Why Are Mining Companies Still Struggling with Maintenance and Reliability?

January 2, 2022

The mining business is inherently complex. Its methods and operations are time-consuming, risky, and vulnerable to unpredictable weather and government regulations. The sector must stay progressive in the face of tightly controlled finances and increased environmental and safety operations standards.

Furthermore, the mining and metal business is reliant on finite resources to stay afloat. As with any limited resource, product availability issues are unavoidable.

Another problem that mining companies face is that workers in mines operate complex equipment in some of the world’s most inhospitable and harsh climates. As a result, asset upkeep is a never-ending challenge.

Constant machine repair, aging equipment, limited budgets, and security concerns are just a few of the difficulties that a typical maintenance department will have to deal with. In this article, we discuss some of the struggles that mining companies face in terms of maintenance and reliability. In addition, we also talk about possible solutions.

Maintenance and Reliability Challenges in the Mining Industry

Maintenance Management Practices

Maintenance management involves maintaining the assets and resources of the company while managing time and costs. This helps ensure the efficiency of different manufacturing processes. Where maintenance management was once a tedious, manual process, it has now been transformed into a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS). CMMS is a software program that can plan, track, measure, and optimize everything related to maintenance in a single centralized system.

CMMS can help solve many problems as it allows technicians to send direct updates about equipment health. This removes the need for making decisions based on assumptions and intuition.

We often hear about the efforts required to make production reliable; however, several organizations fail to establish a strong maintenance management process.

The challenge is to respect all of the processes – from the trades all the way to the managers. With high breakdown rates, these practices are the first ones to be forgotten. Some aspects of neglecting maintenance management include failing to enter notifications into the system, poor prioritization, constant expediting of spare parts, etc.

Maintenance of Equipment

Mining equipment maintenance is essential, and a single mining company will spend about 25% of its operating budget on maintenance and upkeep. Despite having a routine maintenance plan in place, machine breakdowns are unforeseeable and can occur at any time, disrupting production and resulting in significant financial losses.

Maintenance managers need to develop a detailed maintenance strategy to transition from reactive maintenance to preventive maintenance and eventually to predictive maintenance.

Poor Planning & Scheduling

Clarity in operations is critical for every company’s success. Planning and scheduling require fast and accurate data to reduce downtime and ensure the most efficient use of labor and resources. Without it, maintenance teams must schedule important tasks and work orders based on intuition, expertise, and even speculation.

This invariably leads to errors, which can cause planned downtime to be extended, unforeseen outages to occur, productivity to be harmed, and revenue to be lost. All of this just leads to infrequent and low-quality maintenance in mining, which is unacceptable. Coupled with the remote nature of mining operations, maintaining a reliable supply chain for parts is a constant source of stress.

Safety Standards

Miners work in hazardous settings, and interactions with machinery cause the most accidents and fatalities. Maintenance managers can make use of safeguards to manage employees and reduce injuries.

Irrespective of how much expertise machine operators and technicians have, proper training and upgrades are essential. This is like most heavy industries, where safety courses are prioritized over all other types of employee training.

When employees think of their work as routine, they may become complacent and even careless, leading to an increased risk of accidents. When handling huge and sophisticated equipment, they should be taught to look for warning indicators, such as abnormal vibrations, hot temperatures, shaking, and noise.

These companies can avoid many instances of human error that cause accidents by deploying robots and remote-controlled equipment. Maintenance managers might also consider investing in smart safety clothing. For example, technicians can wear smart glasses that provide step-by-step guidance on tasks at hand while servicing a piece of machinery. Rio Tinto is currently using smart glasses manufactured by Vuzix at its Oyu Tolgoi Mine. You can read the full story here.

Cost of Controls

A key concern facing the mining industry is the cost per ton in order to remain competitive and stay in business. With all the pressure on cash cost, maintenance is always seen as a cost (a necessary evil), and the prevalent view is that the less money spent on maintenance the better. Mining businesses must deal with decreased production, lower commodity prices, and profitability because of this reduction in quality while still paying higher taxes and licenses. With profits falling, mine maintenance managers must develop new ways to keep production going on a shoestring budget.

Researching other industries that have effectively developed lean principles and system automation without risking safety and quality is one method of achieving better cost control. Contemporary manufacturing firms, for example, can provide some guidance in this area. They could also look into ways to reduce operational inefficiency, such as energy usage, staff engagement, repurposing goods and resources, and so on. How to Improve Maintenance & Reliability in the Mining Industry

Focus on Foundations

To improve maintenance in the mining sector, it’s essential to focus on the basics. Focusing on foundations involves streamlining work management processes, training personnel, reviewing maintenance tactics, checking equipment criticality, and reviewing the inventory of spare parts. Based on over a decade in the maintenance field within the mining industry, here are the six most important foundations. In the fishbone representation, we provided the most common issues that we see and that require an immediate response:

Use Asset Performance Management (APM) System & Deploy Predictive Analytics

An APM system combines reliability knowledge and performance of maintenance systems in a single system. It gathers operations data and online condition data, in addition to visual inspection data collected during routine maintenance inspections.

The system can integrate with the existing enterprise reliability (EAM) system (i.e., SAP or Oracle). Data sitting in different systems can be easily seen in a single dashboard to check the condition of different equipment and operations in the mine. The data can be measured, analyzed, and consolidated. The information appears in real time, and everything is automated.

APM is not just about reviewing data. It also ensures that it properly identifies various kinds of failures that may occur, recognizing that a certain failure is inevitable and knowing the solution to address it. Reliability-centered maintenance (RCM) can help in this regard. This strategy helps achieve maximum reliability and extends the life of the equipment at a minimal cost. A maintenance task analysis needs to be performed on essential equipment or systems to utilize this strategy.

Once problems have been identified, work orders are delivered from the APM into the EAM with the data that generated the indicator alarm. An action plan is also sent as an attachment with the work order. Once some activity has been completed, the work order status is sent back to the APM system, and the information is updated. In this manner, APM acts as the main control panel to drive condition-based maintenance.

With assets operating 24/7, deploying predictive analytics alone can reduce maintenance costs by 30% and breakdowns by up to 70%

In the mining business, detecting changes in equipment health or an imminent failure is crucial. Maintenance collaboration requires the capacity to better access and analyze machine information to control maintenance expenses. When maintenance staff can quickly diagnose the problem with an asset, they may respond quickly and effectively to repair the issue, avoiding costly and unplanned breakdowns. Moreover, regulations require mining companies to take all reasonable precautions to avoid health and safety hazards.

Final Thoughts

Creating improvements in a mining company is no easy feat. It’s much more difficult when equipment availability and performance targets are tight, sites are distant, product quality is deteriorating, and safety rules are stringent.

Maintenance managers must be aware of the latest tools and software that can help them better manage their assets. They should try implementing innovative solutions that can help with maintenance and reliability.

However, if the basics are not in place, the latest and greatest gadget will not improve equipment reliability. Always master the foundations!

To learn more about how we can help you improve your operational efficiency and performance, please reach out to us