Managing the fleet for higher profits

The fundamental elements of fleet management. Coffey Mining Chief Mining Engineer Linton Kirk writes.

Running a profitable mining operation depends on a wide range of factors but according to the Chief Mining Engineer at Coffey Mining, Linton Kirk, one of the fundamental elements is effective fleet management.

“It may not be the first thing people think of but good fleet management can mean savings of a few per cent, which can translate into millions of dollars on a large project,” Kirk said.

“The fleet is essentially any mobile equipment that does mining work — whether it’s open cut or underground, diesel or electric.

“There are two key aspects to fleet management. Firstly you have to make sure the fleet is fit for purpose, correctly specified, adequately maintained and available. Then you have to manage and use it efficiently.”

According to Kirk, the single biggest fleet cost is generally haulage — a cost that was only rising as fuel prices spiralled upwards.

“Because haulage is usually the largest operating cost, you have to make sure you manage this aspect carefully,” he said.

“A major consideration is good layout of the overall site to focus on efficient haulage. Sometimes you have the plant in the wrong place, the waste dump in the wrong place and this can seriously reduce efficiency and escalate costs. This is why we often try to do the actual layout designs for the pit dump and underground designs.

“Essentially it is all about improving the cost effectiveness of expensive and scarce resources,” Kirk said.

Payload management

Understanding payload management was also essential to the process, Kirk said.

This was because there could be a vast difference in the weight and density of materials, particularly when comparing dry bulk density to wet loose density of the same substance in the loading bucket and in the truck tray, and this needed to be factored into haulage estimates.

“We’re using hauling units or trucks that have a maximum weight payload but it’s more than just knowing what that maximum weight is,” he said.

“You need to know what it can carry when you mine with a range of materials and if you need to design the body tray to accommodate the differences. You also need to understand the move from in situ dry bulk density to what you can actually carry in trucks — that’s wet loose density.”

Considerations such as these highlighted the need to focus on realistic physical parameters when planning a mining activity.

“Whether it’s drilling or hauling, a key principle is you have to appreciate realistic physical parameters when you’re developing productivity numbers,” Kirk said.

“Other constraints on productivity include poor planning, poor allocation of time and inadequate infrastructure. For example, adequate time needs to be set aside for routine maintenance and servicing of equipment, which is not always done as well as it could be.

“Roadways also need to be designed, constructed and maintained well to reduce rolling resistance and inertia — that’s even more important now with fuel usage. You need to understand the hauling profile and how you can improve it. We are dealing with $2million vehicles and a single tyre can cost $80,000 so you also need to make sure the roads are in good condition and not causing excessive wear on the vehicles,” he said.

Kirk said implementing a sophisticated real-time management system was crucial to maximising efficiency, particularly in larger operations.

“The larger an operation gets, the more complex it becomes so using computer managements systems becomes essential,” he said.

“Real-time GPS systems cost more than a million dollars to purchase but a few percentage saving will get that back for a larger operation in a very short time. We don’t market these products but we do understand them and analyse them for our clients. Even in smaller operations, the savings you can get will generally justify the initial outlay. If you have more than three load plus haulage fleets, you should have one.

“Fleet management starts at any sized operation. The bigger the operation, the more complex it gets but the basic principles don’t change,” he said.

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