In the mining industry, there is significant scope for improving the productivity of equipment used in operations. At present, the productivity numbers are far below those in other industries such as oil and gas, and steel. Much of the mining activity in the country takes place at opencast mines, which contribute greater output than underground mines.
Productivity in the mining industry is measured mainly in terms of output per man shift (OMS), which reflects how efficiently operations are carried out. Unfortunately, the domestic mining sector is characterised by rather low OMS levels. Besides, the industry also faces several other shortcomings, such as low equipment utilisation levels, a shortage of skilled manpower, huge untapped exploration potential, increasing stripping ratio, etc. Further, mechanisation in the sector (especially in underground operations) is far lower than global levels, resulting in low output.
Equipment utilisation levels in the domestic mining industry stand at 70-80 per cent at best, thereby indicating that there is still much scope for improvement. The following factors affect the efficiency of equipment utilisation in the mining industry:
- Sequential operations: In the mining process, carrying out drilling, blasting, loading, hauling and dumping sequentially makes the whole procedure more prone to low equipment utilisation. A breakdown in one component has an effect down the line as the utilisation of equipment in one sequence depends on the preceding sequence.
- Unforeseen conditions due to the inherent nature of mining: For instance, while drilling, unknown geological conditions could emerge. As mining is carried out in dynamic conditions with many variables, these can impact equipment utilisation.
- Lack of skilled manpower: Deploying un-trained workers to operate equipment impacts overall utilisation levels negatively. Thus, inefficiencies can stem from a lack of understanding of the equipment management procedures required.
- Power outages: Power cuts or irregular power supply also contribute significantly to the low utilisation of mining equipment, most of which requires power to operate.
- Availability of spare parts: As most of the mining equipment is imported, spare part availability is a major issue. In case of a breakdown, the equipment lies unutilised until a spare part is available.
- Slipped usage: Transport vehicles are often used for “unproductive” activities not pertaining to mining activities which brings down the overall utilisation level. Besides, machinery/equipment that is not in working condition takes time to come onstream, which is essentially determined by the maintenance procedures.
Possible solutions and the road ahead
The current scenario in the mining industry demands appropriate solutions and techniques to enhance the productivity of this sector. Policy implementation and amendments are needed to improve equipment utilisation. Mining companies have now begun to consider investments in energy efficient equipment and devices that not only provide good returns but also reduce the carbon footprint.
The use of internet of things can enable miners to connect to the database enterprise, and collect and exchange data from various software systems, devices, drives, belts, sensors, heavy earth moving and mining equipment and other items embedded with electronics, firmware and network connectivity. The use of data analytics can also help boost productivity and reduce material flow delays along with enhancing asset utilisation. The employment/deployment of big data platforms that utilise vast amounts of diverse, real-time inputs from multiple sources to extract real-time predictive and prescriptive analytics should be explored.
Other key solutions which should be adopted for enhancing productivity in mining operations are mass production technologies and man riding systems, doing away with manual loading, mechanisation of drilling for roof bolting, adoption of surface miner technology, deployment of higher capacity heavy earth moving machinery in opencast mines, in-pit crushing and conveying arrangement, and silo loading.
While acquiring mining equipment, companies should look at the life cycle cost of equipment and cost per tonne instead of the initial cost of acquisition. Suitable planning based on situational demands, rigorous training of manpower through state-of-the-art institutions, maintenance and timely servicing of equipment/vehicles, geotagging of vehicles in order to check slippages, regulatory changes in worker shifts and the adoption of global practices can help boost equipment utilisation.
All said and done, productivity and efficiency can only be enhanced if the aforesaid measures are implemented in both letter and spirit. Thus, the implementation of improved techniques will be necessary for enhancements in equipment productivity.