Improving mining and minerals plant performance — operations and maintenance working together using new information technology
Operations and maintenance departments have had a long-standing adversarial relationship. One of the barriers to a more cooperative relationship has been disconnected information systems that have embodied the old, local optimization paradigm. In response to this disconnection, new information technology approaches are being developed that complement the existing management methodologies and help bridge the gap between maintenance and operations.
Historically, a number of management best-practices have evolved in an effort to unite the operations/maintenance divide. On the maintenance side, these include:
Maintenance strategy and reliability-centred maintenance — The cause of difficulties between maintenance and operations is often an unclear understanding of the purpose and goals of maintenance in a specific plant. The need for a formal framework led to the development of reliability-centred maintenance (RCM), one of several processes developed to help companies determine the best maintenance and engineering policies for managing physical assets.
Maintenance systems — Maintenance systems are used to implement and control the business side of maintenance: stores, procurement, labour control, planning and scheduling. Initially, manual systems were used, but with the information age came computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS) and, later, enterprise asset management (EAM) systems.
On the operations side, management best-practices include:
Lean production — As RCM was the biggest change in thinking in maintenance, the concepts of lean production have been the biggest breakthrough in production. Developed at Toyota, the core concept of “lean” is to achieve continuous flow; the best way to achieve flow is to reduce all kinds of waste. Like manufacturing and services companies, mining and minerals companies are now starting to embrace the concepts of “lean.”
Use of production systems — Most companies today use a management information system to record production data. The most common name for this style of system is a manufacturing execution system (MES). These systems are available commercially and offer many benefits over manual systems, including elimination of double handling of data, capability of real-time analysis and proactive response.
Maintenance/operations systems issuesWhile maintenance and operations have typically had a difficult relationship in the past, many advances have been made in terms of people and methodology. However, one area that has lagged behind in supporting these developments is information systems.
Although developed to support maintenance (CMMS, EAM) and operations (MES), the information systems have not been truly integrated in the way needed. Complicated plants, different software architectures, continually changing conditions and many other variables have led to various systems problems that have contributed to the maintenance/operations divide.
New information technology solutionsNew information technologies, such as service-oriented architecture (SOA) and web services, are receiving wide publicity. These technologies have a key aim of improving inter-operability (or the ability of applications and systems to share information and exchange services with each other based on standards) and to cooperate in processes using the information and services.
An example of integration using these concepts is master data synchronization between an EAM system and a MES system. Both systems are designed for a specific purpose with a specific architecture, but need to be linked in order to facilitate communication.
Information technology enablers also allow the development of such things as composite applications, or applications that use services to provide user-driven (or process-driven) applications. An example would be taking real-time plant stoppage information and displaying it with transaction-based maintenance planning data. In this case, the combination of the two sets of data would be used proactively in a maintenance/operations planning process for tactical optimization.
The relationship between maintenance and operations has been the subject of much thought in order to improve overall plant performance. One area that has contributed to a divide between maintenance and operations has been information systems. However, new technologies are coming on-stream today to enable the final bridging of the gap.