Implementing Effective Maintenance Strategies for Long Term Production Goals
The management and maintenance of mining equipment, on average, ranges from 30 to 50 percent of total operating costs for the mine, and a figure that is ever increasing. Every year the mining industry spends billions of dollars on equipment maintenance - in fact the total annual cost for engineering maintenance in the underground coal mining sector in Australia alone is $450 million - so it goes without saying that high quality and well scheduled maintenance is essential to keep operating costs down.
Cost saving is big news in the mining sector at the moment, with the likes of Sam Walsh, CEO at Rio Tinto speaking extensively about the need for strict budget management and a severely reduced bottom line. “Our cost-saving programme is gathering momentum and we have more than 1,500 separate initiatives that are helping us reduce costs and preserve margins, even in a climate of lower prices,” he said. Therefore, in the mining industry, any technology or process that reduces unplanned downtime and increases productivity is in high demand.
Every year new strategies come to light regarding ways mining firms can maintain engineering equipment in the field environment more effectively, however there are still challenges associated with complexity, size, competition, cost and safety.
Furthermore, maintenance is especially difficult to optimize, and is often fraught with inefficiencies and excessive costs, owing to mining’s special technical, physical and organizational challenges, for example:
- Mining equipment is diverse, complex, costly, and usually mobile
- Mine sites are dynamic environments often in remote, inaccessible locations
- Maintenance costs typically comprise 30 percent to 50 percent of a mine’s total operating costs
- More than 60 percent of the total mine workforce can be almost exclusively focused on servicing or repairing complex assets in the field
Because maintenance substantially increases operating costs, an optimized strategy is required to maximize equipment uptime with the most efficient use of skilled maintenance staff.
The benefits of increased maintenance productivity also cuts across the organization, leading to improved safety, security, compliance, and environmental stewardship. Ultimately, improvements in any of these specific areas can lead to increases in productivity.
To control these costs, mining companies have, in the past, focused on areas such as optimizing scheduled maintenance operations, deferring non-essential maintenance, reducing maintenance manpower, controlling inventories of spare parts more effectively and using contract maintenance support. While some of these strategies still hold weight, there is a school of thought that is increasingly leaning towards better maintenance practices specifically for mobile equipment.
Obviously maintenance is a crucial part of any mining operation – that goes without saying. As much as possible, using planning, scheduling and ongoing monitoring, maintenance teams around the world are measured on their ability to ensure availability of machinery, minimal breakdowns and stay within their annual budgets.
However, clearly this is a task that is impossible to ever perfect, due to several causes – largely, the inability to foresee all equipment failure, or emergency maintenance works. Convincing operations and/or production managers that you need to limit their productivity whilst carrying out these works is a tough challenge at the best of times – let alone at a time when resource prices are hitting record highs and everyone’s under the pump to keep up productivity levels.
However, as noted by Fabrico Barros, Reliability Processing Superintendent at BHP Billiton Iron Ore, there are certain important steps you can take to smooth the way. These include: quantifying the risk to the plant if production does not stop; demonstrate your contingency planning prepared so far; quantify the reasons the equipment needs this level of care; prove that the downtime now will generate long-term value for the business compared to “doing nothing” and minimise the downtime using appropriate planning techniques, the correct tools and the appropriately skilled people.
Of course, unscheduled maintenance will happen when other systems have failed – be it the team’s predictive maintenance approach, your RCM programme, human error, or using equipment above its stated capability. Gerard Wood, General Manager – Mining Asset Services, at The Bluefield Group observed: “Unscheduled maintenance usually exhibits itself by shutting the plant down without having to convince anyone. The problem is to convince the boss that the plant needs to be shutdown more often for scheduled maintenance and to avoid the unscheduled event. Having a detailed knowledge of the plant and being able to articulate the details is what convinces the boss.”
Best practice maintenance seems to come down, as do so many disciplines in this industry, to inter-departmental communication, and teamwork (or at least understanding). KPIs and day to day priorities may be different for maintenance and production and operations teams, but the long-term end goal for the business is the same – keep operations running efficiently, effectively and for the best productivity levels possible with your equipment.
With this in mind, maintenance managers need to work more effectively with production teams, assessing the weakest link and addressing the issue before any serious production issues arise.
Global iron ore production to recover by 5.1% in 2021
Global iron ore production fell by 3% to 2.2bnt in 2020. Global production is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 3.7% to 2,663.4Mt between 2021 to 2025. The key contributors to this grow will be Brazil (6.2%), South Africa (4.1%), Australia (3.2%) and India (2.9%). Key upcoming projects expected to commence operations include South Flank in Australia (2021), Zulti in South Africa (H2 2021), Serrote Da Laje in Brazil (H2 2021) and Gudai-Darri (2022), according to GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company.
Vinneth Bajaj, Associate Project Manager at GlobalData, comments: “Declines from Brazil and India were major contributors to the reduced output in 2020. Combined production from these two countries fell from a collective 638.2Mt in 2019 to an estimated 591.1Mt in 2020. The reduced output from the iron ore giant, Vale, was the key factor behind Brazil’s reduced output, while delays in the auctioning of mines in Odisha affected India’s output in 2020.
“Miners in Australia were relatively unaffected by COVID-19 due to effective measures adopted by the Australian Government, while a speedy recovery in China led to a significant 10.4% increase in the country’s iron ore output.”
Looking ahead, the global iron ore production is expected to increase by 111.3Mt to 2,302.5Mt in 2021. Rio Tinto is expected to produce up to 340Mt of iron ore, while BHP has released production guidance of 245–255Mt, supported by the start of the Samarco project in December, which is expected to produce between 1–2Mt.The company has retained its guidance for Australian mines at 276–286Mt on a 100% basis, due to scheduled maintenance work at its ore handling plant and tie-in activity at the Area C mine and South-Flank mine.
Bajaj added: “The remaining companies are expected to produce more than 600Mt of iron ore, including FMG, whose production is expected to range between 175–180Mt supported by its Eliwana mine that commenced operations in late December 2020, and Anglo American, which is expecting to produce between 64–67Mt. Vale is expected to resume 40Mt of its production capacity, taking its overall production capacity to 350Mt in 2021, with production guidance of 315-335Mt.”