Misconceptions about reducing mining companies’ total cost of ownership (TCO), including those in the platinum-group metals (PGMs) sector, result in reduced equipment life and an increase in overall operating costs, says Stilfontein-based polyurethane-moulded products designer and manufacturer Prothane Industrial GM Gordon Cornish.
He explains that reducing TCO is a general business principle, which often has unintended consequences when implemented at mines using service contractors, to which the regulatory environment and skills shortage in the PGMs industry are strong contributors.
US-based engineering solutions provider Life Cycle Engineering executive adviser Keith Modley defines TCO as an estimate of all costs incurred at an asset level from the conception to the disposal of an asset. This estimation is useful in determining the amount a company can expect to pay for any product or system.
Reducing TCO is currently a notable trend in the overall mining industry, particularly in the cash-strapped PGMs mining environment.
However, not adhering to best- practice equipment guidelines set out by equipment distributors, such as Prothane Industrial, accounts for 27% of all asset-related reliability issues and can also increase a company’s energy consumption by 15% and reduce equipment life by 20% to 30%, states Modley.
Cornish suggests that cost-cutting measures in the pumps industry are being implemented incorrectly and inefficiently and, although not applicable in all instances of PGMs mining, he notes that, if not managed properly, such measures can drive up costs.
He says it is common practice among mining pumps owners to transfer the ownership of pumps refurbishments to external service providers. This may be a mistake, as life- cycle costs “take on a totally different meaning” for external service providers, as opposed to mine owners, states Cornish. While external service providers may offer the maintenance of pumps at cheap prices, they “thrive by ensuring a high rate of repetitive business”, he cautions.
Cornish is adamant that there is nothing more annoying to an engineer than observing a pump shaft being ruined with a cutting torch to remove the impeller. This form of routine, yet “unnecessary”, maintenance, directly contradicts what Cornish believes mining owners should be striving to achieve regarding pumping systems, which is to extend unit life and use. The point is that not all TCO solutions are created equal.
Mine owners also tend to favour cost saving on pump units, which inevitably costs companies more in maintenance and downtime, he says. The unit cost of a pump should not be of primary importance – when buying a pump, it is vital to factor in its initial cost and that of the effective maintenance provision making up the total life-cycle cost and its contribution to the effective operation of the project in question, Cornish notes.
He claims that Prothane Industrial’s products reduce maintenance on pump systems, with the company being the developer and applier of the Polycombo system and holding sole rights to the Polycombo trademark.
Prothane Industrial’s products use Polycombo, an abrasion-resistant material which improves the durability and life span of slurry lines, coal and aggregate chutes and power poles. Polycombo is resistant to most acids, bases and salt solutions. It can withstand seawater, raw and oxygenated sewage, bleaches, petroleum, vegetable oils and most chemicals. The material is also weather resistant.
Prothane Industrial has experienced great market success with its range of Polycombo impellers, including its new heavy media application impellers. This particular range facilitates the impact and rebound of solid particles in a certain size fraction range, enabling the impeller to exceed the life expectancy of high-wear chrome steel impellers. This range has achieved notable popularity in the chrome and platinum industries, with benefits such as lower maintenance and overall energy costs, lighter impeller weight and overall pump life extension.
Prothane Industrial launched its Denva pumps range last year, which has been well received by the market, says Cornish. The range is specifically designed to handle heavy-duty mining applications and performs well in harsh environments. The pumps were initially built to handle industry-related problems that mine owners kept encountering, such as constant maintenance requirements.
Cornish concludes that Prothane Industrial’s products will reduce damage to pump pedestals caused by vibration, extend bearing assembly life and maintain pump efficiency in the ‘sweet spot’ of the impeller for longer.