Maintenance practices remain significant industry issue

WHEN he reviewed the maintenance practices in the mining industry in 1994, Owen Kreilis, engineering consultant to Southern Engineering Services, might have been surprised to find himself saying virtually the same things in 2002.

Staff Reporter

Speaking at LONGWALL 2002 in the NSW Hunter Valley in late November, Kreilis pointed out that little has changed since the review* was conducted. Maintenance costs in mining can still amount to 30%-50% of total costs; maintenance still suffers from poor planning; and adversary relationships between OEMs and operators are still frequent.

The current production focus is one of the main reasons for the lack of management focus on preventive maintenance. Crisis maintenance is instead the norm, characterised by overlarge inventories of replacements and spares and ancillary higher capital costs. Kreilis said the solution to these inherited problems lies in a complete rethink of ‘purely technical maintenance.’

“Maintenance should be a component of production activities. All participants in the workplace should be involved with the broader thinking absent in former traditional maintenance by involvement of equipment/spares suppliers and by involvement of efficiency, motivational and business specialists. Thus a new production-oriented maintenance is incorporated as a business management tool,” according to the 1994 summary document.

The issue of a partnership between supplier and operator was discussed at some length at the Hunter Valley conference in November. At the point of capital equipment selection, the aim is to produce a partnership for the life of the equipment.

While methods exist for determining the likely cost of maintenance support for systems, they are rarely if ever used in mining. An integrated approach to equipment design that considers both the equipment and the resulting support systems (operating and maintenance) is necessary.

Kreilis spoke about an ‘open-book’ approach as one way of clearly defining maintenance costs. The supplier would need to table all the costs relevant to the product, including openness about the profit margin. Guaranteeing performance of equipment could be costed in the same fashion. Kreilis did acknowledge that for most suppliers and operators this was difficult to embrace.

The 1994 review identified ‘Life Cycle costing’ as an important indicator of world-class mining companies. Rather than the purchase of equipment being seen as a one-off capital expenditure, the cost of the equipment for its working life is the area of focus. Clearly, the more availability equipment offers, the cheaper it is to run. Cost per tonne is an important calculation, as well as productivity improvements for minimal cost. The purpose of the maintenance strategy is therefore to buy availability.

The 1994 report concluded with the following: “Achievement of high availability of equipment is now regarded as a combination of liaison in the design stages, planning of scheduled maintenance, partnerships of suppliers and users in the spares business, and involvement of all participants on the job, from operators to supervisors to management. Sophisticated techniques are now available to regulate maintenance.”

· The “Review of maintenance in the mining and metallurgical industries” was co-authored by R. Dwight, A. Hargraves, Owen Kreilis and G. Montagner.

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