As green energy needs spike, demand for minerals rises in-kind. Per a World Bank Group report, graphite, lithium, and cobalt production could increase by almost 500% by 2050 to meet the demands for clean energy. For mining companies around the world, this is welcome news. It is simultaneously an urgent call to action for miners to innovate operations.
To meet the escalating demand for minerals, mining companies must proactively manage highly cyclical and capital-intensive operations by keeping the lowest possible production costs. By leveraging automation and digitally-savvy operations, miners can enable smarter, faster and safer decisions, resulting in greater productivity, improved safety and lower operating costs. Thus, it is digital innovation that will define the mines of the future.
Why innovation? Why now?
As demand grows, process interruptions carry steeper costs. And, the primary root cause is the inefficiency of reactive maintenance approaches that impede a mine’s ability to fully capitalize on growing demand.
- 70% operating efficiency is the average, mostly due to breakdowns and stalled operations
- 30-50% of operating costs are spent on maintaining plant, fleet and equipment
- 3-5X more is spent on breakdowns and unplanned maintenance vs. planned maintenance
Thus, the first step in digital innovation is the adoption of condition monitoring systems to enable maintenance optimization and, in turn, improve operational efficiencies.
Here are two application examples and outcomes, which showcase the transformative power of condition monitoring in mining operations.
In mining pump stations, pumps are responsible for 97% of unplanned maintenance costs. Pump reliability is crucial in the areas of safety, environmental impact, and efficient transportation. By monitoring key pump characteristics and employing real-time analysis of impending issues, mining operators enable early detection of issues before they occur. This averts lost revenue and reduces maintenance costs.
In slurry pump applications, Bently Nevada uses dynamic pressure sensors to detect reciprocating diaphragm failures, providing a novel diagnostic to increase pump reliability, based on:
- The hydraulic fluid flexes the diaphragm
- When the diaphragm flexes, slurry is discharged
- Abrasive, corrosive slurries prohibit pressure sensor installations in slurry valves
- Thus, dynamic pressure monitoring of the hydraulic fluid assesses slurry discharge effectiveness
In mining operations, there is an increasing reliance on haul trucks to move raw materials. To ensure better timing alignment of extraction speed to transportation speed, miners have invested in larger, automated haul trucks. Thus, the health of these haul trucks is central to the reliability of mining operations.
Monitoring the haul truck health, however, is fraught with unique challenges. Because haul trucks are in constant motion, data collection at precise and crucial times with linkage to a monitoring center and diagnostics must be overcome.
For one mining company, Bently Nevada engineered a customized solution for the haul truck’s control system to monitor its’ health in two critical states:
- Running and loaded. Vibration data is collected while the truck is running, loaded and in revers mode (braking the truck using the electric motor of the electric wheels)
- Unloading. Vibration monitoring when the haul truck dump or bucket is going up
The result? An estimated savings of US $5 million per year, based on an iron mine fleet of 30 trucks operating at 80% capacity.
Many other condition monitoring applications, such as wireless sensors for hoist systems and
continuous monitoring for SAG (semi-autogenous grinding) mills are delivering transformational
outcomes such as the two referenced above. The ultimate payoff will occur when these systems
scale to be interconnected and provide an operation-wide, eagle’s eye view of an entire mine, thus
enabling holistically optimized production.
Minerals are needed to fuel a greener future. Mining companies must better optimize production today to enable meeting this increasing demand. The first step in that optimization is condition monitoring to overcome existing maintenance inefficiencies and mitigate unplanned – and costly –downtime. In mining operations, green energy initiatives are catalyzed as production efficiency improves, delivering a promising future for mining companies, and humankind.