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Mining On-Site Analysis In Minutes, Not Days, With Results As Comprehensive As An Off-Site Laboratory

Jan 20, 2011 - 9 years ago

By Supply Post

It didn't take a six-year federal study to show that miners want fluid analysis equipment on-site for speedy but comprehensive results as part of their equipments' preventive maintenance programs. But that's what a 2004 U.S. Department of Energy study concluded, and what an increasing number of respected players in the mining industry, including service provider Megaton Inc. and equipment provider P&H Mining Equipment, are moving to implement.

"To stay maximally productive, mines need real-time information they can act on as part of their daily planning instead of a periodic checkup," says Tom Barnes, Product Support Manager of P&H, a manufacturer of surface mining equipment including giant electric shovels, draglines, and blasthole drills. "The reason: equipment is bigger and more complex; mines are more remote; and sophisticated technical help is harder to get, especially in emerging markets."

Fluid analysis, of course, is vital to the health of all mining equipment, not just the million-dollar ones. But taking and sending hundreds of lubricant samples every month to an off-site laboratory for analysis is a costly management nightmare at more than $20 per sample. That cost is multiplied when mine managers have to wait for results, anywhere from days to weeks, leaving key production equipment susceptible to sudden, unscheduled downtime if needed repairs are not made beforehand.

Real-time on-site analysis is now eliminating that wait and costly sampling with equipment that is as easy to use as an ATM. In 10 minutes or less operators can have comprehensive analysis showing metal wear and contamination before equipment loss and downtime become catastrophic, allowing mine managers to repair their equipment faster and get it back in service more cost effectively than ever.

"Any mechanical piece of equipment can fail if you don't stay on top of preventive maintenance, especially in a rough and remote mining environment," says Jon Rose, who has 40 years of experience in the mining industry as owner of Megatrol Inc., a provider of proactive solutions for efficient mining equipment management and maintenance.

"An extra hour of operation can at times lead to very expensive down time and that is a prime reason for an on-site oil analysis program," says Rose. "Waiting for test results from off-site labs is a risk I prefer to avoid due to the very high costs of equipment and the overall expense of down time."

Since mines are typically in remote locations, sending samples to off-site labs takes time. Even 24-hour turnaround from an off-site lab does not factor in the time to ship the sample through the mail, or via overnight delivery (at additional cost to the sender). Even off-site labs acknowledge that samples degrade over time. Furthermore, samples that are mishandled or damaged during shipping can also affect the integrity of the results.

"Many times off-site oil analysis results are not available due to shipping or performance delays which can result in serious mechanical failures and downtime," says Rose.

Even cumbersome low-end "on-site analysis" doesn't measure up to the needs of high-volume mine sites. Although there are smaller and less comprehensive testing devices for on-site monitoring on the market, a more comprehensive analysis of multiple factors, including comparisons against expected equipment wear rate curves, has only been available through fluid analysis at off-site laboratories. Low-end on-site testing equipment has usually been limited to single tests like viscosity and can introduce error if samples must be handled multiple times.

For real-time analysis and repeatability of data that can help maximize mining equipment production uptime, Megatrol turned to On-Site Analysis Inc. (OSA), a global leader of used fluids diagnostic analysis technologies.

OSA, prior to its founding, was an independent lab in the 1980s. The company was formed to address the market need for faster, comprehensive, laboratory quality testing and soon released its MicroLab® on-site analyzer. Essentially a "lab in a box," the on-site analyzer was developed to produce lab quality results in a smaller package and with an easy to use touch screen interface.

There are smaller and less comprehensive testing devices for on-site monitoring available, but these hand-held devices are limited to single tests like viscosity. Furthermore, they do not analyze the information in comparison to known and expected engine wear rate curves and instead operate off estimated values based on user input, which can affect the accuracy of results and even indicate a problem when one does not exist.

The OSA can identify the presence of 20 metals, measure physical properties such as glycol, TBN, soot (diesel engines only), fuel dilution, water, nitration, and oxidation, and also measure viscosity at 40 and 100c. It has an integrated particle counter and provides comparisons against expected equipment wear rate curves similar to off-site labs.

After analysis is complete, the equipment delivers an easy to understand diagnostic report that includes suggested preventive steps. The data can be downloaded to a password protected LubeTrak® website for data mining from anywhere in the world. Also results are instantly emailed as an "Alert" if an abnormal finding is discovered.

Megatrol is successfully using two OSA labs at a coal mine in Gillette, Wyoming testing 600 to 800 fluid samples monthly from a fleet of several hundred vehicles including trucks, dozers, scrapers, and support equipment.

"The On-Site Analysis lab provides a complete view of wear metals and physical properties in 10 to 15 minutes," says Rose. "Put the sample in the machine, follow the touch screen prompts, and don't touch it again until the tests are run.

According to Rose, such fast test results can save an engine, transmission or a major bearing on key mine equipment.

"With timely on-site analysis and repair, a high-volume mine site could save thousands by avoiding unscheduled repairs and downtime," says Rose. "By replacing a $5 hose in time, for instance, you could save a $120,000 engine or $70,000 transmission.

Two OSA labs at a Gillette coal mine are proving very successful. "By maximizing equipment uptime and productivity, along with eliminating expedited shipping costs and speeding decision making with email alerts and flexible reporting, we can expect OSA payback in a very short time," says Rose. "While there are variables, many mining sites could cut maintenance and operating costs significantly by using an On-Site Analysis Microlab as opposed to an off-site analysis program."

In high-production mines today, every minute of downtime is scrutinized and any unscheduled downtime must be prevented, particularly on key equipment that can shut down an entire operation if it breaks down, says Tom Barnes of P&H.

The mining equipment giant has added on-site fluid analysis to its Prevail Remote Health Monitoring Program, which expedites equipment diagnosis, maintenance, and repair through its MinePro Services network, and is starting to roll it out globally. The Prevail Remote Health Monitoring Program helps to maximize mine equipment health and productivity by allowing managers and technicians to monitor all key equipment vitals online.

"Working with OSA, we've added on-site oil and hydraulic fluid analysis, plus an ability to track historic component wear trends with flexible online reporting to our ability to monitor vitals like temperature and equipment fault logs," explains Barnes. "This gives mine managers and technicians near real-time ability to analyze, diagnose, predict, and respond to needed repair from a one-stop, secure website interface, or to receive critical email alerts. It also allows mine operations to benchmark and develop trends which lead to optimized performance and best practices."

According to Barnes, the availability of more immediate results allows operators to streamline preventive maintenance programs. By closely monitoring and tracking vitals such as oil, temperature, and vibration with the program, operators can optimize routine maintenance tasks and oil change intervals based on the results. The improvement to machine availability and utilization alone can significantly improve the operation's bottom line and has the additional benefit of reducing disposal costs and environmental impact.

"Based on higher production uptime; lower maintenance, repair, and environmental costs; as well as eliminating off-site fluid analysis shipping and expediting costs, high production mines could achieve ROI in less than one year with the Prevail Remote Health Monitoring Program, including on-site fluid analysis," concludes Barnes.

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