How To Use Failure Prevention To Optimize Production In Energy And Mining

12th November 2019

Written by Nicolas Van Lierde


Energy, Metals & Mining


Predictive Maintenance , Failure Prevention of Machinery

Operating in the energy and mining industry can be a costly process. Companies are often situated in remote locations, with expensive equipment and unknown and sometimes hazardous materials.

A delay in production due to equipment failure or an accident can result in extensive and unexpected delays. And what’s more, high financial repercussions. Historically speaking, these industries have been slow to incorporate modern technologies and practices into their management systems. However, subsequent to the oil crash in 2014 and the slump experienced as a result, the need to improve processes in order to optimise production and minimise costs became more prevalent. 

In recent years, preventive maintenance has emerged as a key tool for mining and energy companies. The aim of preventive maintenance (or failure prevention) is to circumvent the likelihood of equipment failure. However, this wasn’t always recognised as an important tool for these industries. For many companies, not just in mining and energy, maintenance of equipment was not regarded as an essential strategy to a more efficient production. Reports have shown that  the main causes of delays and accidents on sites were dropped objects (no longer tightly fixed to a fixture), material deterioration and corrosion on ageing materials. The latter was often hidden beneath layers of paint. Elements that with regular maintenance would have been observed prior to an accident. Martin Philips, Product Manager with Fluenta, believes that the lack of regular maintenance to equipment and structures has resulted in a quagmire in the oil industry. 

“It is estimated that over the next seven years, more than half of the world’s oil rigs will be more than 30 years old. Consider the Gulf of Mexico. In this region alone there is more than 100 operational rigs that were built before 1960. Approximately 50 percent of the Gulf’s more than 3,000 platforms are considered by federal regulators to be past their intended design lifetime”.

For these high risk industries, time and money is required to preserve equipment and perform systematic sites checks for issues and leaks. In the past, these checks would have been carried out manually, often placing employees in dangerous, unstable conditions. Often at great cost and risk. Today, the need for asset monitoring continues to be essential in these remote locations. Especially as new regulations insist upon better operations and more accurate reporting. 

Preventative maintenance is now instrumental in helping to optimise production in energy and mining industries. The need for automated procedures is now more accepted than ever. Condition-based Monitoring (CBM), an Internet of Things application, has helped improve the remote monitoring of equipment. Energy and mining are using this application to implement a preventive maintenance strategy. CBM works by monitoring certain indicators of an asset, such as performance levels and possible failure. Through its careful and regular monitoring, it can predetermine the need for maintenance of said asset. The central aim of CBM is to be preventative. By highlighting when worn components may need replacing before a problem occurs, it is safeguarding and re-establishing equipment reliability.

Not only is preventative maintenance pro-active but it also helps to avert the need for major repairs. In the past, minor incidents were not dealt with until they had become major accidents. Which, of course, had a knock on effect on the safety of the site. Now this strategy ensures a smoother production flow as well as safer working environment. In his article on The Importance of Preventative Maintenance, Ryan Miller, Senior Associate Editor at CEOWorld, muses on another benefit of preventative maintenance: increased efficiency. 

“Routine maintenance in the form of inspections, oil changes, parts replacements and more, help equipment to run more efficiently. When equipment slowly deteriorates, you’re probably not likely to notice a drop in the production. However, much of the deterioration can be prevented by having a proper preventative maintenance plan. When equipment runs at peak performance, this allows for fuel and energy savings”. 

It also helps to reduce downtime. Although maintenance naturally requires downtime, using  CMMS (Computerised Maintenance Management Software) allows companies to plan their maintenance at more opportune times during operations. Thus causing less disruption to production. 

Martin Philips believes that “defining and developing a preventive maintenance strategy is the first line of defence against unplanned plant shutdowns or emergency incidents. Once this has been realized, connected technologies can greatly reduce the risk of accident or injury in oil and gas operations, improve emissions monitoring, and provide insightful data to advance on-site operations”.

These industries have experienced a positive impact from implementing a failure prevention strategy into their operations. Not only does it broaden the lifecycle of assets and reduces the requirement for, often expensive, replacements at inopportune moments, but it improves the productivity of equipment, resulting in them operating more efficiently and at a lower cost.

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