A haul truck was transporting ore to the processing plant at Barrick's Pueblo Viejo mine last month when a warning alarm sounded in the truck. A sensor, one of 50 in the vehicle, had detected elevated brake temperatures. A dispatcher, who had access to real-time data from the truck's sensors, contacted the driver immediately and asked him to pull the vehicle to the side of the road. The dispatcher then evaluated the brake data and created a computerized work order, which was digitally routed to the mine's maintenance department. The order contained detailed information about conditions in the truck at the time of the incident. A field maintenance crew was dispatched and, after some minor repairs, the truck was back in operation less than two hours after the warning alarm went off.
"This would not have happened a year ago," says Alejandro Zappa, Reliability Engineer for the Mobile Fleet at Pueblo Viejo, which is based in the Dominican Republic.
Barrick is in the early stages of a company-wide effort to improve the way it tracks, shares and analyzes data. Everything from fleet management to energy management is being digitized, allowing operators to work more efficiently and better manage costs. The digitization project is a key part of Barrick's Best-in-Class program, a strategic initiative aimed at driving a culture of business improvement and operational excellence across the business. Barrick Executive Chairman John Thornton emphasized the importance of digitization at the company's recent annual meeting, saying that technology and data will be deeply incorporated into "everything we do."
The main production fleet at Pueblo Viejo includes 34 haul trucks, three wheel loaders and two excavators. All are equipped with sensors that monitor everything from brake oil and tire engine-coolant temperature to suspension and tire pressure. They also track GPS position and driver behavior, including brake use, speed and frequency of transmission shifts.
Traditionally, when a warning alarm was triggered, the driver would notify dispatch. If necessary, dispatch would create a work order and enter it manually into a software database that would alert maintenance a truck was in need of repair. Work orders could take days to process and omit valuable information that could help pinpoint the cause of a problem — and potentially prevent a more serious problem from occurring.
"We used to use the in-vehicle sensors to investigate, post-mortem, why a truck failure had happened," Zappa says. "Instead of being one step ahead of a failure, we were one step behind."
That has begun to change in recent years. In 2013, Pueblo Viejo installed a new fleet management system known as Jigsaw. The system, made by Leica Geosytems, a division of Hexagon Mining, includes a software component called Jhealth that facilitates real-time fleet monitoring. Instead of relying solely on drivers to monitor in-vehicle alarms, Pueblo Viejo's dispatch center can now track the alarms remotely in real time. When an alarm is activated, dispatchers can use Jhealth to review various metrics monitored by in-vehicle sensors and communicate with the driver to help diagnose the problem and gauge its severity.
The new dispatch system was just the first step towards full digitization of fleet management at Pueblo Viejo. The operation is also automating work flows, enhancing data analytics and customizing data monitored by in-vehicle sensors. This multi-team effort is ongoing, but significant progress has already been made. At its core, the initiative involves connecting disparate software systems at Pueblo Viejo so they can communicate and work together seamlessly. Last year, the mine's information technology team — who Zappa calls "the magicians" —interfaced Jigsaw with three different software systems: AssetWise Health Monitoring; Oracle eAM (Enterprise Asset Management); and the PI System. Each plays a key role in fleet management. AssetWise, made by Bentley Inc., helps customize and analyze in-vehicle data. Oracle eAM, made by Oracle Corp., is used to generate work orders. The PI System, made by OSIsoft, LLC and more commonly known as PI, serves as a data historian, storing information gathered over years or even decades.
Interfacing these systems means work orders at Pueblo Viejo can be routed to the Oracle system automatically — along with a complete diagnostic report — instead of being entered manually. This significantly improves the speed and effectiveness with which vehicles can be serviced and repaired.
Interfacing PI with Jigsaw and AssetWise also allows Pueblo Viejo's maintenance technicians and engineers to pinpoint trends that could prevent catastrophic vehicle failures. Reliability engineers, for instance, can track which alarms are being triggered most frequently and determine when, where and, ultimately, why this is occurring.
The engineers, for example, could use vehicle-shock-absorber data to identify particularly rough stretches of road at the mine site. These areas force drivers to slow down and then speed up again after they traverse the rough stretch, which is extremely inefficient and energy intensive as a fully-loaded haul truck weighs 500,000 kilograms. With this knowledge in hand, mine operations can focus road maintenance on the worst areas, allowing haul trucks to maintain an even speed, reducing wear and tear on trucks and associated maintenance costs.
While it's too soon to quantify the cost benefits of the initiative — both in terms of production gains and maintenance cost savings — they are potentially significant. Preventative action that avoids a single catastrophic vehicle failure can save hundreds of thousands of dollars. Extending the lives of vehicles and their component parts through proactive maintenance can save millions over time and significantly increase production.
"Barrick is undergoing a fundamental transformation, becoming a more efficient, collaborative and, ultimately, more operationally excellent company," says the company's Chief Operating Officer Richard Williams. "The effective use of data gathering and analysis is a key part of this transformation, and what Pueblo Viejo has done with fleet management is an excellent early example of how digitization is making our business better."
While the fleet management digitization initiative is a potential game changer for Pueblo Viejo, it is not without challenges. Training of maintenance, dispatch and other affected departments is ongoing, and becoming fully proficient in the system, which went live in January, will take time, Zappa says. "You can have the best data and interfaces, but you need a human face to process that data, and take action," he says. "People need to get comfortable and learn to trust the systems and it's our challenge to ensure that happens."
Despite the challenge, early feedback has been encouraging and promising enough that other Barrick sites are looking to follow Pueblo Viejo's lead. Zappa recently travelled to the Veladero mine in Argentina to give a workshop on the fleet management digitization initiative. A visit to the company's Nevada operations may soon follow.