From current world events, social and environmental concerns, to the fluidity of the commodity market – it goes without saying, the mining industry is a challenge. Mines are a delicate operation. They require the interconnecting pieces to all align and work synchronously to effect a smooth operation. It requires a high level of management and planning skills to get to that level.
As this article will explore, something as seemingly simple as maintenance plays a massive role in how a mine site operates. Managers worth their merit can understand the challenges, and act accordingly in scenarios where there is a big issue taking place. Read on for some challenges with maintenance in the Australian mining sector.
It is imperative machinery doesn’t break down mid-operation, so they need to be regularly maintained. With that said the mining companies can’t just fix everything in one go, they have to schedule and stagger maintenance periods, in order not to conflict with mine operations. That means there has to be careful inspections and planning to organise the best time to get maintenance work done on a machine. Sometimes there are too many operations going on at once for the maintenance team to evaluate every asset on the mine, making it difficult to keep everything in check.
Thankfully with the implementation of new smart technologies, sensors installed in machinery assess productivity and flag any mechanical failures or malfunctions. There is an interconnected network system that has both AI and human operation to determine the most cost-effective operations available on a site, and the same goes for maintenance schedules and breakdown reports. This implementation of digitising everything in a mine site isn’t new per se, but it’s making strides in increasing operational efficiency, all whilst making the workplace safer.
Worker safety is every mine’s number one priority; everyone wants to go home at the end of the day. Mine sites have a track record and a reputation for being dangerous places for workers, but thankfully fatalities and injuries have decreased dramatically in recent times. There are a number of reasons for that: technological advancements, operational advancements and new mining methods to name a few.
Machinery breakdowns can sometimes be dangerous for all those nearby and is a serious safety concern. Workers need to have regular training and partake in hazard awareness courses so that in the case of an emergency, they know how to accordingly.
A key area for this increase in safety is communication. The same goes for machinery breakdowns. Clear lines of communication need to be established within the smart technologies, the workers, and well-planned maintenance schedules to reduce the risk of any incidents. With strong communication masts and skids set up workers can get a faster connection to the correct lines for any assistance or help there may be if there is a hazard.
It may be surprising to some, but equipment maintenance is one of the largest investments mining companies have to make. It makes perfect sense though because without the equipment running at an optimal percentage, there would be no business. So it’s no surprise that up to 50% of a mining company’s annual operation budget is spent on maintenance alone.
Ore deposits are becoming scarcer, requiring expensive new technologies and equipment to reach it. Sometimes it isn’t worth investing the money in getting a deposit if the commodity market isn’t right, or the deposit won’t yield a substantial amount of materials. It’s only understandable companies want to carefully assess what it is exactly they’re spending money on. Some new technologies come with uncertainties, like what happens if it goes wrong, such as a machine breakdown, or severe operational failure?
Maintenance managers and site consultants have to recognise these issues, with a clear understanding of how to operate in the modern market. Whilst safety and a maintenance schedule are a top priority, costs also play a large factor in keeping competitive in and afloat. It’s an understanding of what project risks and ventures are worth it for the best financial gain for the company. Sometimes it’s best for a company to hold on spreading their wings further for a few years, and wait for the next technological advancement to make it worth the time, effort and money.