How Technology Can Help Miners Improve Brownfield Operations

As miners face many economic and technical headwinds, Emerson’s Douglas Morris of the metals and mining and power industry teams, describes how technology can improve mine productivity by reducing unplanned downtime.

Emerson's Douglas MorrisIf you’ve picked up the newspaper recently, you’ve likely read about several stated changes in investment strategies for mining companies. In the Wall Street Journal, BHP Billiton’s CEO talks about the companies renewed focus: “The prime drive is to get everyone working along the axis of productivity, running our operations more effectively, to increase margins and returns even in the absence of strong prices”. On May 3rd, the first day of trading for the newly formed Glencore Xstrata, CEO Ivan Glassberg discusses how the company “foresees more attractive returns from brownfield expansions and mergers and acquisitions than investment in greenfield projects”.

These strategies make a lot of sense as miners face headwinds: falling commodity prices, lower quality ore bodies, and an increasingly expensive and shrinking skilled labor pool. In fact, Andrew Mackenzie, BHP’s CEO states that a 1% improvement in labor productivity could result in $170 million in annual savings.

A host of items can improve mine productivity, ranging from improving recovery using Advanced Process Control to reducing the amount of unplanned equipment downtime to operating mines remotely. The thread that binds all of these initiatives is technology, which will increasingly be leaned upon to supplement the labor pool and ultimately allow miners to achieve improved margins and shareholder value.

Take for example the mine maintenance team. The most effective method for reducing unplanned downtime with regard to fixed and mobile mining assets is to establish a good condition-monitoring program, which focuses on machinery vibration. Vibration monitoring is widely accepted as one of the earliest fault detection techniques used by maintenance professionals.

Unfortunately, not all miners have access to the expertise that’s required to administer such a program so they either outsource the service or the simply don’t have one in place. One approach that is overcoming this challenge for many miners is the use of an intelligent online vibration monitoring system, such as the CSI 6500 from Emerson.

Operationally, this system features a patented-technology called PeakVue (peak value analysis), which measures intensifying levels of stress waves in addition to vibration. PeakVue provides a defect warning system that alerts you to problems long before traditional vibration analysis. On top of that, using it doesn’t require experts because the system provides you a number that tells you whether or not something is wrong. Simply put, the higher the PeakVue number, the more severe your problem. Operators can easily interpret these numbers and can get the maintenance staff involved well before any production is affected. Those miners looking to move toward zero unplanned downtime may find PeakVue Emerson’s technologies just the tool capabilities they need.
PeaKVue Machine Condition
PeakVue Equipment Condition DetectionSo where would online condition monitoring with PeakVue be applied in a mine? Here a list of some mobile and fixed asset applications: blasthole drills, electric rope shovels, draglines, mobile and fixed crushers, mills, vibrating screens, haul trucks, stackers, reclaimers, and conveyors.

We are seeing more and more miners turn to condition monitoring. Those that have are realizing improved margins. Those looking for and edge should start with establishing a similar online condition monitoring program.

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