Brian Mitchell
President & CEO
Spectro Incorporated

Analyzing Lubricants to Lengthen Equipment Life

Mon, 10/21/2013 - 16:50

The question of maintaining the equipment used in mining operations is straightforward yet crucial. From using lubricants to avoiding overheating, companies vary widely in their approach to maintenance. One company that is taking a different approach to the issue of heavy equipment maintenance and lubrication is Spectro Incorporated. Rather than monitoring the performance of the machine itself, Spectro Incorporated conducts analyses on the conditions of the oil and lubricants that are used on the gears, bearings, and shafts of large mechanical systems. The purpose of these analyses is to deduce the chemical condition, contamination, and wear metals in the oil and lubricants, thus allowing an accurate diagnosis of any problems developing within the machinery. “The question you seek to answer is ‘What is the condition of the system and are the lubricants continuing to do their job?’ This information is critical to allowing maintenance and reliability personnel to predict and prevent potential failures in these valuable systems,” says Brian Mitchell, President & CEO of Spectro Incorporated.

Spectro Incorporated provides equipment for the analysis of molecular and elemental spectroscopy, counting and characterizing particles in the oils and lubricants, and testing their physical properties. Through these analyses the team can diagnose, and go on to prevent, potential failures in the machinery. This technology provides a clear example of predictive maintenance in action, which for Mitchell is an absolutely essential strategy that all mining companies would benefit from investing in. “Rather than running a system down until it fails, which will result in expensive repair costs, testing the oil and lubricant on the machine allows companies to preemptively take that system out of operation, service or repair it, and return it to operation. The result is reduced downtime and maximum productive capacity from these critical assets,” he adds.

Spectro Incorporated’s oil and lubricant analysis systems are designed with the specific aim of making analysis possible at the mine site itself, which avoids long delays that can greatly reduce the ‘predictive’ value that the process is supposed to add. “Spectro Incorporated is particularly unique in its development of portable tools that enable customers to do the testing on site. Our systems are easily deployed, have very limited logistics requirements, and are easy to operate. This is important when you are in remote areas where employee turnover is high, and qualified chemists or spectroscopists are difficult to find,” says Mitchell.

Mitchell points out the incongruity in the fact that mining companies often spend so much money buying expensive equipment, without going that extra mile to look after it. “A large haul truck at a typical mine in South Africa transports over US$250,000 per day. If you lose an engine or a transmission because the lubricant has stopped working, and it takes a week to fix that truck, the mining company would lose more than US$1 million,” he says. According to Mitchell, mining companies that are properly focused on maximizing uptime will reap the rewards: “We have case studies of mines that have invested US$150,000 in analytical equipment, and over time this has saved them over US$10 million in equipment uptime and maintenance costs.” Spectro Incorporated’s approach draws heavily on the company’s foundations providing oil and lubricant analysis solutions to the US Army. Mitchell notes that there are parallels between the needs of the US Army and the mining industry: “In the military, if you have a helicopter or a jet engine, failure is unacceptable because if the lubricant has not been monitored and the system is failing the results are absolutely catastrophic. A similar situation occurs in the mining industry. It is certainly not a life or death situation, but it can be fatal in terms of business, and of maximizing efficiency and profitability,” he says.

It is due to the parallels between these two markets that Spectro Incorporated is driving up its business in the mining industry, which is one of the company’s three core focus markets. The company will be using its research and development department in order to better identify the needs of the industry and design the products that will serve those needs. Spectro Incorporated is currently spending 18% of its revenue on this endeavor. “We are developing tools specific to the mining industry’s needs, and again, that goes back to being easily deployable, requiring very minimal logistics for support, and also being easy to use,” says Mitchell.