AS gold prices rise to their highest levels for 20 years, many Australian producers are having trouble keeping up with demand because of the reduced exploration and production levels during leaner times.
Those who have had the foresight to make major investments in new production are reaping the benefits of both that investment and the wisdom to put in place comprehensive plant maintenance programs that help safeguard production levels from unscheduled downtime and the widespread skills shortages caused by the worldwide resources boom.
One of Australia's most successful goldminers, Newcrest, had such foresight. At Cadia mine, the largest gold and copper producer in New South Wales and one of Australia's largest gold producers, producing 300,000oz of gold a year and more than 25,000t of copper, it set in place a crane maintenance agreement with KCI Konecranes to help ensure uninterrupted production.
The Cadia operations comprise a large low grade open pit mine at Cadia Hill and a higher grade underground mine at Ridgeway.
The two concentrators are located adjacent to each other and share a number of infrastructure facilities and services. This enables the two concentrators to be efficiently operated as a single complex.
To support the concentrators, Cadia uses more than a dozen specialised cranes, often simultaneously, to ensure quality maintenance of its production equipment including heavy plant equipment such as the largest SAG Mill in the world (20MW) and two ball mills rated at almost 9,000kW - this is where KCI Konecranes comes in.
The extensive infrastructure at Cadia has to be serviced proficiently to tight deadlines during limited scheduled equipment shutdowns.
In 2004 Cadia and KCI Konecranes jointly reviewed the existing maintenance cost structures. KCI Konecranes then developed a maintenance program based on the knowledge that they had acquired from their experience on the site over many years since.
This was further tuned to the operation requirements by implementing a smarter approach that would considerably reduce the overall cost of their maintenance.
KCI Konecranes initiated a program that focused on key issues such as proactive actioning of repairs on problem areas of cranes. They also developed a flexible servicing program that went beyond preventive maintenance and provided Cadia the comfort of knowing what the costs of repairs and additional works would be, removing any surprises.
Being able to predict equipment expenditures was an offshoot of the ongoing reviews of key equipment, and one that was appreciated by the Cadia operations management.
This equipment includes specialised cranes ranging from less than 1t to more than 100t capacity, which are relied upon heavily in key production areas such as the sag mill, flotation building, crushers and workshop.
The cranes involved are sophisticated units, according to KCI Konecranes. Because the technology is quite advanced, it is difficult for mining companies to source these technical skill sets that not only include expert repairs but also engineering expertise and experience on the broad range of equipment employed a the mines. KCI Konecranes works with Cadia to provide this world-class expertise.
During a shutdown, Cadia has between 100-200 contractors working on site and the KCI Konecrane engineers blend in as part of that team.
This co-operation and teamwork is important because if any of the cranes stopped in the middle of an operation, it could delay the entire shutdown and would result in a major production loss.
KCI Konecranes, by working with Cadia, and employing their site specific knowledge, have been able to reduce both the occurance and the cost of breakdowns overall.
With Cadia’s key production equipment and gold production at its highest levels, KCI Konecranes are restraining Cadia’s overhead crane maintenance costs to their lowest level in several years.
KCI Konecranes has more than 130 specialists in commissioning and maintenance at 26 locations throughout Australia and New Zealand - and they have recently undertaken major investments in states where resources are booming, such as Queensland and Western Australia.
KCI Konecranes' global sales exceed $1 billion a year and they have outstanding knowledge of how to plan and schedule maintenance to optimise equipment service life - and to avoid the choking bottlenecks that businesses suffer when essential lifting equipment breaks down.
The company has a wealth of computer-based and practical knowledge and local staff with hands-on experience who are immediately familiar with local site issues. This is especially important in the current environment of skills shortages in Australia, when companies are increasingly turning to outsourcing to gain access to a reliable skills base and to free up their own valuable production staff to focus on with the job of production.
Also, as many companies’ own skilled staff leave or are re-assigned, it is important there are people remaining who know their equipment, its history and its safety and efficiency needs as it is called on to handle greater production than ever before, according to KCI Konecranes.