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Reducing Dryer Production Loss in Nickle Processing Plant through Continues Improvement Program

One of the processes in nickel processing plant is drying the nickel ore delivered from mining activities. This process reduces ore moisture content from 30% - 34% to 19% - 21%. The dried ore is then delivered to the next process which will heat up the ore to 850 degree C - 870 degree C for chemical reduction process.  Dryer becomes the bottleneck in processing plant. Both operation and maintenance problems contribute for the bottleneck. It impacts to the continuous supply of dried ore to Reduction Kiln which eventually would impact to overall production performance of the plant.


The size of the above issue seemed to be large. It could require a massive engineering project to solve the issue. However, aligning with our continuous improvement methodology and employee empowerment, we recommended to the management to treat it in a series of small continuous improvement projects involving operations and maintenance personnel. Process Plant management decided to focus on Burner System area that contributes the biggest delay for production. Firstly an improvement team was established to address equipment related issues and then following this improvement teams were established to address operational parameter issues.

In 2014, a cross functional improvement team was created. The team consists of personnel from operations and maintenance area, involving mechanics, operators, supervisors, and engineers that work and support Dryer operations. The team was trained on the improvement methodology before the project commenced to equip them with the knowledge and skill for systematic problem solving process. 


The first step in problem solving process is for the team to agree on the scope, boundaries, and work plan for the project. It is then followed by data and facts gathering to analyze current situation. Sharing and brainstorming process between team members when performing the analyses and finding the root cause of problems is always interesting. There are always many different opinions from team members. Operation and maintenance personnel usually have different view of the problems, and sometime opposite. It is normal since they have their own focus in performing daily work. This is where the improvement facilitator takes the important role to help team to conduct the analysis based on data and fact, and get the agreement.

Along the improvement process, synergy between maintenance team and operation team improves. They realize that they share the same goal to reduce delay in production. They became open, willing to understand each other’s problems, and eager to learn. It is an indication of a positive paradigm change, a new culture.

With the visible support from management in helping team to decide critical decision, the team members are becoming more motivated in facing the challenge. This is where improvement facilitators also put his role in helping management to show visible support for the team. With the improved problem solving skills and positive paradigm change, both the technical and non-technical issues can be addressed easily by the team. Communication and teamwork between departments improved. It brings positive impact to improvement result. The report shows a significant decrease on the production delay caused by equipment issues.


From the operation side, field research on coal consumption parameter resulted in a more efficient burner. Operation team sets the new standard for coal burner parameter. This improvement gave benefit to the production where ore production increased and coal consumption reduced. Furthermore, there is less build-up of coal in burner chamber area following the implementation of the new coal operation standard parameter.

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Then the next improvement was to reduce ore build-up in burner chamber area. Ore build up causing more down time for chamber clean up. The team implemented some modifications to address ore build up issue. Again, the team proves that analysis based on data and fact, and also team work, they are able to achieve a successful problem solving. They are able to eliminate extra time required for ore build up clean up. 


To date the improvement program in dryer area involves over 30 employees. Successfully completing a series of 3 improvement projects has given them confidence and optimism that any problem can be solved with a good team work and a systematic approach. We believe that by consistently following this approach will bring the company to a better work culture to support a better future.

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