McLanahan is rising to the challenges of mining’s digital future. Australian Mining speaks to APAC managing director Neil Hunt to find out how.
Customisation is changing the modern mining landscape. Brownfield sites in particular are deriving gains from equipment upgrades and optimisations that were not possible a few years ago.
Mining companies are seeking to partner with original equipment manufacturers (OEM), which are able to design equipment that is not only robust and reliable, but operates safely and at optimum capacity with little need for human intervention.
This means equipment designers have to consider how products are remotely monitored, how fault finding is managed and reported and what analysis is required to trend reliability.
The mining industry witnessed a trend of cost cutting during the downturn that often extended to OEM services
Despite the emergence of technologies in the automation and data analysis spheres among Tier 1 miners, many operators have focused on optimising the assets they already have installed.
This is one of McLanahan’s specialisations as a bespoke mining industry OEM. By extending the life of components — such as wear items — and increasing capacity without increasing the overall footprint of equipment, the company is serving an essential industry need.
Its efforts were recognised at the Queensland Mining Awards in July when the company was nominated as a finalist in the Time Saving Initiative category for the Lake Vermont coal handling and preparation plant (CHPP) feeder breaker project with Thiess in Queensland.
The company saved Thiess hundreds of hours of maintenance time a year by installing front-end access to the feeder breaker’s ROM bin.
“We love those challenges where a site has been operating for a number of years, perhaps well beyond its expected life, and their equipment has become unreliable and worn out,” McLanahan managing director, Asia Pacific, Neil Hunt says.
“This provides us with an opportunity to design a current solution to fit into an existing footprint. We get enormous satisfaction from doubling or tripling production through old plants by simply providing customised solutions, enabling clients to extend the life of their assets.”
Every mining site is different and work has to be tailored to fit expectations. Sometimes, Hunt explains, sites prefer to use equipment and processes they have previously had experience with, while others tend to rely on advice that has come from consultants. Hunt says deep engagement with clients is important.
“It is our responsibility to have inclusive discussions with the client to educate and advise them of how to achieve their desired outcome, in a more efficient way, or with less cost, or perhaps utilising a different process from the one envisioned,” he explains.
“If we had a choice we’d rather have a deeper engagement with clients every day of the week and not simply take orders.”
The Human Touch
Mining is a risky occupation, and much of the equipment on mine sites requires the presence of several people to operate them safely and efficiently. However, staff is expensive, especially at FIFO operations.
“When you look at the cost of downtime, specifically around the Pilbara area, the cost of downtime just pales into insignificance next to the cost of maintaining staff,” McLanahan managing director, Asia Pacific, Neil Hunt explains.
“We’ve just come out of a period where there has been a very tight control on capital expenditure so rather than focus on installing new equipment, the miners and operators have been focusing on optimisation.
“For us, we saw it as a key differentiator that when the market was retreating during that downturn period, we saw it as an opportunity to invest in people.”
McLanahan has developed a digital customer portal to collaborate and maintain strong links with operators and maintenance personnel.
The portal is customisable to user requirements with personalised dashboards to showcase required data from multiple McLanahan machines, driving efficiency between the company and operators.
It also hosts e-manuals, exploded models, how-to videos, parts orders, spare lists, inventory and audit reports, and many other materials to provide easier access for the user.
Hunt says this kind of post-works implementation exhibits the same philosophy of customisation as McLanahan’s work on mineral processing systems.
“The Internet of Things (IoT) offers humans the ability to haul around their individual virtual world with them by giving them access to people, knowledge, money, food, transport and entertainment that is completely personalised,” Hunt says.
“The customer portal allows the operator and maintenance personnel to access a customised experience interface for their McLanahan equipment.”
McLanahan plans to maintain close collaboration with mining clients while meeting modern demands for improved visibility and supply chain integration.
The Wild West days of data analysis in the mining industry may be coming to an end, however, as uses for data become increasingly ratified, and this extends to OEMs as well.
“Ten years ago the demand on OEMs was to conform with ISO, safety standards and management systems, which became a box ticking exercise in order to conform to tender requirements,” Hunt says.
“Within the next five years, we expect the same demands will be placed on OEMs to confirm acquisition and analysis of data from equipment reporting back to mining company’s operation centres.”
This article appeared in the December 2018 issue of Australian Mining.