Industry News

Maintaining a well-oiled machine

In the marketplace today, rising costs and a softening commodities market have placed extra emphasis on having an efficient fleet to deliver the production requirements. 
A considerable number of catastrophic component failures, equipment downtime and crippling repair costs stem from poor fluid and lubrication management.
The management of fuel, oil, grease, coolants, chemicals and additives on the majority of small to mid-scale mines and quarry operations is often not controlled and the importance of selection, supply, storage and dispensing of fluids and lubricants is often overlooked and neglected, or seen as a cost to be minimised. 
This is not the case at Babcock, where a best practice approach to managing oil and lubrication is a vital component of our wider fleet management programme. 
Babcock currently manages $70 billion worth of assets around the world on behalf of customers in the nuclear, defence, mining and aerospace sectors. This experience has enabled Babcock to develop ALCAMiE, the company’s approach to managing large and complex fleets of equipment.
In any sector Babcock operates in, the company always adapts and customises to its approach and processes to fit the customer’s requirements. For example, Aggregate Industries (part of the Holcim Group) in the UK has a large number of single equipment sites, meaning if equipment is taken out of service for either scheduled or unscheduled events, operations will come to a grinding halt. 
Understanding this level of criticality of equipment and operational issues is essential to adapting maintenance regimes that best deliver the support the customer is seeking. Managing the fluids and lubricants used in that machinery is a critical part of this mix.
The primary function of a lubricant is to reduce friction between mechanical moving parts. Lubricants do this by forming a fluid barrier between the mechanical contact surfaces. Minimising friction reduces component wear as well as reducing heat build-up. Fluids and lubricants also play a major part in dissipating heat and protecting against acids. 
Fluid and lubricant cleanliness is critical in any industry reliant on machinery but is more challenging in a quarry environment due 
to ever changing ambient temperatures and dry or wet weather variations. Airborne dust and wet, muddy underfoot conditions raise the risk of abrasive solids finding their way into the fluids and lubricants and subsequently into the sensitive areas of machines. 
Storage of large volumes of fluids and lubricants on-site brings other challenges, especially in relation to diesel fuel storage management. Condensation forms inside fuel storage tanks that can cause corrosion. Fuel storage facilities should also be treated with fungicides, biocides and antioxidants, as water can also help fungus and bacteria grow, and these produce natural by-products such as organic acids that make the fuel unstable. 
Just as important as storage and cleanliness is how the fluids are dispensed and applied. Quarry managers may do the right thing and invest in the highest quality fluids and lubricants and established world class storage and dispensing facilities for them. But if the people dispensing and applying the fluids and lubricants fail to do so in a controlled manner, with the respect the products deserve, then the investment is wasted.
How can we close the loop and ensure clean fluids and lubricants are dispensed meticulously and the correct fluid or lubricant is dispensed correctly? Babcock uses ALCAMiE at every step of its fleet management maintenance process.
The company works closely with specialist fluid and lubrication distribution equipment companies to automate the dispensing of fluids and lubricants. This state of the art distribution hardware ensures the correct fluid or lubricant is applied during the daily inspection top up or at the optimum point when the fluids/lubricants require replacement.
Babcock’s service personnel top up and refill all machine compartments using portable fluid filtration vessels with high efficiency in line filters. This ensures the fluid being added to the compartment is filtered and contaminant free after it is transferred from the storage tank to the dispensing vessel, and that no contamination enters the compartment.
To prevent fluid contamination during top up and refill, Babcock’s asset fluid service ports and fluid dispensing vessels are fitted with unique couplings that act as a “square peg, round hole” anti-contamination system. Using this dispensing hardware, Babcock has created a failsafe system that prevents service personnel from adding the wrong fluid to the machine’s sensitive compartments.
Babcock can also retrofit fully automated fluid compartment top up tanks that automatically top up fluids between service intervals. These systems eliminate human error during the daily inspection top up process. 
Extending oil change intervals and “kidney looping” fluids is a methodology Babcock is passionate about. The company promotes a dynamic condition monitoring methodology to determine the optimum point at which a compartment should have its fluid intensively cleansed, using a high efficiency filter cart, or renewed based on load and application factors. 
The company believes good fluid and lubrication management is a critical part of the equipment management process, and it needs more focus. If Babcock manages the contamination risk appropriately it can keep its assets running longer and more efficiently.
Engine coolant management is another critical part of the fleet management process. Babcock believes the source of the majority of engine failures can be traced back to cooling system problems.
Contrary to popular belief, cooling systems must never be topped up with tap water and only premixed coolants should be used 
on-site. Babcock ensures the chemical make-up of the coolant is tested and monitored regularly and additives added accordingly to prevent internal cooling system corrosion and cavitation.
Automatic grease lubrication systems are a challenge in all applications. Many assume that if a machine has an automatic grease lubrication system, every joint is receiving a metered amount of grease just at the right time. However, if the system is not designed correctly and set up according to the application and load variables, your mechanical joints and bearings may be either starved of grease or over-greased, which results in waste and environmental compliance issues. 
Babcock has carried out extensive research in this area and used it to amend automatic grease lubrication systems. This guarantees reliability and ensures each individual grease injector is set up and adjusted according to the individual requirements of the joint. Grease reservoirs are replenished using strict contamination control methodology to avoid dirt entering the system and causing the grease pump and injectors to seize up.
The type of grease used is also critical and dependent on many factors, especially ambient temperature, so Babcock works in partnership with quarries to ensure the grease used is fit for purpose. 
Managing oils and lubricants is a vital part of the wider fleet management process and by combining the two, clear benefits can be found. For example, Babcock is introducing telematics technology to monitor all machine systems to improve fleet reliability and efficiency. 
By linking the auto-lube systems to the on-board telematics, the company can monitor the condition and performance of each system. This enables Babcock to notify the maintenance management team if the fluid or lubricant reservoir is low or the grease pump has failed to cycle and deliver grease at the predetermined time.
When quarry managers are using their time to monitor their fluids and lubricants or manage their fleet, they are detracting from their core business objective – extracting product from their sites. Outsourcing to proven fleet experts gives managers the confidence to focus 100 per cent on their core activities, safe in the knowledge their fleet will run smoothly and reliably. 
Robert Caprile is the business development director for Babcock’s mining and construction operations in Australia.

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