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Amanda Teessen, maintenance contracts manager at Weba Chute Systems in discussion with workshop personnel

Keeping a closer eye on performance of assets like transfer chutes – and carefully monitoring wear – can save not only the cost of unplanned downtime, but also the cost of potential over-maintenance.

“It is true that too little maintenance is usually what causes problems for transfer point equipment on mines, but over-maintenance is also a luxury that mines can no longer afford,” says Amanda Teessen, maintenance contracts manager at Weba Chute Systems.

“Under today’s demanding economic conditions, many mines could improve the impact of their maintenance expenditure by being more vigilant and regularly recording wear data.”

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This function can also be outsourced through a maintenance contract with specialised transfer point OEMs like Weba Chute Systems. This is especially advantageous to the end-user as both the equipment and its maintenance requirements become more complex.

“It is not surprising that – as equipment used by mines becomes more technologically advanced –more mines are relying increasingly on the expertise of OEMs,” she says.

Weba Chute Systems team on site keeping a customer’s stock yard organised

“Not only do we custom-design and manufacture innovative chute solutions for our customers, but we leverage the latest technology to track the performance of this equipment over time wherever possible.”

This has allowed Weba Chute Systems to develop a detailed database of chute performance on sites all over the world and in a variety of operating conditions. The tracking of wear patterns is critical in applying preventive maintenance on site to optimise uptime.

“For instance, chute lip measurements are taken to gauge the wear rate so we can accurately predict when replacement will be necessary,” she says.

“The advantage of this is that the replacement can be scheduled at a convenient time, such as when the mine conducts its usual maintenance shutdown.”

Without this wear data, wear parts are often replaced simply as a matter of course during the mine’s maintenance shutdown time, even though they still have plenty of wear-life.

Teessen says that when a maintenance strategy is more scientifically based, greater value can be delivered by the equipment while the unnecessary replacement of components is avoided.

“Observation, measurement and good data is the foundation of a proactive maintenance programme for chutes and transfer points,” says Teessen.

“The information gained from regular inspections will highlight critical areas of wear, allowing the mine to prioritise its asset management in terms of each item’s criticality in the process flow.”

A key benefit of a maintenance contract with Weba Chute Systems is that a history of each chute’s performance and wear patterns can be built up. Various components are analysed including liners, lips, bolts and backplates. Teessen highlights that it is impossible to generalise about wear trajectories on chutes, as each application is so different.

“This is why we custom-design our chutes, so that each will suit the customer’s application requirements and operating conditions,” she says. “Like the design, the chute’s wear rates will depend on operating parameters and what function the chute is intended to serve.”

Variables include the nature of the commodity being mined, moved or treated, with more abrasive materials causing faster wear.

Also important is the size of the particles, the volume of material being transferred and the conveyor belt speed. All these aspects are included in the data gathered by Weba Chute Systems to inform its maintenance planning.

“Good asset management also requires attention to upstream aspects of on-site processes,” Teessen continues.

Weba Chute Systems team conducting on-site inspections

“If the aperture size on a grizzly screen is enlarged, for example, the chute it is feeding will experience increased backplate wear. Acting on this prior knowledge, the replacement of that plate can be appropriately scheduled.”

She emphasises that a key aim of sound asset management is to avoid any unexpected equipment failure, as this not only disrupts production, but invariably distracts the mine’s staff from their core responsibilities.

“Artisans like boilermakers – as well as technicians and assistants – are all busy with their own inspections, audits, maintenance and new installations,” she says.

“When there is a breakdown, though, many of them get called in to help; it has a negative ripple-effect on many unrelated activities.”

Through close collaboration on a planned maintenance system, OEMs can strengthen their partnerships with mining customers while ensuring that equipment is maintained to the highest standard, says Teessen.

“This will also contribute to lowering the total overall cost for the operation.”