As skills shortages bite, mine operators face the dilemma of running equipment harder than ever to meet demand while having to curtail maintenance because of pressures on staff.
And even where qualified staff can be found for major refurbishments or upgrades, the job has to be compressed into a shorter-than-ever time scale so that production losses do not quickly run into the millions of dollars.
“We see evidence of skill shortages all over the country,” says the Manager of the Australian Service Centre of Outotec (formerly Outokumpu Technology) Jason King.
“Concentrators running at full capacity, for example, all too often become victims of premature equipment failure, breakdowns and increased safety hazards, while their personnel are strongly focused on production and demands.
“The people on site are often doing magnificently the job the shareholders expect, of getting the maximum production down to the wharf as soon as possible to reap the current prices bonanza. But there is always a day of reckoning. You can’t take everything out of equipment without putting proper maintenance back.”
Outotec’s Australian Service Centre – which is part of an integrated network of more than 10 similar Outotec centres operating globally - is focused on key service areas such as process audits and optimisation, preventative maintenance, upgrades, spare parts management and excellence in training.
Operating from bases in Sydney and Perth with a core of 28 specialist staff, the Service Centre has been expanded and structured to provide vital skills at a time of large demand for them throughout Australasia and the Asia-Pacific.
“We are a very hands-on team that understands the pressures of production and knows that maximum reliability and efficiency from process equipment can only be achieved in conjunction with an effectively managed maintenance system and
customer support services,” says Jason King.
Outotec provides its customers with a range of site services designed to help them maintain optimum process performance and technologies as well as a safe working environment.
“Our After Sales Service engineers are specialists with experience on over 200 sites worldwide. Their product knowledge allows them to complete technology maintenance and servicing tasks faster and more thoroughly than general site maintenance staff, saving customers’ man-hours and dollars,” he says.
Each job completed is supplemented by a comprehensive report so that sites can maintain accurate records and trends on their installation’s performance.
The engineers work closely with customers in areas such as shutdown maintenance, emergency breakdowns, equipment overhauls and site supervision. They will also assist in the installation, commissioning and calibration of spare parts and new or refurbished equipment.
Their regular involvement with customer sites means that their valuable knowledge of those sites’ operations and history can be put to use at any time - especially after site personnel have moved on.
This assistance can include:
- Product technical information and data
- Troubleshooting of faults and malfunctions
- Development of work method statements and safety plans
- Development of maintenance procedures
- Formal and informal training
“Every site is unique and, as such, has specific requirements. In light of this, the Australian Service Centre focuses on flexible support and a prompt response.
Premature failures and breakdowns of equipment subjected to high demand and low maintenance leads to higher repair costs and low equipment availability over prolonged periods, says Jason King.
Outotec’s experience has shown that a combination of good on-site housekeeping and regular preventative maintenance by skilled Service Engineers is a way to guarantee effective system performance and reliability.
“Outotec Service Contracts draw on global experience but are tailored to meet individual customer needs, recognizing that each site is different. The contracts are structured to achieve the desired performance and reliability using skills that have been developed over many years at Outotec’s own production facilities and through global industry knowledge and site experience.
More out of ore- Upgrades
“Because of production pressures, some plants may have last updated portions of their minerals processing technology some years ago and are still operating equipment which is no longer performing optimally,” says Jason King.
“Because they are so focused on day-to-day production, their operators haven’t got time to stand back and look at how they can get more out of the technology they have.
“Mine sites need to have the ability to grow and the flexibility to easily adapt to changing ore qualities. It is therefore a business necessity to ensure that a plant has the optimum technologies and processes in place to remain competitive.”
Outotec’s Australian Service Centre’s upgrade and modernisation service works in partnership with its customers at every step from enquiry to project execution, specialising in the design and integration of leading-edge solutions into existing plants.
Typical projects may include equipment upgrades and new technology installations, lifecycle extension, and equipment conversions such as the conversion of a conventional thickener to a high rate thickener.
Project scope could include everything from initial feasibility study to the delivery of a full turnkey solution.
“Our proposals include standard equipment and resources as well as optional deliverables that may include customisations and specialized control instrumentation.
Plant upgrades start with an audit to determine the current performance level and the required changes to reach the site’s targets. From this point forward
the upgrade team manages all aspects of the project.
“The competencies within the team are, therefore, varied and dynamic as each project is different and demands specific skill sets. Some of the competencies include:
- Maintenance upgrades
- Civil works
- Multidisciplinary site construction
- Safety, environmental and quality management
- Plant layout and design
- Procurement, manufacturing and quality assurance
- Full time construction management”