General maintenance service providers often show little respect for the engineering design of specialised on-mine equipment, which can cost the mine dearly in the long run.
This applies as much to transfer chutes as to other mining infrastructure, according to Weba Chute Systems technical director Alwin Nienaber. The result of poor maintenance is usually that mining operations are compromised by unscheduled stoppages caused by equipment failure.
“The tragedy is that what generally drives mines to outsource maintenance to general service providers is an attempt to cut costs,” says Nienaber. “But the result is frequently the opposite – on top of which the mine’s production revenue is severely undermined by misguided attempts at cost-saving.”
He highlights that poor maintenance prevents chutes from delivering the value that the OEM has promised. In Weba Chute System’s case, its chutes are custom-engineered to suit the specific duty; any short-cut taken in maintenance – for instance, in terms of the materials used – will reduce performance and lifespan. There could be costly operational consequences, such as added impact on conveyor belts and resulting damage. More spillage could occur at the transfer point, along with higher dust emissions – all requiring urgent attention.
“OEMs bring a wealth of highly-focused experience with each product, adding tangible value to the mine’s overall efficiency, safety and profitability,” he says. “This expertise translates into smoother mining operations, as we have so much practice in our field that we can assure the customer of the outcome of every intervention.”
This reliability is a key part of the value offered, and extends to the timeous sourcing or delivery of spares and the convenient scheduling of the necessary maintenance.
“We have witnessed first-hand what can happen to plant availability when critical components like chutes are not well cared for,” says Nienaber. “By collaborating with a customer on maintenance, we helped keep plant availability as high as 98%; when the mine opted for a general contractor to save costs, that availability dropped to below 90%.”
A performance deterioration of that magnitude could be fatal for a mine, Nienaber warns, while the amount saved in operating expenditure was minuscule, and was far outweighed by revenue losses.
“When Weba Chute Systems maintains its own equipment, we ensure the high standards to which they are designed and manufactured,” he says. “That is how we keep our word and earn customers’ trust.”