Jim Gallagher has led significant improvements in operating performance at the company’s Lac des Iles mine in northern Ontario. He shares his thoughts with Solid Ground on using new methodology and technology to reduce operating costs while increasing the bottom line.
What is especially challenging about running North American Palladium?
North American Palladium (NAP) is a unique asset, as most palladium is produced as a by-product of other production. We are the only pure palladium producer in the world.
Our Lac des Iles mine has a very large vertical orebody that’s quite amenable to mass mining approaches. The challenging part is that we are not a high-grade ore body – but we are a big bulk mine and we’ve been able to increase our mineable reserve by getting the production rate up and getting operating costs down, and technology has played a big part in that.
What are you doing differently?
NAP has gone through a fundamental mining method change. We’re now using a version of sub-level cave mining and we’ve converted a blasthole mine to a sub-level cave, which has only been done a few times around the world.
How has technology helped influence productivity?
We’re using real-time data to look at trends and areas for improvement, and we’ve also recently introduced real-time management and automation technology. With automation we can reach up to 21 operating hours per day, which is a 15 to 20 percent improvement above current manual operation. That contributes to a significant impact to unit cost and to the bottom line.
How has Sandvik helped with your change in operational philosophy?
We went looking for a partner in technology a couple of years ago as we were starting to upgrade our fleet. It became obvious that we didn’t just want to buy more iron. Our new equipment needed to include the technology that would support our longer-term business strategy. We were impressed with where Sandvik was in their automation approach and were very interested in battery-electric technology and in autonomous ramp haulage. That’s a huge area for us. It was important that we work closely and collaboratively to get there as fast as possible. There is a lot of excitement on both sides, with Sandvik and with the NAP team at Lac des Iles mine, and that is a critical part – the level of enthusiasm that the people bring to the implementation of new technology.