The compliance demands of bottom-line, safety and ESG (environmental, social & governance) devour a substantial percentage of mine management time, not only at the executive and board room level but also at the level of reliability engineers. Vetasi, an international asset advisory firm now part of Cohesive, says it can “give time back” to reliability engineers to focus on value-adding activities, rather than being bogged down by administrative compliance demands.
Petrus Swart, Cohesive Lead Consultant of Global Asset Advisory Services, says mining operations occur in a complex context. The firm’s experience with mines from several mining houses indicates that reliability engineers in mines with a more mature physical asset management system, often get bogged down with time-consuming administrative burdens.
Vetasi (Cohesive) recently commissioned Prof Joe Amadi-Echendu, previously from the University of Pretoria’s Engineering Faculty, to assess the status of asset performance management in South African mines. He found that, apart from the electricity crises that impact very negatively on mine production, the mines are operating under an immense regulatory load. Mine Safety and ESG considerations now weigh heavily on the mining houses.
“Combine these requirements with the hierarchical nature of the large mining houses and the mine manager and mining engineer have far less flexibility than, say, 30 years ago”, says Amadi-Echendu.
Swart says problem-solving and root cause analysis is where reliability engineers really add value by ensuring minimum disruption of production at present and in the future. “When a complex problem occurs, based on the physical assessments there is normally an internal workshop to discuss and select the most appropriate solution. The decision on what route to follow however requires an administrative process with approval from a higher level that often only then triggers the procurement process.”
Even with a mature asset management system, the administrative process often takes a week or longer. “We are now helping a mine with a bespoke software solution that will digitally crunch this time to two to three days, thus freeing up the time of the reliability engineer and shortening the production disruption periods,” Swart says.
Combining IT (information technology), the mine’s own operational data, and IIoT (the Industrial Internet of Things), enables mining engineers to short-circuit processes by having data immediately digitally available, thus speeding up repairs or replacement of defective machinery. It is often challenging for mines to align their respective processes and data sets, but Vetasi has deep experience in this field. Through this, mining engineers can achieve productivity targets whilst simultaneously lowering risk and effectively controlling cost, Swart says.
Amadi-Echendu says engineering faculties are turning out graduates who need to gain experience in the practical aspects of mining engineering. The mentoring that used to take place is, because of personnel downscaling, not what it used to be with the senior engineers engulfed in administrative workloads with too little spare time to assist the fresh engineers in combining their knowledge with production practices.
In physical asset management at mines, there is a growing practice of replacement rather than repair. This is the result of “a thinner skills base” as well as the cost-cutting on workshops due to a reliance on “just-in-time logistics”. With in-house repair and maintenance skills in many instances close to “zilch”, several mines have outsourced this work to the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs).
The deterioration of the ports’ performance, the railways’ collapse and the risks of road transport are now all major threats to South African mines. “This makes physical asset management more critical than before,” according to Amadi-Echenu.
Grahame Fogel, Vetasi’s Global Director for Asset Management, says Vetasi can make the life of mine engineers easier. “We can show how technology will lighten their burden, not adding to their plight.”
In open-cast mines, the key equipment comprises a range of shovel machinery. “We have industry as well as manufacturer data on the performance of shovels and their failure modes. With predictive maintenance tools, we can advise mines on how to operate and maintain their equipment for optimal operation.”
The same applies to pumps and drilling equipment.
Damien de Gouveia, Cohesive’s Asset Performance Management Lead, says asset performance management software like IBM’s Maximo Application Suite coupled with industry data and a mine’s own operational data open the world of the IIoT. Smart sensors monitoring vibration, oil and lubricant analyses, noise deviation and others that feed into the data network enable not only predictive maintenance but can also add value to prolonging the productive lifecycle of the equipment.
“This has massive cost-saving implications for mines. On the one hand, an alert can trigger a planned production break for maintenance thus preventing an unplanned and therefore costlier breakdown. On the other hand, the life cycle of a pump or an excavator could be extended to more than double its operational life expectancy, thus resulting in lower capex.”
Bouke Spoelstra, a director of Vetasi Africa, says it is critical in asset performance management not to think mines or even shafts of the same mine are similar. “Yes, the principles of physical asset management remain the same, but local circumstances have major implications. One doesn’t treat or replace equipment in the tropics the same as those operating in dusty desert situations.”
Vetasi’s drive is to implement value-adding solutions, says Swart. Analysing breakdowns to get to the root cause of the disruption is therefore vital. Mines with more mature asset management systems are often bogged down by administrative systems that haven’t been streamlined, resulting in reliability engineers devoting too little time to value-adding activities. But in smaller mines with less hierarchical administrative systems, the reliability engineers often state that 80% of their time is spent on value-adding activities.
“However, if the conveyor system is breaking regularly, the root cause hasn’t been correctly identified, resulting in wasted production time. Addressing the symptoms and not the root cause is, as in medicine, not the correct answer. Cohesive is committed to unearthing the root causes that negatively impact mining productivity,” says Swart.
Based on the failure of a mil motor at a South African Mining Processing Plant, Vetasi analysed available OT data. The figure proves that data to give advance warning was available with increasingly below par performance from March 21 until failure in June 21. An analytical model with real time assessments would have provided advance warning without constant human monitoring. It could have:
- Prompted preventive maintenance and repairs rather than a 10-day production break due to motor failure,
- Triggered timeous procurement of spare parts.
Vetasi Mining Solutions can develop Monitor & Analytics systems utilising operational data, digital senor data (i.a. capturing temperature, volumes, metal fatigue) to provide real time reports prompting remedial action prior to disastrous stoppages due to plant or equipment failure.
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