Assisting the World’s Biggest Miners
In Australia mining is a huge industry. Let’s take a look at how mining operations can improve their practices through predictive maintenance driven by ultrasonic tools.
In Australia, mining is big business. As of 2011, the world’s largest island nation counted mining products as its three top exports: Iron ore and concentrates accounted for $64.1 AUD billion, coal reached $46.8 billion AUD, and gold hit $16 billion AUD.
Overall, mining and associated industries make up 71 percent of Australia’s gross domestic product. As manufacturing declines due to a strong Australian dollar and more competitive conditions in other countries, mining has taken on an integral role in the Australian economy.
However, when it comes to maintenance and reliability best practices, Australian mining has fallen behind compared to other industries. If the sector is going to continue to thrive, industry leaders must adopt better predictive maintenance techniques and place an emphasis on reliability. This will not only ensure the mining industry can remain strong, it will also improve mining organizations.
In part 1 of this 2-part article, we will examine the circumstances of the mining industry that make it a particularly unique case of predictive maintenance techniques. The second part will go deeper into a few specific cases of mining operations in Australia and how ultrasonic tools helped – or could have helped - their bottom line and efficiency.
Challenges Facing Maintenance in the Mining
To be fair, achieving effective asset maintenance within a mine is not as straightforward as it is in other industries. First and foremost, mines are not terribly accessible places – it’s no small task to deliver the necessary PdM equipment deep underground. In addition the mines themselves are often situated in remote locations, making technical training and online support more complicated.
Additionally, mining operations often use a transient workforce, meaning PdM training must occur on a regular basis to ensure incoming workers are up to speed on the best reliability methods. Some mines can also be complacent – mining is a repetitive, difficult job, so investing in asset maintenance is not always a top priority. The mining industry has plenty to gain from ultrasound technology.
Benefits of Ultrasonic Testing
Where the mining industry suffered poor maintenance practices, relying on reactive repairs instead of proactive checks, ultrasound emerged as a solution. The technology was able to address each of the challenges facing predictive maintenance in mines.
To begin with, the equipment is mobile, compact and simple enough to use in harsh mining conditions. Training workers on proper use is quick and simple, so incoming miners won’t have a huge learning curve. Because ultrasonic probes can isolate sound, they reveal deficiencies before failure and can also provide clear audio despite loud working conditions.
Not only that, but ultrasound can provide fast, economical testing for a broad array of equipment – especially lubrication-related issues and slow-speed bearings, two major pain points within mining equipment failure. In fact, there are numerous applications for ultrasonic equipment within the mining field, including:
• Leak detection
• Valve and pump integrity
• Electrical systems
• Hydraulic systems
• Compressed air
Compressed air, in particular, is a major source of loss for the mining industry. Indeed, compressed air is the single most expensive utility in the mining industry, making leaks a costly problem. But they are an issue that can be avoided: Through ultrasound, compressed air leaks are easy to find and fix.
Successful ultrasound and PdM implementation ultimately depends on a behavioural change. Condition-based practices must supplant time-based ones, especially in equipment involving lubrication. Additionally, contamination control is essential for mining – the circumstances surrounding the work can easily lead to polluted fluids.
Keeping that supply clean will lead to better working practices. Finally, mining operation managers must begin to reward proactive behaviour over reactive behaviour to instill a broader sense of reliability centred maintenance in their staff.
As Finnish energy company Fortum digitalises its operations, new alternatives are also being actively pursued in the detection of leaks in the district heating network. In a pilot project launched in partnership with Advian Oy, the location data of the existing district heating network is being combined with satellite data to detect possible leaks.
As the required time-to-market for industrial products becomes ever more aggressive, so does the need to keep machinery and other assets working efficiently. Alongside this is the equally urgent requirement to reduce the cost of maintenance and speed-up time-sensitive repairs.