Q&A Series #31: Interview with Bryan Christainsen

How Maintenance Tech Can Save Costs On Mining Projects - GRT Q&A with Bryan Christiansein

About the guest

Bryan is a self-taught full-stack developer, marketer turned entrepreneur. After several failed attempts at building a company, he started Limble CMMS back in 2015. Limble is a modern, easy-to-use mobile CMMS software that takes the stress and chaos out of maintenance by helping managers organize, automate, and streamline their maintenance operations. With Limble CMMS, you can easily manage, and track planned and unplanned work, as well as track assets and view powerful reports with an extremely intuitive and flexible interface. At home, he is a proud father of 3 little boys that love to run around and beat each other up. His days and nights are never boring as he listens to their stories about evading bullies on the playground, tricking or even trapping their brothers, or whatever shenanigans they are up to. Maintenance professionals across a variety of industries have a very real challenge: outdated, difficult-to-use, and expensive maintenance software. At Limble, we believe that you should love your CMMS, not just tolerate it. Limble CMMS was founded to become the first truly easy-to-use, modern, and mobile CMMS that can be started in minutes with a return on investment within a matter of weeks. Bryan’s words: “Limble is a larger success than I could imagine, and I am blessed to be their CEO. It is truly amazing to be able to lead a company that empowers the unsung heroes that support the world”.

Topic of discussion: How Maintenance Tech Can Save Costs On Mining Projects

Technology developers are key actors in an innovation system and how maintenance technology can save costs on mining projects. In the context of Industry 4.0, mining projects stand to benefit from using advanced sensing and data analytic technologies to understand and monitor mining operations. 

Predictive maintenance is a method in which the service life of important parts is predicted based on real time inspection or diagnosis to use parts to the limit of their service life through use of real time or portable instruments.

Predictive maintenance is usually implemented concurrently with preventative maintenance and targets both the warning signs of impending failure and the recognition of small failures that begin the chain reaction that leads to big failure.  

Deploying maintenance technology when needed and instantaneously is capable with the use of remote technologies which monitor the entire mine ecosystem in real-time from the integrated remote operation center.

Automated technologies work on Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS) which are becoming more knowledge-intensive and uniform knowledge representation of physical resources and real time reasoning capabilities are needed to automate decision making process for these systems.

Global Road Technology caught up with Bryan Christainsen, Founder and CEO of Limble CMMS to discuss how maintenance tech can save costs on mining projects. He is based in Lehi, Utah in the United States of America.

1. Welcome to the GRT Q&A Series Bryan. It’s a pleasure to have you with us and really looking forward to learning from you. Can you tell us more about Limble CMMS and your role as Founder and CEO?

 Sure. Limble CMMS is a maintenance management software. Our mission is to empower the unsung heroes that support the world. Limble is used by nearly 50000 professionals around the world to keep critical assets, facilities, and other assets running smoothly. My role as CEO is to support the Limble team in this mission.

2. Technology has really taken over in the mining industry. How has technology evolved in this industry and to what extent has that contributed to successful mining projects?

Technology has evolved to meet current societal, geological, business, and environmental challenges. There’s a global imperative for improved green credentials from mining regarding energy and wastewater, while the industry faces decreasing ore grades, deeper deposits, and harder rock mass. Financially, the net profit margin of the industry decreased over the last decade from 25% to 11% 1.

Such trends forced a search for technological solutions, harnessing powerful technologies to resolve such issues. Automation and robotics result in remote operations centres (ROCs) providing multiple benefits, removing workers from hazardous sites while reducing OPEX and CAPEX requirements. 

Analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning (ML) improve equipment maintenance, reducing waste, environmental discharge, and energy use. Internet of Things (IoT), smart sensors, big data, and real-time data capture increase efficiency through improved decision making. Digital twinning allows simulations and equipment performance predictions, reducing costs, improving planning, and increasing equipment uptime.

These technologies are game-changers, enabling marginal projects, protecting the environment, increasing returns, and saving lives. You can’t understate technology’s contribution to mining project success. 

3. A full-scale operation in the mining industry requires constant checks and maintenance of equipment. How can maintenance tech save costs on mining projects?

Maintenance technology optimizes asset utilization and reduces the total costs of equipment ownership. 

Predictive and prescriptive maintenance optimize maintenance management by combining IoT, real-time capable network systems, artificial intelligence, and machine learning. Using installed condition-monitoring sensors, real-time monitoring of critical equipment feeds information to a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS), allowing algorithms to analyse data and provide failure predictions. 

There are four benefits to planning a maintenance intervention rather than incurring a production stoppage. Equipment uptime increases which maximizes revenues, the cost of the maintenance intervention decreases given that its planned rather than an emergency, and the return on investment of the technology deployment shortens.

As an example, a multinational mining company implemented machine learning to monitor processes and equipment, and regularly receive warnings of impending pump failures 40 days before the event occurs, allowing time for optimal planning and rectification 2.

4. Operational efficiency weighs positively on the balance sheet. On the contrary, operational inefficiency can negatively affect the balance sheet and even hamper investor confidence. Can you give us five key steps to boost mining operations efficiency in 2022?

Step #1 – Focus on sustainability

Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) criteria are hot topics. Miners hoping to access development funding will face ever-higher hurdles as investment funds interrogate the green credentials of the companies they support.  

Remote real-time pump monitoring technology offers energy savings. Industrial pumps use almost 25%3 of the world’s energy; therefore, substantial gains accrue from identifying undersized pumps, oversized motors, or off-spec processes.

Step #2 – Implement a comprehensive, networked CMMS

Computerized Maintenance Management Systems increase reliability, but also improve maintainability, or the speed with which a piece of equipment returns to service. 

A CMMS allocates and batches spares for a shut ahead of time, including tooling, calibration requirements, and consumables. It calculates optimum inventory and reorders levels while scheduling technician intervention. On the day, it provides on-site access to safe work practices, repair techniques, and illustrated parts catalogues using hardened electronic tablets.

Maximizing equipment uptime, the incremental gains from improved maintainability provided by a networked CMMS are considerable.

Step #3 – Capitalize on edge computing and IoT

The underground mining industry has struggled with poor network availability and getting data to the surface for analysis and action, using fiber optics cable or Power over Ethernet (PoE), and sometimes Wi-Fi. 

However, sensor development has advanced to allow underground networks of battery-powered nodes4. Mining company support for such technology offers the potential for real-time data collection and surface transport for analysis and action.

Step #4 – Utilize predictive and prescriptive maintenance 

New maintenance strategies have emerged from advances in computing power and analytics engines, coupled with sensor miniaturization and network capability. 

Predictive maintenance5 is routinely used by companies such as Boeing6 and ThyssenKrupp7 to identify tasks necessary for critical equipment’s safe operation. Consuming large datasets of information, it analyses and predicts critical equipment failures ahead of time. 

Prescriptive maintenance8 takes predictive maintenance a step further. AI and ML software operate in real-time, monitoring dataflows. Detecting small anomalies, the CMMS provides multiple scenario modeling prescribing a range of options and outcomes for selection.

While the big-five miners use such technology, costs are now within reach of the junior mining companies. Given the implications of unplanned stoppages, such technology offers a short RoI, greater operational efficiencies, and lower operating costs.

Step #5 – Incorporate VR & AR for training technical personnel

Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) offer miners applications to save money and lives. A South African company9 uses VR to create simulated blast walls, allowing trainees to practice their marking, drilling, and blasting skills. More real than blackboards and videos, the trainees are better prepared for real operations, saving delayed production and clean-up costs from incorrect blasts. The technology is also used in training maintenance technicians on critical or dangerous equipment without impacting production.

5. Mountains are there to be climbed, journey along the way has obstacles and challenges. What challenges are faced in deploying tech in mining operations? Let’s be realistic and find a trade-off between the theory and the practicality.  

Three impediments to technology deployment are resistance from stakeholders due to inadequate engagement on benefits, the perceived risk of buying into unproven technology, and the cyclical nature of the mining industry.

As humans, we resist change, with many workers seeing technology as displacing jobs rather than understanding that it unlocks previously inaccessible ore bodies offering marginal operations the ability to compete. Companies need to engage more to help stakeholders understand what we all gain when technological advances make mining more lucrative and sustainable.

The due diligence a company completes on technology introduction must include an assessment of the forward and backward compatibility of the solution to ensure the company doesn’t become stranded with a non-scalable solution. Rather, it should use generic technologies able to cope with foreseeable technological evolution.

Regarding mining industry cycles, if the previous two concerns are resolved, and technology costs continue to reduce, sensitivity to technological investment will decline. The technology exists that offers increased production, lowered costs, and improved environmental impact. Innovate or die is applicable where mining is concerned.

6. What is the role of the human workforce in an advancing tech world in the mining industry? Do we just remove the human element to mining operations or perhaps there is a place for both?

There is a place for both, and if, as an industry, we can’t convince people of that, then it’s a zero-sum game. Technological development will slow, and businesses will stagnate. Admittedly, current thinking emphasizes business efficiency and productivity through machine-to-machine communication and automation using the industrial internet of things. 

Last year, the European Commission released a white paper introducing Industry 5.010, which moves beyond efficiency and productivity as the sole objective of industry, placing greater emphasis on sustainability, and prosperity for all, with the worker back in the center of any production process. The rise of cobotics is an example of this. The term cobot describes a collaborative robot, designed to assist humans. Exoskeletons worn by humans for heavy or difficult tasks provide a glimpse of more advanced solutions, with the enabling technology already available.

We should view technology as a way of removing humans from difficult, dirty, and dangerous jobs. There is a place for humans and tech to coexist when viewed in that light.

7. Let’s be futuristic. Where do you see the future of tech in maintenance in the next decade? What sort of role will AI, smart tech, and machine learning play in operational efficiency?

AI, ML, and smart tech will be central to operational efficiency, with those failing to innovate falling behind in competitiveness, sustainability, and access to funding. Technology and hardware will involve greater robustness, miniaturization, and exponential growth in remote operations. We’ll see increased use of automation and robotics, removing people from harm while accessing areas previously inaccessible.

AR and VR will merge with remote operations technology, and the mining workforce will retrain and transition to new roles. Maintenance will utilize digital twinning and transition to a hybrid strategy of prescriptive and predictive maintenance. Edge computing, IoT, and real-time data collection will become the norm due to the rollout of 5G technology. It’s going to be an interesting decade.

Reference from Guest

  1. https://www.statista.com/topics/1143/mining/#dossierKeyfigures
  2. https://www.aspentech.com/-/media/aspentech/home/resources/white-papers/pdfs/fy20/q3/at-05719-wp-prescriptive-maintenance-wp-web-final.pdf?sc_lang=ja 
  3. https://empoweringpumps.com/load-controls-giving-your-pumps-a-power-checkup-sensors/
  4. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/edge-computing-underground-mining-pierre-swart/ 
  5. https://limblecmms.com/predictive-maintenance/ 
  6. https://www.wearefinn.com/topics/posts/prescriptive-maintenance-the-path-to-zero-surprises-in-aviation-maintenance/ 
  7. http://www.thyssenkruppelevator.com/ 
  8. https://limblecmms.com/blog/prescriptive-maintenance/ 
  9. https://www.mining-technology.com/features/featurereality-check-augmented-and-virtual-technology-in-the-mining-industry-4913055/ 
  10. https://ec.europa.eu/info/research-and-innovation/research-area/industrial-research-and-innovation/industry-50_en

Keith Nare

Technical Head of Communications for GRT, Keith leads GRT's content strategy across various platforms, whilst coordinating internally to build the voice and opinions of the GRT team. Keith is a product of Nelson Mandela University and his PhD work focuses on Polymer and Physical Chemistry. He was a Research Associate at SANRAL in South Africa and later spent time as a Visiting Research Associate to NTEC at the University of Nottingham in the UK. He is a former Director of Communications for CALROBO in the USA.

Keith is passionate and enthusiastic about health and safety, sustainability, networking and finding synergy through conversations.