Interview – Maintenance in Peruvian Mining Operations
Cesar Aponte has had a long career in the maintenance field where has worked in international mining operations in places such as Canada and Peru. He is currently the Maintenance Manager for Pan American Silver in Peru where he is responsible for the heavy equipment.
Ax Legal: Based on your experience, could you tell us about your experience in the maintenance field?
Cesar: I have worked in mining operations located 4000 meters above sea level in the highlands of Peru; in isolated areas and far from the population. In this context, the maintenance area, as support, is vital for the continuity of the operation 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
It is important to have the necessary talent and skilled workforce to keep equipment operating. It is also important to have the right technology accompanied by staff training to respond quickly and in a timely manner.
Ax Legal: What are the different maintenance techniques that should be used or what are the drawbacks when working with equipment at 4000 meters above sea level?
Cesar: The main problems you have with working 4000 meters above sea level are the effects of atmospheric pressure that generate less air intake to some components such as diesel engines, lowering their power. Electronics have helped a lot in this regard; however, the manufacturers of the equipment do not have the possibility to test these machines at such a height due to lack of conditions where they manufacture. In this sense, when acquiring new technologies, it is necessary for the manufacturer to carry out field tests on site to calibrate the components. I remember that a mine had purchased heavy duty haulage trucks for its open pit operation and the turbos started to break down. The maintenance area had to document all these events since the trucks were stopped each time and there was a very strong claim to return the trucks. It was there that the representative of the brand had to carry out tests and adapt the turbos from an earlier version for the equipment to be able to operate properly on a very tight deadline.
Ax Legal: How have maintenance operations changed in the mining industry in the last 5 years?
Cesar: The mining industry, in general, has advanced towards the application of new technologies that frame it in a more friendly environment way with the surrounding communities. In this sense, saving resources such as water and also simplifying and automating processes is of the utmost importance for responsible mining. What has driven these advances is the need for savings in every sense and the simplification of processes in mining. It is there where the changes have come from. For example, innovation in maintenance software allows staff to work with more equipment at the same time, as well as obtaining more data on a continues basis since there is a satellite connection with the equipment’s sensors. Consequently, reports are obtained in real time, which allows the maintenance teams to work more efficiently. The equipment manufactures can also obtain real-time monitoring of their equipment and components from anywhere on the planet, which adds value to the work carried out by the maintenance area.
In the case of water, the mines that are closer to the Peruvian coast are opting to install desalination plants that pump the water to their facilities in the mine. This process is more expensive to maintain, but it improves the relationship with surrounding communities which is an important aspect
Ax Legal: Is there differences in how the maintenance operations of mining companies are managed in Latin America and other countries in the world?
Cesar: In my opinion, there are more issues in common than differences. Everything starts from the international price of raw materials and the cost of operating which affects the entire mining industry equally. Therefore, the acquisition of new technologies, training of personnel and maintenance are the same.
Ax Legal: What will be the changes in maintenance practices when electric haulage trucks are introduced to the mining industry?
Cesar: The advantages of including this technology in trucks are the greater efficiency of the electric motors, the simplification of components of the electrical system versus the internal combustion system, the improvement in the propulsion, and the brakes have less wear. All of this will give the unit greater reliability and lower maintenance costs. Longer machine production time and fewer man-hours per machine.
On the other hand, work must be done on the weight of the batteries, which takes away the load capacity of the unit and makes it less attractive, but I believe that by overcoming this challenge, this technology will spread and be present throughout the industry due to its reliability.
Ax Legal: What kinds of technological changes are happening in the maintenance industry?
Cesar: The most common thing that we can observe now is the digitization of mining. In today’s world, we have been forced to use remote technologies that were unthinkable ten years ago.
The use of more efficient equipment to reduce the consumption of water or the desalination of seawater has also become a necessity.
On the other hand, satellite technology is simplifying the exploration and operation processes, adding new challenges for the maintenance area who need to work with new technologies
Ax Legal: There are many companies that offer predictive maintenance technology to mining companies. What are the factors that make one company offer better service than another?
Cesar: I think it is the added value that they offer over other competitors. What the client wants is a quick alternative at the lowest cost that guarantee the continuity of operations. It is important that proposals are solution based that actually demonstrate how they reduce production stops.
Ax Legal: In your opinion, what are the typical problems that foreign companies have when introducing their technology in the Peruvian maintenance industry?
Cesar: In the case of Peru, it is the training of personnel in these technologies, and sometimes, the delivery of manuals in the native language. The specialization needed for these technologies limits the actions of the personnel in the organization, so it is necessary to evaluate strategies of how to deal with the maintenance so that there is no prolonged stops to the production process.
I can also indicate that, unlike other countries, our mining industry has multi-functional technicians, who are not specialized in certain components, so it will take time for personnel to adapt to these technologies.
Ax Legal: Are there other areas in the maintenance industry that you see interesting technology for? Or new ways of doing things? Can you give us some examples?
Cesar: Of course, you have very clear objectives for the next few years in the automotive industry. The use of electric cars and buses with autonomy greater than 100 km per recharge is a challenge that has been met with the use of batteries with greater durability. Now it is time to think about what to do with the discarded batteries, and for Latin America, how to install more recharging points nationwide to promote the use of this technology.
Likewise, the aerospace industry has great advances and soon anyone will be able to travel to space in a reusable spacecraft, this creates new spaces for the development of maintenance.
Ax Legal: Is there something specific about the conditions in Peru that makes it more difficult to maintain the equipment than other countries? (soil conditions, different metals, etc.)
Cesar: The conditions in Peru should not be an obstacle to incorporate foreign technologies that help creates efficiencies in the operation and maintenance of the equipment. It is important to create customer-supplier relationships that are based on trust which will help improve maintenance activities and consequently the operation.
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