SKF: mining’s mill masters


Due to age, many horizontal grinding mills in the sector are reaching a tipping point.

SKF’s Mill Monitoring Program anticipates failures before they occur, providing a real-time solution to ensure mining companies minimise downtime and maximise productivity.

Horizontal grinding mills (HGM) are a critical cog to any mining operation. Their efficiency is paramount to a mining company’s overall success.

If an HGM breaks down it could result in thousands, if not millions, of dollars in lost revenue and plants should therefore be regularly monitored to ensure there are no major faults that can cause imminent breaking points.

This is where SKF comes to the fore.

SKF is a specialist at maximising the reliability and output of mining machinery and has a team dedicated to optimising and monitoring rotating equipment using world-class IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) technology and systems.

To support the mining sector’s constant desire to boost productivity, SKF’s rotating equipment performance (REP) division established its IIoT driven Mill Monitoring Program, enabling miners to better observe and understand their HGMs in real-time.

SKF digitalisation project delivery manager Miller Ollukaran said a modern and sustainable IIoT driven Mill Monitoring Program was becoming increasingly relevant.

“As the mining industry moves into the future, it’s getting more and more important to find smarter ways to secure the availability of HGMs with reduced maintenance requirement and cost,” he told Australian Mining.

“So we are in constant dialogue with operators from a current state where they might be firefighting and lifelike, supporting them to become more proactive. This ensures the mill operation and reliability is more predictable, which minimises human interaction and costs.”

SKF is enabling its clients to process more ore, more of the time.


SKF has broken down the solution into four distinct segments: connect, detect, inform and improve.

As SKF’s IIoT-driven condition monitoring systems combine and portray different data types from machine control systems and sensors, the company’s specialists do the examining.

“Through our Australian-based remote diagnostics centre, SKF has got experienced analysts who detect any issues by interpreting data using a combination of analysis tools, including artificial intelligence (AI) and automated machine learning,” Ollukaran said.

“We then present these insights to our clients in an easy-to-understand machine-health dashboard, advising them when problems are arising, what they are, what the underlying causes are, and possibly even how to resolve it.”

While some larger mining companies may have in-house mill-monitoring teams, a proportion of miners won’t have those frameworks in place, meaning HGMs are going unmonitored or taking hand-held data readings, which is costly and happens only periodically. 

Due to age, many HGMs in the sector are reaching a tipping point. An old mill is a troublesome mill, so it is imperative support systems are introduced.

Major mining companies in the Goldfields have been relying on SKF’s Mill Monitoring Program to keep their HGMs on track, using weekly reports to ensure the old plant is running cost effectively and any changes are detected at an early and, most importantly, manageable stage.

The miners have not only leant on SKF’s expertise but also its wealth of data to make informed decisions in real-time. To facilitate this, the clients are provided online access to the data.

“These days, it’s not enough to just have a report,” SKF REP digital solution manager Jens Lodders said. “What is very important is SKF’s domain knowledge, because this is what we do best.

“You can have automated systems, but if you don’t bring the domain knowledge, the hardware or software is not maximised, as you can only detect and optimise so much without having people investigate into the data.

“Combined with our application engineering expertise, we define learning patterns, set alarm bands, correlate process and vibration data for generating maximum insights.

“Clients get access to the data, which enables them to monitor it and say, ‘Okay, how do we look today? Can I run it longer? Can I make it to the next shut, and do I reach the availability of the mill which I am accountable for?’

“No one is willing to take bad chances these days and an IIoT-driven Mill Monitoring Program provides transparency at all times, meaning users are always in control.”

Having the ability to anticipate failures before they arise not only saves maintenance costs but decreases downtime, ensuring HGMs can process more ore, more of the time. This is a core purpose of SKF’s Mill Monitoring Program.

SKF meets mining companies at different stages of their operation, and by leveraging the Mill Monitoring Program smart decisions can be made within the broader context.

A miner can assess its mine life and with the assistance of SKF, comfortably evaluating whether an HGM needs to be replaced or upgraded.

At the end of the day, a mining company is judged on profitability, and being able to make intelligent decisions at the right times based on qualified data is therefore a huge advantage. 

This feature appeared in the May issue of Australian Mining.

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