Mitigating the cost and perils of downtime in mining

2nd February 2023


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When it comes to mining, the cost of downtime in a single shift can run into the millions. Here’s how Astron Energy can play a role in minimising the loss of productivity on site.

Mining and its related industries are critical to South Africa’s socio-economic development. The sector accounts for a large portion of the market capitalisation of the JSE, and continues to act as a magnet for foreign investment in the country.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has also flagged the significant role the sector will play in accelerating South Africa’s recovery from the country’s coronavirus-induced economic slump.

Downtime in the industry is not only devasting to the mining customers, but it has a knock-on impact across the mining value chain and ultimately South Africa’s economy.

“Equipment manufacturer Cummins has estimated that the downtime of a mining dump truck can cost up to ~USD$1 000 per hour, and an excavator costs even more,” says David MacIntyre, Finished Lubricants Technical Manager at Astron Energy.

Downtime is therefore an issue to pay special attention to and we work closely with our mining customers to limit equipment stoppages to avoid loss of productivity and profit.

Performing root cause failure analyses

There are two types of downtime that mines experience:

a) unscheduled downtime due to equipment breakdowns and failure,

b) and/or scheduled downtime for maintenance.

“The problem with unscheduled downtime is that often the symptoms are attended to and not the root cause,” says MacIntyre. “Root cause failure analysis is an area where we really assist our customers, and is critical to avoid future unscheduled downtime. If you are only treating the symptom, the event is likely to occur again.”

An example of how closely Astron Energy works with its mining clients is in the case of a customer whose conveyor gearbox was experiencing failures. “When a conveyor gearbox was installed, it was sized to the load as per the norm. Over time, the load of this particular conveyor increased beyond the design specification of the gearbox, resulting in premature failures.  We conducted a root cause failure analysis to determine why the gearbox was failing, the result of which was that a new gearbox correctly sized to the current – and future – load expectations needed to be installed.” Post this intervention, the client reported not to have experienced any further failures as a result of incorrect installation.

Equipment breakdowns are not the only reasons for unscheduled downtime, however. “The reliability of fuel supply is crucial for mines,” says Frederick Kruger, Sales Team Lead at Astron Energy. “If a mine is dry, all operations come to a standstill, which could run into the millions for one shift alone.”

Ensuring that our mining customers remain wet, even when there are fuel shortages, is therefore a critical priority for us, but we have found that there are other key areas where we can add value in terms of ensuring that unscheduled downtime is kept to a minimum.

“Mining is a dusty business and oil and fuel need to be supplied clean but also kept clean during storage, handling and while equipment is working,” says MacIntyre.

Kruger agrees: “It’s not as simple as receiving fuel and filling the tanks of equipment,” he explains. “Our fuel is extremely clean –it is filtered to cleanliness level 18/16/13– but there are multiple points in the fuel value chain once a mine receives its load where fuel can become contaminated. The correct filtration systems and processes are essential to avoid this.”

Contaminated fuel can lead to damaged fuel injectors and pumps, higher fuel consumption, loss of power and poor idling. The same is true with contaminated oils, and the result is unplanned equipment failure and downtime.

“We understand which levels of cleanliness must be targeted and how to achieve these standards with the correct filtration systems – and we accept nothing less,” says Kruger. “Any contamination has a direct impact on the bottom line, and so we take this value-added service extremely seriously to support our customers and their businesses.”

Implementing an Oil Analysis Program

While scheduled downtime is necessary to avoid or reduce the failure and breakdown of equipment in the future, any downtime costs mines, which is why there are a number of key considerations that should be taken into account during production planning.

Maintenance should be proactive and predictive. This allows best practice to be put in place. “There are a number of areas during scheduled downtime where we assist our customers,” says MacIntyre. “Possibly the most important is through oil analysis. Routine oil sampling provides essential information to determine the condition of a site’s equipment. It tells you the condition of the oil and if it needs to be changed or is fit for further use. This is because oil analysis shows contamination, such as dirt, fuel as well as wear metals. Routine analysis indicates any abnormal wear, allowing mines to monitor the condition of their equipment and take measures to avoid equipment failure and unscheduled downtime.”

A proper oil analysis programme can significantly reduce the total cost of ownership of equipment, over and above the savings mines achieve when downtime is minimised.

Reducing total cost of ownership of equipment

Total cost of ownership includes an equipment’s purchase price, running costs, and downtime cost over its expected life due to routine maintenance. Lubricants only account for between ~4% to 6% of maintenance expenditure, and yet the impact that  incorrect lubrication can have on the maintenance costs of equipment is far greater than this amount.

“We have a proprietary programme that we follow – the RBL (Run Better Longer) Programme – that allows our mining customers to reap the benefits of reduced total cost of ownership of their equipment. We focus on ensuring that the correct product is used for the application and operating conditions, that a proactive maintenance programme is in place, that the necessary training occurs and that their scheduled and unscheduled downtime is addressed and solutions put in place.

Leveraging specialised expertise

Unfortunately, we are often brought in after a failure has occurred, typically as a result of extending oil drain intervals, combined with poor maintenance practices. These are easily avoided with the correct training, products and procedures in place. “Mines should not have to be experts in fuels and lubrications,” says MacIntyre.

“Putting in place a lubrication survey that is based on OEM specs, operating conditions and customer’s expectations is essential. For example there are engine oils that are capable of extending engine drain intervals from 250 hours to 500 hours or even 750 hours in certain circumstances. This allows the equipment more production time”

Run Better Longer

Astron Energy’s RBL™ Programme is our commitment of reliability to help your equipment ‘Run Better Longer.’ Our specialists can help add value to your lubrication programme by providing expertise along with world-class products and targeted services – all working in sync to ensure you get the most out of your equipment and operations, time and time again.

Our RBL Programme consists of three building blocks that we use to help customers achieve their goals and identify opportunities for business improvements. When used together, these can demonstrate improved efficiencies to help lower your operating costs.

  • Knowledge: the collective knowledge that Astron Energy’s teams bring to our mining customers.
  • Products: The right product slate requires an understanding of your equipment, operating conditions and maintenance practices.
  • Services: The ability to help provide mining companies with appropriate services to maximise the value of recommended products to close lubrication programme gaps. These services include: 
    • Customer Site Assessment;
    • Storage and Handling;
    • Product Selection;
    • Equipment Lubrication Survey;
    • ISOCLEAN (our product cleanliness programme);
    • LubeWatch Oil Analysis;
    • Root Cause Failure Analysis and Lubrication Related Training.


Edited by Creamer Media Reporter



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