The shift among miners to get the most out of their assets by improved business processes has emerged as a focus for Honeywell Process Solutions.
“The biggest issue at the moment is productivity,” explained Garry Mahoney, Pacific sales director for Honeywell Process Solutions, when discussing trends among customers of the automation control company.
“All our major clients are looking at capex, which has really dried up; but at the same time, there is a drive, and we see it across the board, to get back to a pre-GFC cost structure. That typically means a 20 to 25 per cent reduction in operating costs, in the operating budget.”
He told Australian Mining during last week’s Honeywell Users Group Asia Pacific that he’d seen a big change – not a revelation, he added, with the slowdown a frequent topic of discussion in the industry – for miners to get their operations back to pre-GFC cost structures.
The difference, however, was that there wasn’t so much panic or rush to cut as many staff as possible, but to try and make sustainable improvements in the way businesses are run.
In 2008 and 2009, there was a bigger problem regarding the availability of cash, with banks reluctant to lend. Things may be tightening up now, but there’s a big difference in one very important regard, according to Honeywell.
“The majority of the industry has cash,” said Mahoney, the majority of whose clients are in the three Ms (mining, minerals and metals), as well as oil and gas.
“But at the moment they’re holding cash to maintain the share price. But if there’s a project with a payback of three months, six months, that type of period, they’re investing. So that’s why I think there’s a mindset not just to slash and burn and manage labour numbers.”
Two of the productivity-boosting solutions Honeywell had on show at HUG 2013 were its Belt Asset Inspection System (available as a product and a service) and its Experion Collaboration Station.
“We’ve had that in play on pilot sites for a couple of years,” Mahoney stated.
“And that’s something that we see right now, that we can provide industry with a low-cost way of monitoring belt condition, early awareness of a belt problem.”The monitor constantly collects and assesses data on defects – such as tears, gouging and splice problems – and their severity, visualising this for the user.
According to Honeywell, the payoff is that the life of belts can be more accurately determined, enabling the user to get the best run out of them before replacement, rather than just guessing at when this is needed.
“Could it get six months? Could it get six-and-a-half, could it get seven months? On a good run could it get eight months? So in a year you may change after eight months,” he said, comparing making a more informed decision with a routine changing of a belt every six months.
“And in a two- to three-year period you may stop one belt change by just dragging that out.”
Another item Honeywell was eager to talk about with its Collaboration Station, a view-only control station linking operators at multiple sites with business information at various points along a supply chain.
“It’s not about a big LCD screen, it’s about being able to pull the data and present it in a context that makes sense for people to manage that incident,” he said, giving an example of an incident and its aftermath.
“You’ll tell the manager what happened and they’ll go tell the assets manager what happened and investigate,” he said, describing a situation without the big LCD screen.
“Was it a production issue, was it quality? They might say, ‘Let me go and investigate’. So in this scenario they’d go to their teams, go pull the data from here or the data from there and they might come back to the next morning’s meeting, report on the incident and what happened. That could be a cycle of the day or hours or a week until it’s complete.
Investing in the alternative, offered Mahoney, would lead to a better-informed response to this incident.
“You’ve got the people in the room who know and have the understanding of their discipline to say ‘okay, let’s pull up our data, what was the lab sample? When did it happen? When was the alarm? What happened before that?,’” he said.
“So you can just imagine with a collaboration environment with all that data. Maybe it was the pump amps or the load or something happened coming up to that event. So pretty well straight away someone can say ‘the pump dripped out here, or it was a maintenance issue there.’ It’s about getting that knowledge in front of those people in real time, talking about the issue and making the decision.”