For more than a year, remote monitoring specialists at Sandvik Mining & Rock Solutions have been identifying the efficiencies of loaders and trucks operating underground at privately held Magris Performance Materials’ Niobec mine in Quebec.
The mine is one of only three producers of niobium in the world and is the first mining operation in Canada to adopt Sandvik’s remote monitoring service (RMS). The service oversees the safety and performance of the mine’s equipment, identifies competence development opportunities for operators, and enables more streamlined maintenance processes. In May, Magris renewed its RMS contract for another year.
“We started because we didn’t have people here in-house to do all the evaluation of the equipment and look at the telemetry data in near real-time,” says Pierre-Luc Lajoie, Niobec’s underground operation and maintenance director. “The remote monitoring specialists from Sandvik are constantly evaluating the data from the machines and letting us know immediately if they see any abnormalities. Sometimes problems arise related to mechanical issues, but most often they are related to bad habits or mistakes by the operators.”
By regularly monitoring the data, Sandvik’s remote monitoring specialists identify instances of machines exceeding control and temperature limits, low scores for transmission and engine health, and poor operator techniques. Alerts on speeding, brake violations, and freewheeling in neutral not only improve operator safety and efficiency but also increase the equipment’s lifespan.
The feedback is instantly relayed to Niobec, and in regularly scheduled weekly meetings, Sandvik visualizes issues that need to be addressed by Niobec’s mechanics, or pinpoints areas like improper gear selection (excessive gear-hunting or pendulum shifting), which can damage power train components. RMS can pinpoint incorrect gear selection when driving uphill and downhill by using algorithms tailored to the specific mine site.
One of the keys to success, according to Lajoie, is proper change management. This was done by engaging Niobec’s operators early in the process to gain their buy-in. The operators, who regularly attend the RMS review meetings, help everyone understand how the equipment is being used, and, along with Sandvik, the best way to address various alarms.
“We used to do about 900 wrong gear shifts on our ramps over the course of a week, which would have made a big difference on how many hours the equipment’s transmission would have lasted,” Lajoie explains. “When Sandvik identified the issue, we figured out that a new operator was causing the problem by not knowing how to shift properly. With the help of the remote monitoring service, we now have a view on how our people operate the machines so we can fix things that they probably didn’t catch when they were trained.”
The smart alarms sent to Niobec can also identify problems like braking violations where the operator is driving with their foot on the throttle and brake at the same time, which is going to result in additional wear and tear on the equipment. “Why would an operator do that?” asks Brad Atkins, Sandvik’s digital services manager. “Well, they have their muckers on, and they might be accidentally pushing on the brakes without even realizing it.”
Kevin Montambeault, an RMS specialist working with Niobec, cites one example – where the company was able to fix a mechanical issue early to prevent failure. “Our alarm let us know that the turbo on one of their loaders was losing power,” he says. “We were also able to tell them specifically how much pressure had been lost. They sent the loader to the shop and had the maintenance done.”
At one of the mine sites Sandvik works with, an operator had been driving with a high coolant temperature alarm. “Maybe they missed the alarm,” says Atkins. “In that case, there were six alerts about it over one weekend and then the equipment overheated and stopped working. From a change management perspective, RMS is a bit of an eye from the sky. We are an assisted service – paying attention and monitoring your equipment both from a maintenance and a productivity perspective.”
The key, says Atkins, is getting the mine’s equipment connected to Sandvik’s fleet telematics solution. Once that is done, the equipment collects all the signals, alarms and data and relays it to Sandvik’s RMS specialists. In addition to the local RMS specialists in Canada – and across other countries where Sandvik operates – the remote monitoring service consists of a team of data scientists who analyze data, and based on global feedback, create new algorithms to help identify declining health and misuse of equipment. Sandvik also has its OEM network of service technicians and design engineers from factories who collaborate with the company’s local specialists and customers. Currently Sandvik has over 70 mines using the remote monitoring service globally.
“Think of it like a black box on an airplane that is constantly recording data and then the data is sent to Sandvik over the Internet,” Atkins says. “We pretty much haven’t met a piece of equipment or remote site we have been unable to connect, allowing us to analyze the data for reliability and productivity improvements.” RMS also doesn’t require big investments in resources and IT infrastructure.
Sandvik’s leadership in technology, along with access to its enormous global pool of reference data, analytical skills, and in-depth OEM knowledge, makes the service unique, Atkins says. The monitoring and status data acquired from underground mining equipment is translated into actionable recommendations, which increase efficiencies and help avert equipment failure.
It is also beneficial for the environment, Sandvik says, noting that the data gives insights into fuel consumption and excessive idling times that can reduce underground emissions. In addition, optimized component life can reduce operating costs.
Atkins notes that Sandvik is also learning from the information obtained with RMS to improve equipment design and engineering. “The competitive advantage of RMS is smart alarms, artificial intelligence, machine learning – that’s what these smart alarms are,” he says. “We take related signals, follow, and analyze them over time, and it tells us a story. It allows us to prevent equipment failures.”
“A lot of companies try to do it on their own, they hire people, but they don’t have time to look at the data,” Atkins says. “Sandvik data scientists continuously monitor and analyze the data points acquired from the production equipment. They identify root causes for abnormalities and develop predictive solutions to increase the mean time between failures in a customer’s fleet. The advantage is the intrinsic knowledge and experience the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) can have of its equipment.”
Barrick Gold (TSX:ABX; NYSE:GOLD) was an early adopter in a technology development partnership with Sandvik and has been using the service for the last five years at its Loulo-Gounkoto underground mine in Mali. In March, the miner expanded the RMS to its entire global underground fleet of more than 200 connected Sandvik trucks, loaders, and drills. The rollout so far has included Barrick sites in Canada, Central and Western Africa, and the United States.
“Barrick’s commitment to using RMS is a landmark in the widespread use of telemetry data to improve performance in the mining industry,” says Esa Mattila, Sandvik’s global digital services portfolio manager.
“The ability to prevent failure and downtime, give real time recommendations during shifts to help operators improve performance and make maintenance practices more streamlined and effective will deliver unrealized value to our mining customers.”
The preceding Joint Venture Article is PROMOTED CONTENT sponsored by Sandvik Mining & Rock Solutions and produced in co-operation with The Northern Miner. Visit www.rocktechnology.sandvik for more information.