Industry Q&A: Maintenance Measures and Oil Analysis
With miners continuing to strive for lower costs and greater margins, maintenance has become one of the key areas in the mining value chain. The implementation of advanced technologies and the use of data in the maintenance field has made new methodologies possible that can result in more streamlined and controlled maintenance procedures. However, these processes are still not universally embraced.
Oil analysis and treatment is of critical importance to the preservation and efficiency of both fixed and mobile equipment and a primary procedure in any maintenance cycle. Austmine recently caught up with Leandro Valenzuela, Casual Laboratory Manager, Techenomics to discuss the latest trends and innovations in the oil analysis space and what this means for maintenance processes today and in the future.
1. With the current cost-cutting and continuous improvement plans being implemented in the mining sector, have you seen a greater emphasis on preventative maintenance? How has this impacted oil analysis?
No, there has not been a greater emphasis on preventative maintenance, only pressure to reduce prices across our operations in Asia and Australia. Not only do maintenance managers want to extend the life of their fleets, they also want to pay less doing it. This has both positive and negative effects in the oil analysis industry and particularly in Australia where labour cost is high. The positive is that it pushes towards newer, better and faster technologies that have to be streamlined, the negative is that the workforce is reduced and fixing errors becomes exponentially more difficult in the automation process since, as we all know, errors occurring early on have a greater effect down the track.
2. How integral is oil analysis to a maintenance program? What are the common problems that regular oil testing and monitoring can prevent?
Maintenance programs can be both complex and very simple involving positive and negative feedback loops, to having straight line-scheduled changes where many things can go wrong in-between. Many factors are considered by the maintenance manager with none greater than time which ultimately results in cost to the operation. As such, a delicate balance and understanding must exist between scheduled downtime, the technicians control and use of the asset, and preventative maintenance. The most common problems that are picked up by oil analysis would have to be coolant leaks, use of the wrong oil, fuel dilution, water condensation, high oxidation, and early indication of component failure by wear metal analysis. These are small problems to begin with, but if left untreated and ignored can be amplified to destroy complete systems and lead to catastrophic results and total equipment seizures.
3. What innovations and new technologies have improved the oil analysis space in recent years? What further can be done here?
The main innovation is that equipment is getting smaller and can be used in the field with varying degree of certainty in the results. As with many other technologies, better power sources or batteries and even smaller components would make things more efficient. Who knows, maybe one day there will be an all in one piece of analytical equipment that can give all parameters within just a few seconds. We already have portable XRF equipment that can give elemental data, why not extend that to IR, VIS and some sort of sound penetration method to determine viscosity? As big data becomes more and more present across all industries, I am sure collaborations and improvements will be made by scientists and engineers.
4. Techenomics has offices in Asia as well as Australia. How did your International journey begin? What markets have you found difficult to break into and what advice would you have for Australian METS looking to expand their horizons?
Our international journey has been possible due to the strong connections between Australian professionals and their contribution to the world mining industry, after that it was just a matter of hard work to build a functional network that would support the idea that oil analysis provides clear benefits and is not an added cost as many still believe.
My advice is to partner with culturally minded professionals and genuinely seek to provide a solution.