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Mining Boom Sees New Equipment Delays - Reconditioning Becomes A More Viable Option

Along with the boom in the Australian mining industry has come an increased stress on plant and equipment. Delays of up to two years on new equipment orders mean that many companies don’t have the option of retiring machines – many are now be required to work well past what would otherwise be considered their serviceable life.

As a result, more and more companies are looking to reconditioning workshops to extend the life of their equipment. For most, this represents the fastest way to get functioning machinery back in the mines and maintain productivity. However, according to Rick Shaw from Geared Engineering, there’s always been a strong case for reconditioning and repair.

“Many companies previously saw regular equipment upgrade or replacement as the only way of maintaining a reliable working fleet,” said Shaw. “What they’re learning now, as a result of the new equipment shortage, is that often reconditioning provides a much better return on investment anyway.”

Shaw concedes that it’s often a case-by-case basis of assessing the value of repair versus replacement. However, the extended waiting periods being experienced for new equipment delivery are certainly tipping the balance in favour or repair and reconditioning more regularly lately.

In addition, this provides the advantage of being able to upgrade the performance of key equipment components – such as gearboxes – during the reconditioning process. Somewhat surprisingly, Shaw says they frequently deliver significant improvements in both efficiency and reliability over OEM gearboxes. Coupled with the fact that this is typically achieved at a lower cost than replacement, it’s no surprise that their services are in demand.

In fact, such has been the level of increased interest that Geared Engineering has just moved to a new 2300 sq m facility (located in Beresford, near Newcastle) and are looking to double their workforce in the near future.

According to Shaw, it is the latter part that has provided the biggest challenge to many in his part of the industry: accessing skilled labour. Many mines and contractors have historically had trouble retaining quality staff due to labour market pressures.

The key for mining companies taking the repair and reconditioning route, therefore, is to ensure that they are working with a trusted workshop employing appropriately skilled technicians. “The more specialised, the better,” he said. “In our case, we know gearboxes inside out because that’s all we do and all we have ever done – plus, all our tradesman have been trained by gearbox OEMs. Whoever you choose, if you want the best result then make sure whoever you’re trusting with your equipment has the specific knowledge for the task they’re performing.”

Interestingly, he argues, this rules out many of the original manufacturers’ workshops because their technicians are required to be ‘jacks-of-all-trades’, working on a hydraulic cylinder one minute and a gearbox the next. On the other hand, independent workshops such as Geared Engineering will specialise in providing expert repairs, rebuilds and upgrades to industrial power transmissions for fixed and mobile plant and equipment only. In addition, they can frequently increase gearbox reliability and performance without having to change existing equipment geometry.

Typically, manufacturers are also more expensive than independent workshops and have been criticised in the past for being slower to deliver – a major factor affecting productivity.

“At the end of the day though, it’s all about doing a cost-benefit analysis,” says Shaw. He recommends first taking a look at your options –OEM cost to repair against an independent workshop such as Geared Engineering. He says he can happily demonstrate how some of his customers have saved millions of dollars whilst increasing machine efficiency at the same time.

Those companies who can’t access new or hire equipment have little choice but to look at repair and reconditioning. “But even if new equipment is a possibility,” he says, “don’t jump into a major capital purchase before finding out whether or not it’s possible to give the old equipment a new lease on life.” And one more thing: “Before you rush into sending it back to the manufacturer, try an independent workshop. You may be surprised at the difference in speed and price.”

For an industry where any downtime can mean considerable lost revenue, it may well be the speed factor which makes the biggest financial difference after all.

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