Taking operational performance to the next level

With the growing global trend towards the adoption of smart technology, process instrumentation specialist VEGA has continued development of smart solutions for the mining industry to increase operational performance.

VEGA managing director John Leadbetter explained that a key part of the company’s research and development is devoted to making products easier to operate and maintain, while also driving better performance. This is primarily through providing operators the ability to access information or system programs via Bluetooth.

Leadbetter said the company recently developed a smartphone app for operators to access programs or the parameters of a particular instrument via Bluetooth through a quick and easy format.

“The majority of people have a smartphone of some type,” Leadbetter told Australian Mining, “So instead of having to carry around calibrators, laptops or machinery, operators can pull their phone out of their pocket, open the app and access the required information in the field without putting themselves in danger or interfering with the performance of the plant.”

VEGA provides a range of level, pressure and density solutions, with Australia and South Africa accounting for the majority of its mining solutions. Leadbetter explained that level measurement is one of the major solutions delivered for dry mining – such as iron ore mining – however more diverse systems are used for wet mining – such as in the gold and nickel industry – as it involves slurries and floatation.

In terms of mining solutions, Leadbetter said standardisation was one of the main areas companies were heading towards, with the aim to keep their stock control as low as possible while still increasing operational performance.

“Everybody wants to reduce not just the number of units they use but also the variety of units they use,” he said.

“They want a device that they can put into six or seven applications while still using the same type of device.”

Suppliers supporting their customers

With the decline in the number of personnel on site post mining boom, Leadbetter said there was a stronger requirement for suppliers not only to sell particular products, but to support them in the long term as well.

“The after sales or the engineering support is a big part that determines whether companies will stick with a particular supplier or start to look around for a change,” he said.

“That support can come a number of ways; whether you provide service personnel to assist, whether you provide the ability to get on site and train the people for the correct use and maintenance of the equipment, or whether you’re able to adapt your manufacturing to suit a particular need.”

Leadbetter explained that one of the biggest requirements customers look for is the assurance that what they are purchasing was going to work in the long term.

“Customers want to know that the product they’re buying will be supported for a particular period of time. So if you can offer that kind of support and say, ‘Yes, we’re going to be able to support that product for the next seven to 10 years’, that gives the customer more confidence in the product,” he said.

“But if you say, ‘No we’re actually replacing that product in 12 months’ time’, then there will be doubt as to why they should buy that product now or if they should wait 12 months and see what the newer versions look like.”

Leadbetter added that most of the changes to VEGA’s instrumentation range mainly centred around performance, rather than physical alteration. In 2003, the company developed its current manufacturing process called ‘ PLICS ’ – the ability for all its instruments to physically look the same and yet have different internals, outputs, or power requirements.

“Physically, the products don’t change much, it’s really about how you use it or how the actual programming of the product improves the performance in the application,” he said.

Leadbetter also stressed the importance of product availability.

“There’s a situation these days where a lot of companies are reluctant to carry hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of spares in their warehouses because of the cost of carrying that,” he said.

“What they’re looking at is if they commit to you for a particular type of product or support, what is the safeguard for them that you’re going to have those products available in a decent amount of time for them to buy spares, replacement units or expansions, so that forms part of the equation as well.”

This article also appears in the September edition of Australian Mining.