When the average truckload is valued at more than $350,000, and unit downtime can easily cost $1 million per, unplanned downtime is not an option. To help ensure equipment uptime, some mining operations are outsourcing their vehicle maintenance.
"Maintaining trucks that work in open pit mines or run deep in coal, copper and gold mines is more of an onsite working partnership than just a turnkey maintenance operation," says Tom Kennedy, service manager for Stewart & Stevenson Power Products.
Based in Albuquerque, NM, the company designs, manufacturers and provides specialized equipment and aftermarket parts and service for the oil and gas and other industries, and is a member of the WheelTime Network, which offers truck service support through training facilities, service centers, mobile repair services and on-site truck care.
"When you're maintaining fleets that are running hard at 55 percent load factor per unit and pulling more than 300 tons at 2,700 horsepower for 45 minutes or more, wear and tear on powertrains gets pretty ugly," Kennedy says.
"Mining creates some of the most rugged conditions for engine and truck life. The dirt, dust and debris in the environment alone wreak havoc on systems."
It costs more than $300,000 to rebuild or repower a vehicle, he says. "That's why we keep track of each unit's hours and provide monthly, weekly and daily reports on what is needed to maintain each truck. We also develop schedules for engine rebuilds with a goal of getting every ounce of life out of the vehicle."
"We literally set up shops at the mine and get totally immersed within the mine management team," says Chris Fleming, senior vice president and general manager at Smith Power Products, a truck parts and service provider headquartered in Salt Lake City, and a WheelTime Network member. "We've found that understanding the various needs of each mine and making adjustments daily to accommodate the priorities is extremely important to taking care of our mining customers."
Smith Power people attend morning meetings and plan preventive maintenance to coincide with each mine's challenges of the day, as well as backlogs, he explains. "We then work preventive maintenance into planned downtimes and make accommodations for shifts in priority and scheduling.
"More than number of hours, we've found that the amount of fuel used by the engine per hour is a better predictor of wear pattern and engine life," says Fleming. "We've developed a formulary based on load factor and conditions and found that we can reduce maintenance cost for our clients by employing a maintenance program based on fuel consumption per hour.
"That predictability gives mining operations management the data they need to predict fuel and operations costs."