Decoupling Maintenance from Mining Operations

Seeing a pit crew in action at a Formula One race is seeing optimized maintenance in action. Emerson’s Juan Carlos Bravo, a member of the metals and mining industry team, highlights an Automining Conference presentation comparing these pit crews to how mining predictive maintenance practices need to happen.

Emerson's Juan Carlos BravoThis year I attended Automining Conference, that is where mining professionals, academics and automation vendors meet to show and talk about the latest technology trends in the mining industry. This year’s seminar was held from October 17th to the 19th at Vina del Mar, Chile.

At this conference, one can see all kinds of interesting topics ranging from advance control in the mineral processing to wireless instrumentation in leaching and electro winning applications. One of the presentations that caught my attention was the one made by Professor John Meech from the University of British Columbia, Autonomous Haulage Trucks: The Future is Now!

Professor Meech talked about how the autonomous machines are having a great impact in productivity, safety and sustainability. As well, significant decreases in fuel consumption, tire wear, and maintenance requirements are capabilities of these systems. He emphasized that decoupling maintenance from operations will be critical for autonomous machines to be successful. Doing this maintenance has to be done like the pit stops of a Formula One race cars, where the machine enters a shop and is fixed in a matter of minutes—instead of days in order to not affect the operations.

I believe that predictive maintenance will play a critical role in achieving the goal of decoupling maintenance from the mining operations. Maintenance personal will have to know exactly what is wrong in order to change parts or service machines in a really short period of time. Therefore, technologies such as online vibration analysis will have to be part of these autonomous vehicles in order to empower maintenance technician to plan ahead and deliver Formula One-level service.

What was obvious at the conference was that terms like autonomous, dynamic simulation, wireless, and advance control are becoming part of the mining industry’s everyday language. This is a sign that the industry is working at the edge of the available technology to improve performance. As professor Meech said it, “The mining engineer of the 21st century is a very different person with a different set of skills than that of the past.”

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