When a mining company takes delivery of a shiny new vehicle or piece of machinery, the day it gets deployed onto a remote site could well be the last time it's seen by anybody except the operators and other crew members who work around it. For the management team it's just another number on the books. And there are lots of numbers.
There are often hundreds, or even thousands, of moving parts on a typical site ? haul trucks, maintenance and support vehicles ferrying people and equipment around, bulldozers and graders, stationary assets like lighting towers, pumps and generators. For every heavy piece of heavy machinery there will typically be three or four support vehicles milling around it.
With so many assets in the field, it makes no sense to assume they're all being used effectively. Visibility of where those assets are at any given time, and how they're being used, has great value in driving greater efficiency. This has become increasingly important during recent years as falling commodity prices impact profitability. To highlight inefficiencies and improve productivity, companies are turning to technology:
Let's start by thinking about a four-wheel drive, which has been heavily modified for the demands of a mining site. By the time you've added heavy duty suspension, a mine radio, specialist lighting, fire extinguishers, trauma kits, mud tyres, bull bars and all the other bits and pieces, the cost can easily reach $100,000. So how would your chief financial officer feel if they found out if it was only used for six hours last month? Should this vehicle be moved to somewhere else? Is it really needed at all?
Then there's another vehicle that did 1000 kilometres travelling interstate at the weekend, or was used to pull a boat down to the ramp when it's supposed to be for business purposes. Being able to challenge the size of the fleet because you have visibility, with regular reports highlighting how vehicles are being used, has great value. These are real numbers you can make important business decisions with.
Asset visibility can also greatly improve operational efficiency. Think about a haul truck and the advantages of being able to map a fleet working on the same job to understand speed variation. How's that going to help? Well if one truck is going a little quicker than the others, eventually you're going to end up with backlogs. A driver pulls up to a loader and finds another truck in front of him. Idling for 15 minutes wastes fuel and increases emissions. More importantly, increased speed increases the risk for all others operating near this haul truck.
Looking at it another way, the haul truck that's moving a little quicker than the others will also be burning more fuel. An engine on a haul truck might last 20,000 hours. If you can save 200 hours a year idling, over a three-year period that increases the engine's lifecycle by a couple of months. Return on investment quickly adds up when you convert those numbers into production value.
Then there are static assets that quite often get forgotten about. Let's say a lighting tower costs $60,000 and you have 100 onsite. Without telematics you have little or no visibility of exactly where they are or how they're being used. Somebody is responsible for going around and starting them before sunset and turning them off again after sunrise. But what if you could automate that?
Now you can see exactly where all of these towers are and prevent them from being horded. Through automation you can redeploy those human resources or reduce headcount. You can dispatch maintenance or fuel trucks when towers need servicing. You receive an alert if somebody tows an asset offsite. People forget about small assets but there are huge efficiencies when you multiply the numbers across an entire operation. There are real savings to be made and, with hard data, visibility becomes very compelling.