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Fleet Management in Mining

With the cost of fuel continuing to rise and being one of the biggest single expenditures of a mine site, being able to efficiently and productively use your fleet has become more important than ever for mines. Being able to accurately monitor your fleet location, usage and behaviours can make a huge difference to the bottom line, especially when you factor in maintenance and tyre replacement costs.

The big challenge for many now with trying to optimise their fleet is actually the huge range of products you can purchase that can help with this. You can have GPS, fuel management, tyre monitoring, satellite tracking, collision avoidance, load weighting and the list goes on. This will present two major issues:

1.       An overwhelming number of screens presented to fleet drivers and users, showing a number of stats about their vehicle at any given time

2.       A large amount of data being fed back to control and operations rooms, from a large fleet, can shadow what it critical and what is not

To address point number one first, the obvious solution is to converge these screens into one, user-friendly interface, that can be easily interpreted by the vehicle driver to help them better interact with their equipment. Teck Metals in Canada has achieved just this, working closely with a couple of their solution providers, to provide an open-sourced platform that vehicle users are happily engaging with (after some initial fears around big brother watching them everywhere of course!).

In regards to point number two, the data transmitted to the control room can be broadly divided into two categories: vehicle health and vehicle location. Both are equally important in terms of being able to acquire and act upon real time information. With location, understanding truck routes, idle times and locations, speeds and load can identify serious inefficiencies in all areas that can help drive savings. For example, if several trucks are running at less than full load capacity at one given time, the fleet manager can quickly make the decision to take one or more off shift and save on fuel, and equipment wear and tear. Historically this would only potentially have been discovered at the end of shift, when mine haulage figures were reconciled with the production schedule.

With regards to health, tyre pressure and heat (as two examples) can be constantly monitored, and flagged as getting towards levels that would have a potential severe outcome (tyre bursting) or at least a negative impact on machine performance. These vehicles can then be rotated out of production for maintenance. In a recent discussion on Linkedin, in the Fleet Management Systems – Mining group, Salar Javid, Specialist, Business Strategy and Capital Allocation at Barrick Gold Corporation, made some very astute comments in regard to the possibilities for data to improve fleet usage:

“In the past the FMSs provided mining operations with information about what the truck/asset is doing and how effective it is on doing its function.

Other maintenance (condition monitoring) systems provided asset managers with information about the health of the asset. As you can appreciate these were never integrated and if they were, they were after the fact and done in a very crude way.

It’s only with the introduction of a direct integration of these types of data via systems like MineStar Health or JHealth (by Jigsaw) that now the operations have access to real time and useful data.
Simply, this has enabled maintenance professionals to understand the context of the events (mine geography, operator, time, etc), and add a level of optimization based around maintenance events to production personnel.

I’ll give you an example: Overshoots on electric trucks are great cause of safety risk and maintenance costs. In most mines, when this event occurs on a truck, the asset is isolated, and inspected, and it is proven that these events reduce the life of the wheel motors (so think about it as the total opportunity cost of that event).
By being able to map the location of these events using the systems mentioned above, and understanding the operating context behind it, we were soon able to find out the root cause, and make the appropriate changes to road design. Simply the problem was a road which was constructed outside of the descend specs.
We have been able to replicate these savings throughout multiple mine sites using simple pre-configured events from the OEM, which by itself only alerted me that the event has occurred but never put it in any other operating context. The application of this is not limited to the pre-configured OEM events and can be done with any other event which has been identified by Reliability or maintenance professionals.

My personal belief is that the next frontier in operational excellence and cost savings is associated with the merger of this information rather than one or the other and this is what I call ‘Operating for Reliability’. This is where there is no silos between production and maintenance and it is a shared goal and responsibility between the two functions.”

How important people are in breaking down these silos and using your engineers to drive improved maintenance practices for fleet management was covered by Adam Charter from Anglo American in his presentation at a Mining IQ event last year.

Another challenge behind optimal fleet management is physically being able to track your trucks and vehicles at all times around the mine. Obviously GPS and satellite help with this, but with so many mines being remote, plus underground mines getting deeper, ensuring consistent communication between the truck and the device receiving the location signal can be very difficult. Last year Mining IQ conducted an interview with Newmont’s Jason Nitz on how they managed to improve their GPS coverage to 97% at Boddington, so make sure to check that out if you want some advice!