Techenomics International is taking its cutting edge oil and fluid analysis technology to the Pilbara, opening a new laboratory in Newman.
The new lab will deliver an unprecedented level of access to Techenomics’ world-class fluid management and condition monitoring services to the mining, transport, marine, power and industrial sectors of the iron ore sector and wider Pilbara client base.
With a consistent trajectory of market growth, Techenomics has already expanded its reach by building several subsidiaries throughout Australia, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Mongolia, Turkey, South Africa and Russia.
And now the company’s new facility delivers an unprecedented level of testing and analysis in the Pilbara.
It brings together experience and new ways of thinking, enabling mining companies and OEMs to deliver a more reliable product and service with higher production and less downtime.
Australian Mining Review spoke to Techenomics chief executive officer Chris Adsett about the company and its services.
Analysis and Algorithms
Core to business – and one of the many factors driving the Techenomics foray into the Newman area – is analysis of used oil and other fluids, such as coolants, grease, fuel, and other fluids and lubricants, under a range of conditions.
Techenomics’ condition testing extends beyond standard OEM recommendations, and takes into consideration factors of individual site conditions, the nature of material being handled and the machine’s use.
Coal has been Techenomics’ bread and butter and is at the centre of its business in the Hunter and throughout Indonesia. In Bangkok the business turned its attention to condition testing in a gold mining setting, and then in Mongolia it was a copper-gold mining location.
Now in the Pilbara, iron ore operational conditions are the focus of attention.
“The company’s distribution of liquid tungsten, which is a disulphide nano oil additive used in thermodynamically sophisticated friction reduction, also made the Pilbara lab a strong proposition,” Chris said.
“With the COVID-19 pandemic, came the need to sharpen the business’ turnaround and service delivery, so a Newman laboratory became a priority, and the benefits were immediate.”
Chris said like the company’s other labs, the Newman operation would use intuitive Blue Ocean Software to store, manage and analyse the large volumes of data being processed across its network.
He said a sophisticated library of algorithms and conditional variables, which have been developed and built into the platform, enables acutely accurate conditional testing
and analysis of oils and other fluids.
This platform will make servicing the Pilbara, from the newly-launched Newman Laboratory, more effective and efficient, especially in a post-COVID setting.
“This data is housed in sets assigned to each client, which means customers can only access their own specific data sets,” he said.
“This is a platform which can also be fully integrated with a client’s IT interface – meaning unabated access to vital data as well as trends, predictions, and anomalies.
“Once collected, the platform stores the data, creates a history and sets trends or predictions – and provides a small but growing set of analytics.
“It is consistent across the whole cloudbased platform – so, wherever the customer, site or the machinery on which the condition testing was done, the data is available on
exactly the same cloud-based platform.
At the laboratory in Newman, Kiky Millar, a recent arrival in the mining town from another large mining service centre in Balikpapan, is lab manager.
Kiky relocated with her husband, who has work in the Pilbara with BHP, and two young children, and brings more than six years previous laboratory experience as well as
skills obtained while completing a Bachelor Degree in Chemistry as well as a Masters Degree in Environmental Science.
Assisting Kiki in the new laboratory will be a female chemical engineer, also from Indonesia, as well with Keshini Lokhun, a young science graduate specialising in
chemistry, who is also helping Techenomics establish a presence in parts of Africa with her French language skills.
Kiki says women are playing an increasing role in the male-dominated mining industry, including in places like Newman, and particularly in technical and scientific areas.
She says that women are now much better accepted and there are more opportunities.
Chris likens the conditional oil and fluid testing and analysis to human pathology testing: just like a pathologist will look beyond the blood, Techenomics analysts look well beyond the oil – and for much the same reasons: to ensure a comprehensive analysis of wear and condition is undertaken.
The testing procedure begins with a sample of oil or fluid being taken.
The samples, usually between 80ml and 100ml, are taken in a standard manner, and when oil is hot. It needs to be indicative of the compartments and be consistent – engine to engine, compartment to compartment, gearbox to gearbox.
Samples are then labelled according to what it is, what the hours are, and any other details, and then the sample kit is dispatched to our lab – either by couriers, hand collected, or post office bag.
The new laboratory in Newman will heavily reduce testing, delivery and analysis time for any samples collected in Western Australia – especially from within the Pilbara region. The reduced time taken to transport samples to the lab means analysis can be completed sooner, customers are provided with the results and action can be taken sooner to resolve issues or prevent further wear or damage to components.
It’s at the lab that the AI magic happens.
Testing is undertaken on a scheduled basis.
While this is usually consistent for most mobile equipment, there are variables which need to be taken into consideration.
For mobile equipment, Chris maintains there is a vast difference between a coal and a hard rock mine, for instance.
The specific gravity of the material the trucks are carrying – and the diggers are digging – changes, so the volumes change. Simply put: 200t of iron ore are much smaller in volume than 200t of coal.
Again, this presented another opportunity in the opening of the Newman laboratory.
Considering the many variables is vital in identifying potential issues, preventing unscheduled stops and emergency
breakdowns and ultimately saving time and money.
“A piece of machinery – for instance a dump truck – might have an engine worth a couple of million dollars so the capital value of that equipment is very high, and the more sophisticated miners want to make sure they achieve the maximum life for the components fluid and everything is running efficiently and in a healthy manner,” Chris said.
“The fluid analysis provides data to be collected and then analysed, to enable advice on the health of the equipment to be provided, as well as what may be necessary to ensure long life and make sure no breakdowns occur.
“While some customers seek only the data, so they can make their own decisions – either with or without consideration of OEM/standard recommendations for oil and fluid replacement – others request a full data collect and analysis with provision of reports and recommendations of a way forward.
“Both requirements rely on a fast-aspossible turnaround – especially when an issue has been identified and a reliable efficient diagnosis means limiting lost time and money.
“We tend to have locations that are close to activities so the time in which we can return the information is reduced.
“We saw through COVID how clients throughout the Pilbara would benefit from the lab in Newman and it now enables us to provide a faster and more efficient service to our customers in that area.”
The power of platforms such as Blue Ocean means prevention, risk mitigation, downtime reduction and maintenance can
be assessed and planned for using reliable, site and condition-specific data.
It also heightens the accuracy with which everything from a particle in oil to the risk of, for example, bearing wear can be Identified – and vitally, allow for the consideration of the possible relationship between the two
About 70% of oil tested is usually of a fine standard. But that remaining 30% is such that it either needs attention or it is an absolutely urgent issue which required immediate intervention.
“The most common element you’re going to find is iron,” Chris said.
“But that, as well as traces the likes of copper, chrome and aluminium, is generally something which flags issues around wear.
“The presence of that can also lead to considering the quality of the lubricant being used in a compartment.
“If viscosity is low due to a fuel leak or a coolant leak oil will lack the capacity to lubricate. When breakdown can start to occur, there will be wear earlier on and this points to the deterioration of a compartment.
“By this stage, failure has started so it is then a case of how you manage the remaining life of that compartment.”
It all starts with the oil – if that is okay then the source of the failure needs to be found and signs could be bearings, or rings in the gearbox or big lumps of iron which have been knocked off the teeth. It is a reliable indicator of the health of the overall machine. If a compartment is running too hot, the oil degrades, and oxidation is evident – this indicates too much friction.
Chris credits the high level of skill and extensive experience of the team with being able to leverage good outcomes for clients by working with the data and using the algorithm-based platform.
Techenomics is a team which works as a global network as opposed to silos. While each member will employ the years of experience, they have to analyse what they see, and what the data tells them, they base solutions on a bank of knowledge shared across laboratories – and continents!
It’s where tech and AI meets and is complemented by what humanness brings to the table.
“We can provide a range of data for everything from a dump truck engine to a transformer in a power station to a rail locomotive,” Chris said.
“Some customers rely on us to advise with a report on what to do with oil and what to do with compartment; whereas some others just want the data streamed into their own platform or software.
“We have tried to structure the business so we can make available across the group any skill gained at a particular site or location.
We share our knowledge and the skills we learn and we also share our challenges – we avoid working as a silo – and the collective skills and abilities benefits everyone.”
It’s a team that makes the technologyartificial intelligence-data-human mix work well.
“We have a lot of Masters, the odd PhD across the locations … we have a few smart people here – and we have the experience of those people with hands on skills, on the ground with an understanding of the locations and conditions our customers are working in,” Chris said.
The blend of youth and age bodes well for the business, especially given the need to navigate successfully through the digital space.
And as for digital, Chris said the platform being cloud based would enable growth and expansion in the organisational sense, but also facilitate continued and growing access for customers as well as growth in the as
collective and sets of data.
Predictably, Artificial Intelligence will underpin Techeconomics’ intention to remain at the forefront of the industry, finding technology-driven and innovative solutions.
It is also what will enable an investment in research and development – as well as expansion into new products, services and offerings.
Currently underway, and linking existing concepts with new technology, is development of remote, real time condition
This brings the magnetic plugs which collect, check and/or filter iron, together with an innovative, remote, and real-time system of monitoring and analysis.
This will provide a tailored system via which issues and risks can be identified – remotely and in real time – and intervention can take place in early stages.
Even in maintenance, this technology would enable a more cost and downtime effective use of oil, while real-time monitoring of compartments and fluids are taking place in the background.
Chris said this will be most beneficial in those cases where oil might be in good condition but it is changed based on an OEM recommendation standard.
This will mean that if the oil is fine, a recommendation on when replacement should be carried out is given based on
specific conditions as opposed to a set number of operational hours or kilometres.
Oil’s Well That Ends Well
Whether in Newman or any of the other laboratories across the Techenomics network, the technology being used to test and analyse oils and other fluids – as well as the strategic location of where that testing can be undertaken – is all aimed at minimising downtime and maintenance costs.
Further, each location and set of associated conditions can be accounted for in testing and analysis.
“This is why we call it condition monitoring,” Chris said.
“We consider the condition of the oil and other fluids, not just how many hours or kilometres have been done.”
This level of analysis – which is already underway to an extent – means tangible savings in time, money and risk.
Most importantly, it is the prevention of unscheduled breakdowns that this will have potentially the greatest impact upon.
This and the careful location of laboratories in locations such as Newman to ensure a more timely and efficient turnaround; along with the liquid tungsten developments and other research, sets organisations such as Techenomics on a trajectory which might have been impossible to plan for 15 years ago when their investment in Blue Ocean software was first made.
But in this climate, and with AI technology now “marching down the road”, as Chris puts it, nothing is off the table.
Not if it means a tailored and condition-specific offering for customers around the world.