Canadian Mining Journal


Eight steps to improve your mining maintenance

Good advice for miners

When it comes to mining maintenance, the goal is continuous improvement. Your equipment never takes a break and neither should you. Besides, you can bet your competitors aren’t resting on their laurels, but are challenging the status quo.

Complacency doesn’t breed success in mining. It leads to failure.

That said, the process of improving your maintenance doesn’t happen overnight. It requires a series of continual improvement steps. We must adjust, change and improve.

In this article, we’ll look at eight steps we can take to improve.

1 Step one: Benchmarking

Continuous improvement starts with benchmarking. How does the availability score for your site’s truck fleet stack up to other mines? Is the reliability of your drills better this year than last year? Sometimes it is difficult to benchmark against other companies or mining sites; one company may calculate their performance differently than you do, and their mining operation or ore deposit may be much different than yours.

In such cases, it’s best to benchmark against yourself.

When benchmarking, think of your best-performing machine and ask yourself, “How can I make that machine even more dependable?” Similarly, if you benchmark against others and find you’re the best, think about how you can do even better.

2 Step two: Breakdown analysis

You might have heard this called root-cause analysis or defect-elimination process. This is when you analyze why a machine broke down and how to prevent future failures. It needs to be a simple process, not complicated by heaps of written material and data processes with different steps and thresholds. Focus on improvement and avoid over-analysis that takes time away from implementing changes.

3 Step three: Top 10 Pareto analysis

Vilfredo Pareto developed the 80-20 rule, which essentially says that 80% of the effects are caused by 20% of the causes. A Pareto chart helps prioritise the top 10 problems.

Ideally, you will want to chase, to the failure mode, every single breakdown in the top five. When you look at areas of a plant that cause difficulties, you will want to refer to Pareto charts to visualize what areas you should focus on.

4 Step four: Maintenance delay analysis

This is something people don’t do very well these days.

People focus primarily on breakdown analysis but rarely examine delays in scheduled maintenance.

Why were there delays in the service? Were the correct tools not delivered to the site? Did the mechanic fail to show up? Was the machine not set up properly?

If you don’t find what caused lost time, you can’t improve the planning.

Most maintenance KPIs measure whether the work was completed and don’t analyze delays unless something prevented the job from being completed.

That’s unfortunate because analyzing delays can lead to greater efficiency even if the job was eventually done within the scheduled window.

Delays should not be accepted as normal, and they can be avoided with improved planning and organization. There’s never going to be a perfect plan, but you can improve significantly by understanding what caused delays.

5 Step five: Safety observations

Also known as field leadership, this involves identifying areas where people disregard safety procedures. Nearly all companies have a version of this. Done correctly, safety observations have been fundamental in the mining industry’s safety improvement record.

I did a safety observation during a manual handling task to change a starter motor. I noticed that people didn’t have the right lifting equipment especially for the tight space, and the starter motors were way heavier than documented safety standards of 20-25 kg. We identified procedural improvements and a different lifting device that would help us in the future to remove the starter motors safely using the overhead crane. More importantly, though, it made us realize that people were not aware of our current standards for these types of manual handling tasks.

6 Step six: Area inspection

Area inspection correlates with safety as well as efficiency.

Ensuring your work area is in order is an essential step in an improvement plan. I would have daily inspections of our workshop around a simple set of checks:

  • Are all things in their place?
  • Are people following procedures?
  • Are all the isolations in place?
  • Are tools stored correctly?

These inspections create a controlled environment. Without the daily discipline to ensure standards are maintained, order usually degrades.

7 Step seven: Cost review and analysis

It is critical to have a sound maintenance budget and review performance against that budget. To have success in this area, bring everyone involved with expenditure decisions into the budget-making process. When the budget is finalized, create a simple reference tool or book so supervisors, planners, and superintendents responsible for spending decisions can easily determine if an expenditure is in the maintenance budget. If not, there must to be directions for identifying improvements or alternatives so the actual costs are reflected in the maintenance budget each year.

From there, capture knowledge and continually improve the maintenance budget. You must record and learn from times when expenditures are outside the budget. Using cumulative life cycle cost management tools can highlight these instances, and reviewing this on a regular basis may reveal further maintenance cost savings.

8 Step eight: Job observations

Like safety observations, examines the quality of work and whether quality standards are followed. As with safety observations, this must be a self-auditing process.

For example, if you are observing how a crew changes an engine, you can see whether people follow the engine change procedure and quality checks.

Do they have all the parts bagged and tagged? Are critical bolt torqueing steps verified?

With self-audits, you can self-correct as you go and prevent failures.

Gerard Wood is one of the mining industry’s foremost authorities on proper mining equipment maintenance. In his long career, Wood has been all over the world, working his way up from an electrician’s apprentice to a maintenance manager with advanced degrees in electrical engineering and business.

As managing director for Bluefield AMS, Wood helps the world’s largest mining companies keep their machines running with a simple, practical approach that saves money and improves equipment reliability.

This article was adapted from Simplifying Mining Maintenance, available on Amazon.

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