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Feature Interview – Chilean Mining Maintenance Manager

Víctor Barrientos, Civil Mechanical Engineer from the University of Chile, who has served as Maintenance Leader in Copper, Iron and Non-Metallic Extraction Mines, tells us about his opportunities in the Chilean mining industry.

ax.legal: Can you tell us a little about your background?

Víctor Barrientos:  My experience is managing the maintenance divisions for national and international mining companies. Most of my experience has been with open pit mining projects and the control and evaluation of maintenance contracts for MARC and LPP mines. I was also responsible for preparing five-year expense budgets for the areas of maintenance, drilling, blasting, loading, and transportation.

ax.legal: How has the maintenance area of ​​mining companies in Chile changed over the years?

Víctor Barrientos:  There are mining operations in Chile where maintenance is still being carried out in the same way as 20 years ago. Without advances in technology, without any waste management, spare parts efficiency, or the proper facilities to carry out maintenance. On the other hand, others have the latest technology and are managed very efficiently.

There are several new mining projects which are in the pipeline, where I know that their baseline is to propose autonomous equipment, especially trucks, but that has not yet materialized. I understand that there are two or three sites in Chile that are operating with some autonomous equipment, mostly with Codelco.

The goal of the maintenance industry in mining today is, for example, is to procure electric trucks. Komatsu has been very successful with the technology that they have in their machinery. However, Caterpillar has started a competition to position its new electric trucks. Companies in Chile that use electric trucks have an advantage because they perform better at higher altitudes, among other advantages.  

ax.legal: Is technology changing the way mining operations are being serviced?

Víctor Barrientos:  Mining is a fairly traditional industry, where there are many processes. Generally, as a worker, when you propose new projects, you fear that it will be criticized or not accepted.

We are advancing in technology, yes, but step by step. Today, despite the vast majority of the process plants working remotely, it is still necessary for the person who performs the maintenance of the machinery to be physically present at the site.

It could be said that heavy machinery is moving from being mechanical to being electrical, which in addition to making processes much more efficient, allows for fuel savings between 5% and 10%. This happens when the truck is under load, managing to reduce fuel injection to the engine.

Another example is technology which allows you to evaluate driver fatigue, drowsiness and distraction. This system consists of monitoring the fleet remotely, all through a central system. The main objective of this new implementation, which has been in operations for some years now, is to reduce the rate of road accidents, where the main causes are cell phone use, drowsiness and various distractions.

Again, technology is changing mining operations, but it is a process.

ax.legal: Is there a technology or service that interests you for the future?

Víctor Barrientos:  I have several ideas in mind.  I think the industry still has quite a few shortcomings. For example, most importantly, paper-based processes are still the norm There is few projects internally related to the digitalization of internal processes that allow you to be more efficient. This is technology that we know exists and is available today, but in many instances due to cost issues, they are not used.

In short, there are three areas of interest – the automation of processes, which allows the worker to manage the task from miles away, digitized document signing and tracking, and the change of heavy machinery to electric.

ax.legal: How important are predictive maintenance software systems?

Víctor Barrientos:  The algorithms for forecasting times and events allow you to have a much clearer idea of ​​how to implement new maintenance projects. It consists of a periodic evaluation of the relevant physical variables for each machine providing a “health check” for each asset with a focus on anticipating any possible failures. This type of software can improve efficiencies by 4% to 7%, reduce maintenance costs by 10%, and improve production control by between 5% to 8% in costs.

ax.legal: What are the typical problems that companies face with vendors when wanting to introduce new technology?

Víctor Barrientos:  The most important of all is that a lot of venders do not to worry about the after-sales and customer service aspects. Introducing technology is already a challenge due to the conservative nature of the mining industry but the problem is amplified if it is then is not being used to its full potential due to unsolved problems or lack of training.

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