Mining is a massive, highly competitive industry with many operations running twenty-four hours, seven days a week. Such continuous operations are dependent on large, complex machines that are expensive to repair and expensive to replace. In this industry, an organization’s ability to minimize downtime can provide a substantial competitive advantage.
To decrease operational downtime many mining companies have scheduled preventative maintenance. Because preventing a malfunction is cheaper than repairing one, the impact of preventative measures to the bottom line is often substantial.
However, scheduled preventative maintenance also has its limits, with some studies suggesting that as much as 30% provide no benefit, and an additional 30% actually decrease performance. With such programs costing nearly 50% of an organization’s operating costs, even a relatively small improvement could provide a significant benefit to the bottom line.
Condition-based maintenance is the idea that machinery can be monitored—primarily but not exclusively for vibration—and once a baseline has been determined, variations highlighted for human investigation. Such programs attempt to replace parts after they have begun to hamper performance, but before an outright failure.
Condition-based maintenance programs are, however, expensive. Mining operations are seldom small, but neither are they entirely stationary. The sheer number of sensors is large, and the effort to continuously monitor them and adjust their locations every time the machinery is moved is significant.
Enter the ubiquitous smartphone, in the form of smartphones monitoring mining equipment. Vibration monitoring via smartphone based systems offer the potential to dramatically reduce the costs of condition-based maintenance and provide the same cost saving measures.
In the ideal, a technician could take a single sensor on a predetermined route, attaching the sensor to places on the machinery that need to be monitored, then removing it and moving to another location, and another, and so on. Monitoring doesn’t have to take place twenty-four hours a day to be effective. The sensor would gather data and communicate it to a smartphone app via Bluetooth. The smartphone would then communicate with the Wi-Fi enabled cloud to compare the new data to the baseline for that location. If the new reading is not in line with the baseline, the technician could potentially perform any number of actions ranging from replacing the part immediately to notifying the appropriate department to order a replacement part.
The advantages over a full-scale condition-based maintenance program are many. Primarily, fewer sensors are required and parts aren’t replaced until their useful life is exhausted. If desired, the smartphone application could even be used to reduce technician training time and the likelihood of error, by displaying a video of how to replace any part in question.
The implementation of a program of this nature would not be cheap, but with the costs of maintenance being high, and the costs of downtime being higher, such a system would offer enormous savings potential, proving it’s worth.