Without the successful control of critical mining equipment mines may face dire financial consequences.
In a tailings plant for example, if the slurry pump that is used to keep pumping water containing all sorts of corrosive material has stopped working, it can halt an entire sector of a mine, resulting in rapidly increasing financial losses.
To minimise disruptions while optimising maintenance of critical equipment such as slurry pumps, mechanical engineer Gavin Robinson came up with a flexible computer model incorporating the typical challenges at a mine.
Robinson designed and tested an Effective Management Model (EMM) to create and optimise a Gland Service System strategy. The EMM currently is in operation at several sites in South Africa.
The model is based on the typical practical considerations required by a mine and uses participants from various professional backgrounds as well as the maintenance crews that operate the system.
Robinson developed the EMM as part of his doctoral studies at the Postgraduate School of Engineering Management at the University of Johannesburg.
“To keep slurry pumps working, the slurry pump’s gland seals must receive proper Gland Service. Despite the grit they move along all day, their gland seals have to be maintained on a regular basis.
“However, maintaining the slurry pumps, stuffing boxes can cause halts on production, with an associated financial cost,” he points out.
Compounded by the cost of water, maintenance crews, mining worker strikes and falling commodity prices, and the preventative maintenance manager on a mine faces too many parameters to juggle at the same time to keep costs down,” says Robinson.
In a complex, severely constrained situation like this, a computer model makes a huge difference in keeping the plant going and getting good financial outcomes.
“Each mine has a different layout, different shifts for maintenance crews and different pumps. The EMM model, which is built on Simulink software, ‘learns’ from the information put in, and generates a gland service strategy that the mine can start implementing straight away to keep the slurry pumps going and the financial costs of breakdowns, maintenance and water as low as possible.
“As the reality changes on the ground and different information is fed into the model, the model adapts the maintenance strategy as needed,” he says.
The EMM was designed specifically for the Gland Service for mining applications, however the model and the theory behind it can be adapted to create new models to suit other engineering applications where operational effectiveness is required, Robinson concludes.