Mining equipment, its performance and availability, occupies a pivotal position in the mining process and determines the performance of mineral extraction and processing operations.
The mining industry has gone through impressive changes during recent decades – in machine size and unit investment, in very high asset utilisation and in the resulting demand for record production.
This article first appeared in Mining Review Africa Issue 9 2018
The critical factors which affect equipment availability are the machine design and quality, the application and manner in which it is used and the maintenance received during its time in service.
Mining equipment has undergone impressive advances in design, performance and reliability. The same is true for mining operations, which presently employ the most advanced mine planning, management and operation control systems.
As to machine maintenance, an impressive array of maintenance technology has played a major role in improving overall mine performance.
More than ever before proper maintenance is crucial for reducing downtime, resulting in costs due to loss of production, which, in many cases, supersedes the cost of repair.
A shovel breakdown, for example, stops the operation of a fleet of trucks and may even impede the plant operation.
The mine maintenance working environment has changed dramatically during recent decades through the introduction of information technology systems, as produced by leading machine manufacturers and independent technology companies.
This provides operators, service personnel and managers with information on a wide range of vital machine functions.
Sensors are integrated into the vehicle componentry by design. When the maintenance system detects an impending abnormal condition in any of the machine’s systems, it alerts the operator, in the first place, and remotely instructs maintenance management to take appropriate action, provides advice regarding the required maintenance, or performs a safe shutdown of the machine.
This improves availability, component life and production while reducing both repair cost and the risk of a catastrophic failure, including risks to the safety of the machine operator.
Machine performance and failures can also be electronically reported directly by data links to the machine manufacturer for review and possibly incorporation into future, improved machine designs.
As earthmoving (OTR) tyres are a major factor in machine cost and uptime, TPMS (temperature and pressure monitoring systems) are widely used, reporting both to the cab and remotely to the maintenance office, for remedial action before approaching failure due to tyre overheating, or under inflation.
All of this information is collected and used to create useful reports and charts. These reports lead to intelligent analysis and better decision making for a more efficient maintenance, lowering machine downtime and maintenance cost.
Information technology has resulted in major changes in maintenance logistics, too.
Global replacement parts and components availability data over the internet has dramatically reduced MTTR (mean time to repair), putting machines back to work as quickly as possible.
The same goes for repair practices and instructions. Good maintenance management is taking use of global benchmarking for machine and components performance and lifespan.
Mine maintenance is a demanding task, on both people and equipment, particularly in underground mining, where people face harsh conditions like dump atmosphere, and potentially explosive, confined working and repair areas, sometime far away from central repair facilities.
Good, well trained personnel and maintenance management, fluent and up-to-date in the latest available technology, are motivated to correctly implement and successfully cope with the existing and future mining challenges, like remote controlled equipment and robotic mining operations.
About the author
Professor Zvi Borowitsh is a senior lecturer in earthmoving systems, equipment and management within the Faculty of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Technion Israel Institute of Technology.
Borowitsh is also a visiting professor at the School of Mining Engineering, University of the Witwatersrand.
He is a specialist in mine excavation, loading and haulage optimisation, with extensive experience in large-scale earth-moving projects and in academia.