The South African mining industry performed poorly over the past ten years, shrinking to become even smaller today than it was in 1994. However, if major constraints impeding accelerated growth and development are lifted, estimates show that the mining sector could expand annually by 3% to 4% up to the year 2020, creating 100,000 new jobs.
One area that could raise cost efficiency for mining companies is predictive maintenance. More efficient than preventive maintenance, predictive maintenance enables corrective action on mining machinery to be taken based on the actual condition of the equipment, rather than how much time has passed. The goal is to service equipment when it’s really needed, before there is a breakdown, thereby extending equipment life and improving employee safety.
Here are some examples of how predictive maintenance can generate a strong return on investment for mining companies:
- Fewer breakdowns – In the mining industry, the final product is much less fragile than other industries, so mining equipment will usually run until it breaks, which can result in expensive and disruptive shutdowns. Predictive maintenance provides an opportunity to identify failure before it happens so that breakdowns can be avoided. As a rule of thumb, seventy percent of machine-specific malfunctions can be predicted by using sensors to monitor and collect machine data and then using analytics to determine when equipment failures might occur. Techniques for equipment monitoring include infrared thermal imaging, vibration analysis, and oil analysis.
- Longer equipment life – Large pieces of mining equipment are extremely expensive and having them run properly for a long time is crucial for profitability. As a result, mining organizations are always looking for ways to extend equipment life. Machinery Lubrication recently reported that due to monitoring oil levels and other data to improve operations, the life expectancy for mining equipment was extended from 15,000 to 28,000 hours.
- Improved back-office operations – Predictive maintenance can also be connected with the back office to introduce new efficiencies to the whole process of equipment maintenance. When administrative procedures related to ordering and installing new parts are triggered automatically, the costs of administering a maintenance program are reduced. For example, a machine could sense that a drill bit is wearing out and automatically order a new one, alert the technical service department to send a field service representative, and forward the purchase request for a new part to the ERP system. By automating manual, error prone, labor intensive administrative functions, manufacturers can achieve an additional level of efficiency.
- Reduced maintenance costs – Predictive maintenance can also reduce overall maintenance costs by using service technician labor more efficiently. InfoMine stated that expenditures associated with repairs can run as high as 30 to 50 percent of total money spent acquiring equipment. When less expensive fixes are performed, more large-scale maintenance projects that come as a result of equipment failures can be avoided. In addition, when maintenance is planned in advance it can be coordinated with planned shutdowns, which prevents servicing equipment from interfering with normal mining operations.
- Employee safety – Ensuring the safety and welfare of employees, especially at high-risk sites, is a constant concern for many mining companies especially when there can be accidents involving heavy machinery and moving equipment. When equipment is more reliable and less prone to breakdowns, mining companies are able to reduce the likelihood and severity of accidents.
In order for predictive maintenance to work as a unified system, machines, devices, sensors and people need to connect and communicate with one another seamlessly. To minimize the investment required, a platform for multipoint integrations can reduce development time while providing a common way to manage data access, sharing and security.
As mining competition and costs increase, having smarter operations can create a competitive advantage. Predictive maintenance can be the key to making the future of the South African mining industry brighter by making operations more efficient, profitable and safe.
By Kerry Hope, Business Development Manager, Magic Software South Africa