By nature, the mining industry is a highly complex sector. Its operations and processes are very intensive, risky, and subject to unpredictable weather conditions. It’s an industry that’s surviving on limited resources whether it be carbon-based fuels or precious stones. As to be expected with an exhaustible resource, product decline is inevitable, so much so that the mining sector is already coming to grips with this reality.
There’s another challenge that the mining industry is facing and that is maintenance. The workforce operates complex pieces of equipment that are no larger than a medium-sized building and utilise them under hostile environments. This combination makes mining maintenance quite challenging at best. The typical mine maintenance manager will have to face plenty of issues such as constant machine repairing, replacing aging equipment, managing reduced funds, and alleviating safety concerns.
Here 3 of the most pressing maintenance challenges the mining industry is currently facing and what can be done to address them by one of the industries leading mining equipment suppliers.
Mining equipment maintenance is so crucial, a single mining venture can take up anywhere from 35% to 50% of its annual operating budget. While it’s expected that mining equipment would have some form of preventative maintenance in place, equipment breakdown is still possible since the machines undergo constant stress and strain. When this happens, it can lead to serious downtime and affect productivity until it gets fixed.
The good news is that the mining industry is utilising technology and mining ventures to lessen the frequency of equipment breakdown. Many have started embedding physical sensors in the machines which are connected through the internet and provide critical analytics to monitor the equipment’s current state. This greatly improves the anticipation of equipment failures by providing alerts when a potential issue has been spotted.
Using such technology in equipment maintenance is undoubtedly better than the traditional schedule-based maintenance which can significantly reduce costs in the long run.
- Safety risks
Worker safety remains a glaring issue in the mining industry as working in mines pose inherent risks. Injuries and fatalities among miners continue to be an international concern a while worker safety has seen significant improvements over the years, fatalities brought about by equipment failure are still alarming.
To protect workers from harm, mine maintenance managers can explore the following strategies:
- Provide regular training and re-training for machine operators and repairers. This is to help retain their familiarity with operating the equipment regardless of how much experience they have. This is comparable to the manufacturing industry where safety training takes precedence above other types of personnel training. Accidents can occur around mining machines when the operator assumes it’s a routine, thus leading to complacency. Workers should be trained to look out for warning signs like unusual noises, vibration, and heat when operating large and complicated machines like mining equipment.
- Invest in smart mining safety wear. For example, when a technician is repairing a piece of equipment, they can wear smart goggles that provide step-by-step instructions on the on how to repair them. They can also wear smart clothing equipped with GPS that allows supervisors to track their exact location and transmit data regarding the technician’s physical condition and monitor changes in their surrounding environment.
- Purchasing machines from reputable manufacturers. This ensures the equipment is built to last and can withstand the general wear and tear that mining machines are subjected to.
- Mine decision-makers should consider exploring areas of artificial intelligence that can help automate many of the dangerous aspects of resource extraction. For instance, remote-controlled vehicles and drones can help eliminate the various instances of human error and reduce the number of accidents on the site.
- Cost control
One of the major challenges in the mining industry today is the declining availability of high-quality ore deposits. This results in the reduction of ore quality and forcing miners to go deeper beyond the surface. According to a report from the World Economic Forum in 2017, the average production cost of copper has increased by over 300% but the grade has decreased by 30% in the last 15 years.
With the deteriorating ore quality, mining companies are forced to contend with lowered productivity, commodity prices and, profits whilst paying heavy permits and taxes. With profits on the low, mine maintenance heads should lean into innovative methods to keep production running with limited budgets.
One way to approach this is by learning from other industries that have successfully adopted process automation without necessarily compromising safety and quality. Modern manufacturing companies, for example, can offer a bit of insight in this regard. In addition, they could also explore other areas to minimize operational inefficiency whether it be through workforce management, energy consumption, or reusing mining materials and resources.
Despite the fact that mining comes with unique demands, the sector can still benefit tremendously from various technological advancements. Mine maintenance managers will need to make adjustments and face the challenges head-on to thrive in such a challenging industry. They need to embrace the change process and play an active role to maximise profits while keeping costs down. Only then will they be able to gain a competitive advantage and overcome the biggest mining maintenance issues that currently exist.