There is no doubt that the mining industry is by nature a highly complex sector. With intensive and complicated processes that are at the mercy of uncontrollable factors such as the weather, it is synchronously a risk-prone, uncertain, tough and unique work landscape. And in this type of atmosphere, mine and equipment maintenance is no simple feat.

This month we explore the four main equipment issues faced by mining companies, plus we take a glimpse at some possible solutions.

Supply Chain

In today’s turbulent business climate, ever-increasing supply risks threaten the ability of mining companies to meet market expectations consistently.

Failure to meet production and capital project targets can significantly impact shareholder value, and can cause companies to lose the confidence of key partners, suppliers, and other critical stakeholders in the short term. In the long term, failure to meet production and capital targets can threaten the viability of a mining company. 

As 2020 clearly indicated, the supply chains of mining companies are at the mercy of many different factors, from geopolitical issues through to the glaring example of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the world battled to contain this pandemic, borders were shut, businesses closed down and the supply chains that included overseas manufacturers experienced the disruption of a changed global marketplace.

Moving forward in this ever-changing environment mining companies need to identify and mitigate vulnerabilities in their supply chains. This will help to ensure supply security and create a more robust and resilient operation.

One of the primary ways to do this is to identify the source of the supply chain disruption and find an alternative solution. For example, 2020 saw many companies in Australia pivot to domestic manufacturers, as overseas suppliers were unable to operate or export due to the shutdowns and ongoing interruptions across the international markets caused by the pandemic.

Equipment Maintenance

Mining equipment maintenance is so essential that a single mining venture could spend over 50% of its annual operating budget on equipment maintenance and repair alone. Such equipment includes borers, drills, excavators, loaders, diggers, and much more.

Whilst most mining ventures ideally should have some sort of preventative maintenance strategy in place, the reality is that these machines undergo such an intense level of stress and strain that they regularly break down.

Unfortunately when such failures happen, productivity will reduce or cease completely until repairs are completed, losing mining companies hours of operational time and costing them thousands (if not more) of dollars in lost resources.

When we look at the amount of time and money lost due to repairs, it is clear that a proactive preventative routine is vital. 

The great news is that the mining industry is agile and adaptive and continually looking at various technologies to lessen the frequency of equipment breakdown. For example, technology such as internet-based sensors help to monitor the state of mining equipment, generating data that can provide alerts about potential issues. The deployment of technology such as this certainly surpasses the traditional schedule-based strategy and can significantly reduce maintenance costs.

Safety of Personnel & Equipment

Worker safety is a crucial issue in the mining industry as working in mines has inherent risks. While worker safety has seen significant improvements over the years, an ongoing focus on ensuring the safety of workers, with regards to equipment, is paramount.

One of the primary ways to ensure safety is through the provision of regular training and re-training for machine operators and repairers. This helps to retain their awareness of the equipment they are operating and avoid complacency. It’s also important that they are trained to look out for warning signs like unusual noises, vibration, and heat when operating large and complicated machines like mining equipment. In addition, personnel should also be equipped with smart mining safety wear when dealing with equipment. 

Mining companies can also help to ensure the safety of personnel by purchasing machines from reputable manufacturers. This ensures the equipment is built to last and can withstand the general wear and tear that mining machines are subjected to.

Cost & Quality Control

One of the major challenges in the mining industry today is the declining availability of high-quality ore deposits. This results in the reduction of ore quality, forcing miners to go deeper beyond the surface.

According to a report from the World Economic Forum in 2017, the average production cost of copper has increased by over 300% but the grade has decreased by 30% in the last 15 years. 

With the deteriorating ore quality, mining companies are forced to contend with lowered productivity, commodity prices and profits whilst paying heavy permits and taxes.

Given this challenging business climate, mining companies need to consider innovative methods that will keep production running with limited budgets.

One way to do this is to look at other industries, such as the manufacturing and examine how these organisations have adopted an ethos of process automation without sacrificing quality and safety, and try to replicate that within the mining workspace.

In addition, mining companies can also explore other areas to minimise operational inefficiency whether it be through workforce management, energy consumption, or reusing mining materials and resources.

Despite the fact that mining comes with unique demands, the sector can still benefit tremendously from various technological advancements as long as they are willing to embrace the change process and play an active role to maximise profits while keeping costs down. Only then will they be able to gain a competitive advantage and overcome the biggest mining maintenance issues that currently exist.

For 50 years now, we’ve been a trusted supplier to the mining industry, helping to save our clients time, stress and money. At McNeall Plastics we provide innovative options that outlast and outperform traditional materials such as steel and brass, delivering our clients the competitive edge they need when it comes to mining equipment.