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Utilizing the right oils, lubricants when mining in the heat

By |  July 16, 2021
Photo: tsvibrav/iStock / Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

With larger equipment such as haul trucks, dozers and graders, any unplanned downtime can have a direct impact on a business’s bottom line. Photo: tsvibrav/iStock / Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

It’s vital that equipment performs in the toughest of conditions in the mining sector, whether on the surface or underground.

Equipment needs to withstand excessive loads and severe temperatures – anything from minus 50 up to 120 degrees is common. Running a mine is a significant undertaking for these reasons alone. The less time spent on maintenance to prevent equipment breakage or failure, the better.

This is particularly pertinent when you consider the range of equipment used in an active mine, from haul trucks and loaders to bulldozers and drills. Unplanned downtime in one area can cause a significant backlog across a site, costing time and money.

To avoid repeated failures, using the preceding season to prepare for the one ahead can prove invaluable. For example, planning for the hot summer months in advance builds in the benefit of foresight, reduces pressure on staff and gives a team the opportunity to trial and test products and processes.

There are three reasons why mine operators should prepare in advance and reassess the products used in their operations to aim for an increasingly efficient operation. First, though, it’s important to address the primary challenges faced during hot months.

Testing environment

Overheated oils or greases often go hand in hand with system issues.

First, volatility can lead to the loss of lighter ends in the oil which, in turn, can result in increased consumption and oxidation. If oxidation levels are too high, oil acidity starts to affect the wear and tear of bearings, pistons and other smaller yet critical elements of machinery.

This can go unnoticed over time, with the first sign of an issue often being equipment failure. Heat also thins the oil, and if the viscosity is compromised – particularly in mining where loads can be excessive – the oil might not be able to support the load it was intended for.

When these issues occur, the best-case scenario is a lack of performance resulting in inefficiencies, slower outputs and the necessity for greater manual support. The oil life could also shorten, requiring subsequent oil changes. These can be costly in terms of downtime and, therefore, have a financial impact.

With larger equipment such as haul trucks, dozers and graders, any unplanned downtime can have a direct impact on a business’s bottom line. Equally, if oil quality is compromised by excess heat, a machine will suffer wear and tear. If this goes unnoticed or unattended, it will lead to failure.

Summer temperatures are not for the faint-hearted. There is no escape from the heat without trees or shade. Consider, too, that equipment hauls heavy loads on inclines. New equipment designs often have smaller lubricant reservoirs, so the oil does not have time to let heat dissipate. This can result in hot components – a challenge any external heat only intensifies.

3 reasons to reevaluate

It’s not possible to control the ambient temperature of a working mine, but the product used in equipment is something operators can control. Getting that right can combat many of the issues extreme heat brings.

This is why it’s important to understand the three reasons to seek the support of a technical specialist to help with a thorough reevaluation of the products being used.

First, across the industry, there has been a long-standing move toward consolidation of lubricants, including oil and grease. Still, it’s important to not underestimate the careful chemical balance of a lubricant that was formulated for a specific purpose.

Although some products may look similar, it’s rare that they actually are. So, take the opportunity to challenge the status quo. Although consolidation could help save space, the use of an incorrect grease or a grease that needs frequent top ups could be less effective than two high-performing products.

Second, lubricants are evolving just as quickly as the greater industry. This is another reason why the industry trend toward product consolidation may not always be to the benefit of modern engines.

To truly capitalize on the benefits of modern technology, including emission controls, energy efficiency and fuel economies, the equipment, its components and lubricants must evolve in line. This enables the latest engine and lubricant technologies to work together to provide the optimum performance and efficiencies.

The final reason is team efficiency. Mine operators are under pressure to avoid downtime, but simultaneously they do more with less as technologies improve. It may feel sometimes that operators are often asked to replace three people who retire or move on with just one person. Therefore, efficiency among a team is just as important as ensuring an efficient plant.

One benefit of reassessing the product used is extended drain intervals. For example, seasonal changeouts are a common occurrence, where one product is used October through April, and then a summer product is swapped in. Not only is this a time drain, but there is also risk in terms of product handling, storage and levels of knowledge or approach.

Lubricant technology has gained steam, and while these habits might be in place for decades, seasonal changeouts are no longer necessary thanks to quality synthetic and all-seasons products – including lubricants that work as well at minus 50 degrees as they do at 120 degrees.

So, take a step back and use the time to reexamine if the right product is in use for your equipment and environment. Getting it wrong risks your machinery. Getting it right could have a significant positive impact on the bottom line.

Gord Susinski is senior technical adviser at HollyFrontier Lubricants & Specialties, a Petro-Canada Lubricants brand.


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