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What does an Expert System have to do with Organisational Culture?

Mining

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Project Data

Expert systems are widely applied in various mineral processing operations to optimize key indicators such as productivity, quality and safety. To do this, they evaluate plant data in real time and take into account the best operational practices to make decisions in processes such as crushing, grinding and flotation.

Unlike other optimization articles I have written, my intention here is not to highlight the technical aspects of a conventional Advanced Control project. However, I want to raise a factor that I consider essential for the success of systems like this: the people and the culture of the organization. To illustrate my point of view, I bring as an example the revitalization of one of the Specialist Systems at Nexa Resources (Vazante unit), project in which I participated.

It's amazing how analogies can come from sources as unlikely as childhood references: when you talk about delivering a project like this, what comes to mind is the "Insect Life" animation, released by Disney in 1998. In the film, a group of ants give away part of their food to the locusts so as not to be attacked by them, which leads them to insistently repeat the phrase: "they come, eat and go away". The grasshoppers are only interested in the ants' food and they, in getting rid of the grasshoppers - there is no complicity between the "parties", they both just want the delivery of what has been "agreed".

During the installation of an Expert System, many customers (mining engineers and operators) sometimes assume the role of "ants" in relation to the integrating companies ("the integrators come, deliver the project and go away"), sometimes the role of "locusts" ("where is my Expert System ready with the millions of reais in financial results?").

Regardless of which character best applies in each case, the analogy exposes how weak the interaction between clients and integrators is throughout the project delivery. Often, this relationship is only closer at the stage of understanding the problem, when the integrator must interview "expert" clients in the unit that will be optimized. At this point, reference engineers and operators inform which control actions should be taken in the process in face of specific scenarios. After this phase, it is up to the integrator to implement and commission the project without an effective dialogue with the customer until the final delivery of the system.

At Nexa's unit in Vazante, a change in this relationship was proposed: one of the operation leaders was invited to participate directly in the delivery of the Specialist System, proposing changes in the control strategy and collecting opinions from the other operators during the system commissioning. Thus, in addition to the invited leader and the integrating company, the entire team of operators saw themselves as co-responsible for the successful delivery.

This willingness to experience a closer relationship is directly linked to one aspect of Nexa's organizational culture: the intention to innovate, expressed in what they call the "Nexa Way". In general terms, the "Nexa Way" is based on three pillars: intelligence, courage and enthusiasm. They may seem like just three beautiful words, but they are taken very seriously in the company's daily routine. It was not uncommon to find employees taking on changes in the plant and saying: "This is the Nexa Way! For those who, like me, see the company "from outside", the "Nexa Way" can be translated as: "we can do it differently and we see value in it".

No alt text provided for this image

This willingness to experience a closer relationship is directly linked to one aspect of Nexa's organizational culture: the intention to innovate, expressed in what they call the "Nexa Way

Any implementation of an Expert System involves changes in the way operators and engineers operate the plant. Therefore, the results from this technology are noticeable and lasting not only because of control automation and standardization, but because customers (especially operators) see value in the changes proposed by Advanced Control. And it was visible how the so-called "Nexa Way" was in tune with these changes.

Context and Challenges

It is no use for clients and integrators to see themselves as "locusts" and "ants": the interaction between these parties requires mutual trust. Both must see themselves as co-responsible for the delivery, taking for themselves the changes and results that the Expert System provides.

Solutions Used and Equipment Provided

At Nexa's unit in Vazante, a change in this relationship was proposed: one of the operation leaders was invited to participate directly in the delivery of the Specialist System, proposing changes in the control strategy and collecting opinions from the other operators during the system commissioning. Thus, in addition to the invited leader and the integrating company, the entire team of operators saw themselves as co-responsible for the successful delivery.

This willingness to experience a closer relationship is directly linked to one aspect of Nexa's organizational culture: the intention to innovate, expressed in what they call the "Nexa Way". In general terms, the "Nexa Way" is based on three pillars: intelligence, courage and enthusiasm. They may seem like just three beautiful words, but they are taken very seriously in the company's daily routine. It was not uncommon to find employees taking on changes in the plant and saying: "This is the Nexa Way! For those who, like me, see the company "from outside", the "Nexa Way" can be translated as: "we can do it differently and we see value in it".

Experts

Process Control Engineer

Arthur Parreira

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What does an Expert System have to do with Organisational Culture?

March 20, 2020

published by

Arthur Parreira

Process Control Engineer

Expert systems are widely applied in various mineral processing operations to optimize key indicators such as productivity, quality and safety. To do this, they evaluate plant data in real time and take into account the best operational practices to make decisions in processes such as crushing, grinding and flotation.

Unlike other optimization articles I have written, my intention here is not to highlight the technical aspects of a conventional Advanced Control project. However, I want to raise a factor that I consider essential for the success of systems like this: the people and the culture of the organization. To illustrate my point of view, I bring as an example the revitalization of one of the Specialist Systems at Nexa Resources (Vazante unit), project in which I participated.

It's amazing how analogies can come from sources as unlikely as childhood references: when you talk about delivering a project like this, what comes to mind is the "Insect Life" animation, released by Disney in 1998. In the film, a group of ants give away part of their food to the locusts so as not to be attacked by them, which leads them to insistently repeat the phrase: "they come, eat and go away". The grasshoppers are only interested in the ants' food and they, in getting rid of the grasshoppers - there is no complicity between the "parties", they both just want the delivery of what has been "agreed".

During the installation of an Expert System, many customers (mining engineers and operators) sometimes assume the role of "ants" in relation to the integrating companies ("the integrators come, deliver the project and go away"), sometimes the role of "locusts" ("where is my Expert System ready with the millions of reais in financial results?").

Regardless of which character best applies in each case, the analogy exposes how weak the interaction between clients and integrators is throughout the project delivery. Often, this relationship is only closer at the stage of understanding the problem, when the integrator must interview "expert" clients in the unit that will be optimized. At this point, reference engineers and operators inform which control actions should be taken in the process in face of specific scenarios. After this phase, it is up to the integrator to implement and commission the project without an effective dialogue with the customer until the final delivery of the system.

At Nexa's unit in Vazante, a change in this relationship was proposed: one of the operation leaders was invited to participate directly in the delivery of the Specialist System, proposing changes in the control strategy and collecting opinions from the other operators during the system commissioning. Thus, in addition to the invited leader and the integrating company, the entire team of operators saw themselves as co-responsible for the successful delivery.

This willingness to experience a closer relationship is directly linked to one aspect of Nexa's organizational culture: the intention to innovate, expressed in what they call the "Nexa Way". In general terms, the "Nexa Way" is based on three pillars: intelligence, courage and enthusiasm. They may seem like just three beautiful words, but they are taken very seriously in the company's daily routine. It was not uncommon to find employees taking on changes in the plant and saying: "This is the Nexa Way! For those who, like me, see the company "from outside", the "Nexa Way" can be translated as: "we can do it differently and we see value in it".

No alt text provided for this image

This willingness to experience a closer relationship is directly linked to one aspect of Nexa's organizational culture: the intention to innovate, expressed in what they call the "Nexa Way

Any implementation of an Expert System involves changes in the way operators and engineers operate the plant. Therefore, the results from this technology are noticeable and lasting not only because of control automation and standardization, but because customers (especially operators) see value in the changes proposed by Advanced Control. And it was visible how the so-called "Nexa Way" was in tune with these changes.

It is no use for clients and integrators to see themselves as "locusts" and "ants": the interaction between these parties requires mutual trust. Both must see themselves as co-responsible for the delivery, taking for themselves the changes and results that the Expert System provides.

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