Anton Niemann, Shell Downstream South Africa general manager for lubricants explains the plight of machinery downtime, and how lubricants can counter this and reduce overall total cost of ownership.
In any business, time is money, and this ideology stems across multiple industries including that of mining. It is for this reason that downtime caused by equipment failure and breakdown can result in financial losses that many simply cannot afford.
This lends to the idea that machinery should be in a constant state of perfect operation, and that in an industry such as this, prevention surely is better than cure.
The belief is that apart from the moving parts of a machine, there is potential for lubrication to deliver even greater business value by contributing in improving machine productivity, and therefore reducing associated running costs. However, the potential impact of lubricants is often significantly underestimated. Understanding how lubricants contribute to total cost of ownership (TCO) is the first step to realising potential savings.
When evaluating the effect of lubricants on TCO, we consider the end to end impact on maintenance budget and processes, but also any costs related to lost production during equipment downtime. Optimising lubrication can have a significant impact on component life, maintenance costs, and unplanned downtime which can contribute to cost savings far higher than the price of the lubricant itself.
Through research conducted by Shell, the impact of lubrication truly is underrated, with only 60% of companies believing they can reduce costs by less than 5% through lubricant selection and management, while a mere one in four think savings could exceed 10%.
Lubricant product selection or management can impact many elements of a company’s maintenance budget. Seizing the cost-saving opportunity depends on addressing two equally important elements. Firstly, by selecting the right lubricant or grease, and secondly, by ensuring effective lubrication management, including the correct storage and handling, the right place, the right time, the right amount, the right monitoring and the right people.
Each piece of mining equipment made by different original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) has its specific lubrication requirements. OEMs define the minimum requirements for lubricants or greases, but not all products that meet these standards deliver the same level of performance.
Choosing the correct lubricant or grease often depends on a combination of the equipment’s design characteristics, operational parameters and environment. Factors like temperature, humidity and location (altitude/underground) all pose different challenges for lubrication.
There are numerous misconceptions about the true effects of lubricants. Globally, 47% of mining companies believe that a higher quality lubricant/grease will not help to reduce maintenance costs.
The three primary lubricant applications in the mining industry involve components such as engines, drivelines and open gears; and in all cases, selecting the right lubricant is a critical first step in improving productivity as well as realising significant TCO savings.