In the mining industry, downtime is a critical factor that significantly impacts operational efficiency and profitability. There are two types of downtime: scheduled and unscheduled, each with its distinct characteristics and implications.

Scheduled Downtime

Scheduled downtime refers to planned interruptions of operations for maintenance, repairs, or upgrades at a time that is convenient for the company and minimises any negative impact for the stakeholders. This type of downtime is essential for ensuring mining equipment’s longevity and optimal performance. Properly planned and executed, scheduled downtime can prevent more serious and costly breakdowns in the future. It involves activities such as routine inspections, parts replacements, and major overhauls or upgrades. The key benefits of scheduled downtime include improved equipment reliability, extended machinery life, and reduced Total Cost of Ownership, and enhanced safety for mining personnel.

Effective management of scheduled downtime requires careful planning to minimise its impact on production. Key elements include coordinating with multiple departments, ensuring the availability of necessary parts and resources, aligning with production cycles, and maintaining open communication with stakeholders to integrate planned downtime successfully into the company’s operational structure.

Unscheduled Downtime

Unscheduled downtime occurs unexpectedly and is usually the result of equipment breakdowns, failures, or other unforeseen issues. This type of downtime is particularly disruptive as it leads to immediate halts in production, often incurring significant financial losses. Waiting on parts or the necessary personnel to fix an issue takes time and could mean the machine will stay down longer. Longer downtime means less time spent making products, directly effecting the bottom line. The cost of unscheduled downtime in the mining industry can be substantial, running into thousands of dollars per hour lost due to halted operations.
For example, the consequences of unexpected slurry pipeline breakdowns can be:
  • The slurry bogs the work area and damages other equipment;
  • Wasted product (money lost);
  • Lost profit ($40,000 – $200,000 per hour);
  • Safety Hazards;
  • Scaffold and labour costs to reinstall.
Scheduled and Unscheduled Downtime: time is money
The reasons for unscheduled downtime are varied, ranging from equipment malfunctions and breakdowns to supply chain disruptions, poor maintenance or environmental factors. Unlike scheduled downtime, unscheduled downtime is reactive, addressing problems only after they have occurred.
Unscheduled downtime can increase the risk of accidents. During unplanned downtime the objective is to restart the equipment or process as soon as possible. This pressure may create a stressful, chaotic environment in which individuals react rather than deliberate about the best way ahead.

Reducing Downtime in the Mining Industry

First, it is essential to maintain detailed statistics and log all unscheduled downtime to understand how critical the problem is. All relevant data should be recorded, including the time, equipment involved, cause, and consequences. This information will aid in determining the Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) and selecting the appropriate strategy moving forward.

To prevent unscheduled downtime and improve production efficiency and profitability, the following strategies are recommended:

1. Proactive Maintenance Strategies:
  • Utilising advanced technologies like IoT and telematics for real-time equipment performance and condition monitoring;
  • Implementing predictive maintenance programs that use data analytics to anticipate and prevent equipment failures before they occur.

This proactive approach not only minimises unscheduled downtime but also optimises the efficiency of planned maintenance by addressing issues precisely when needed.

Regular Inspections
2. Quality Equipment and Regular Inspections:
  • Investing in high-quality mining equipment and conducting regular inspections to identify potential issues before they lead to breakdowns;
  • Detecting and fixing minor issues by scheduling regular inspections, preventing them from evolving into major failures;
  • Defining problem areas and addressing any known bottlenecks and constraints.
When organisations understand their areas of weakness, diagnosing and addressing them becomes much more manageable. For example, common problem areas include older machines, which can be managed through additional inspections; and new or inexperienced employees, who may benefit from mentorship by senior team members.
3. Training and Education:
  • Providing comprehensive training to personnel on proper equipment operation and maintenance procedures;
  • Implementing clear guidelines and well-defined standard operating procedures (SOPs) for each repeated operation will help ensure tasks are performed correctly and that no steps are missed. Clear SOPs can also benefit newer team members who aren’t as experienced in performing some of these maintenance tasks.

4. Spare Parts Management:

  • Maintaining an inventory of critical spare parts to reduce the time taken for repairs during unscheduled downtimes.

5. Partnering with Experts:

  • Collaborating with specialised service providers who can offer expertise in maintenance and repairs, and help streamline the maintenance process.

Conclusion

Both scheduled and unscheduled downtimes are inevitable in the mining industry. However, mining companies can minimise their impact and enhance operational efficiency and overall profitability through effective management strategies, including the adoption of advanced technologies and proactive maintenance approaches.

Managing downtime, whether scheduled or unscheduled, is crucial for mining enterprises’ smooth operation and financial success. The negative impacts of downtime can be significantly mitigated through strategic planning, investment in quality equipment and technology, and robust maintenance protocols.

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