Asset Management / Optimization / Wireless

Freeport-McMoRan Transforms Equipment Reliability

Centralized Approach Helps Cut Maintenance Costs and Prevent Equipment Downtime for Global Mining Concern

By Keith Larson

Honeywell Users Group 2013

More than a decade ago, Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold established Reliability & Sustainability as a cornerstone imperative for the company's global mining operations. A key outgrowth of this strategic push is an ambitious remote access monitoring program (RAMP) for its many trucks, shovels and other mobile equipment that over the past five years has transformed the reliability of its global fleet.

The central idea was to equip its many mobile assets with data loggers and wireless connectivity so that centrally located reliability professionals could collect performance data in real time, analyze and diagnose potential problems, and take proactive action to increase reliability and prevent catastrophic and premature equipment failures. "Our mantra was to collect all the data all the time," said Lia Walker, senior quality leader - operational improvement, in her presentation this morning at the Honeywell Users Group Americas 2013 conference in Phoenix, Ariz.

The undertaking began back in 2007, when a multi-disciplinary task force came together to define the vision of a mobile mine equipment monitoring methodology. They tested their ideas in a pilot program across three mines, monitoring 150 haul trucks and testing out remote communication capabilities among the sites. The pilot indicated that they could reduce critical maintenance events by 15% and "operator-induced" events by 20%. The potential savings were attractive enough to proceed, "but we realized we really needed to get a handle on how the operator part worked," Walker said. 

The team also realized that in order to manage its global operations in a consistent fashion, it needed a robust solution facilitated by standardized products, systems and work practices, and in 2008 partnered with Honeywell Process Solutions (then Matrikon) to build out a Mobile Equipment Monitoring (MEM) methodology. Collaboration among the maintenance organization, operations at the mine sites, and the company's IT organization together with Honeywell was critical to the effort's success, Walker said. "It was everyone working together to build this process," Walker said.

Next, a prototype MEM product was implemented at two North American sites, with dedicated RAMP personnel charged with monitoring and providing operations and maintenance feedback through the MEM platform. Initial resistance among field personel ultimately yielded to trust, as RAMP personnel were able to apply various predictive technologies and advanced diagnostic tools to help operators and maintenance technicians sustain higher equipment reliability and availability. While field personnel were at first skeptical of RAMP recommendations, "now operators and technicians call them up and ask 'What do you see?'" Walker said.

Based on conservative estimated costs savings in "component saves" of 3% per equipment run hour, the successful prototype was rolled out to now cover 420 assets at 10 different sites throughout North and South America. In short, the solution consists of wireless dataloggers that communicate via a wireless mesh network to site servers which in turn relay data back to a companywide database in near real-time. This companywide system implementation helps to ensure that RAMP procedures are carried out in a consistent fashion, Walker said. Further, this centralized approach has allowed the company to institutionalize a core company philosophy around equipment management.

As a result, the company now has fewer incidents and fewer alarms across the entire fleet. "Once you start looking at your equipment on a regular basis, it gets healthier and healthier," Walker said. "We've been steadily increasing fleet availability since 2006."