Inspired by reliability: How Agnico Eagle used Reliability Centered Maintenance (RCM) to keep the ore moving

By Johan Hoarau, Senior Consultant, Asset Optimization

5 min read

The 32 off-road trucks sitting at Agnico Eagle’s Meadowbank facility in Nunavut, Canada look tough. They need to be. They are used to haul ore along a 64 km route in some of the most inhospitable conditions. In winter, average temperatures hover around -30O C, and snowfalls of 20 cm or more are common. In December, drivers get just over four hours of daylight.

There’s a lot riding on these vehicles. Agnico Eagle’s rich Amaruq gold mine produces some 2,000 tons of milling material per day. The ore is then transported along the 64 km route to the mill at the Meadowbank facility. The company’s fleet of Long-Haul Trucks (LHTs) pulls two trailers each, keeping the entire operation moving.

Despite numerous preventative maintenance activities aimed at keeping the fleet well-maintained, operational and safe, failure rates were stubbornly high. Unplanned downtimes were causing the fleet to become a bottleneck for the operations.

Looking at the situation, we knew we could find a way to help Agnico Eagle keep their trucks on the road longer, at lower cost, with less effort and with better reliability.

What we proposed

Ausenco recommended that Agnico Eagle put their truck fleet through a Reliability Centered Maintenance (RCM) program. RCM is a technique that was pioneered by the aerospace industry in the 1970s to help reduce the number of fatal airline crashes. Today, many mining organizations use RCM processes to improve the preventative maintenance of some of their key fixed assets. We knew that RCM could also deliver significant benefits to Agnico Eagle’s truck fleet.

The executives at Agnico Eagle were inspired by the idea and keen to reduce their operational downtime, eliminate bottlenecks and see what kind of cost savings we could achieve with RCM. They also wanted to find every opportunity to reduce their carbon footprint and eliminate waste. We were given access to the data and resources we needed to deliver the results we anticipated.

Seeing the big picture… one component at a time

The first order of business was to find out where the failures were happening. Trucks have a lot of moving parts and we needed to look at each one of them to understand the failures, investigate the causes and assess the proper reliability response. We started by creating a ‘component hierarchy’ to document all the components and their failures.

The next step was to use Agnico Eagle’s existing data to rapidly populate that component hierarchy. We pulled data from more than 28,000 work orders and 44,000 parts transactions. Then we classified the failure downtime, identified the ‘bad actors’ (those components responsible for disproportionate downtime) and looked for instances of over-maintenance (those components using up unnecessary resources).

Prioritizing the bad actors—a failure in the braking system is prioritized differently than a problem with the air conditioning system for example—we then sat down with Agnico Eagle’s LHT maintenance team and technicians to capture their field comments and discuss their hands-on experience with the components. In some cases, we overlayed other key pieces of information (like local temperature history) to help correlate assumptions and confirm the most appropriate course of action.

Driving improvements

Once we knew what was going wrong, we began to create and execute a plan to fix it. We implemented improvement plans for the bad actors to enhance their performance. We challenged the incidences of over-maintenance and identified optimal schedules and trigger points. We optimized maintenance tasks and improved the work order process.

Each activity delivered valuable improvements. Our initiatives to address the bad actors and reduce instances of over-maintenance allowed us to reduce the fleet’s average downtime due to preventative maintenance by more than 5.5 hours per day. Initiatives to optimize the maintenance tasks resulted in another hour of daily savings, resulting in a total average reduction in downtime of 6.5 hours per day.

A cleaner, leaner fleet

Ultimately, our project with Agnico Eagle proved the value of RCM in LHT fleet maintenance. The results are impressive.

We reduced fleet downtime by around 8,000 hours per year, giving Agnico Eagle the option to reduce their fleet by a full vehicle and reduce their carbon footprint. The project also freed up some 14,000 hours of preventative maintenance work, allowing the company’s fleet technicians and engineers to focus on reducing their backlog.

At the same time, our adjustments to the maintenance schedule allowed the company to reduce its parts and lubricant costs by around CDN$220,000 per year. They’ve improved the drain intervals (again reducing their environmental impact as well as costs), and they’ve reduced the potential for new issues to arise (for example, allowing dust to drop into the oil filters).

Navigating to success

Our work with Agnico Eagle highlighted some key success factors that proved central to achieving the organization’s objectives.

  1. Draw on a cross-functional team of experts. We built a collaborative team of Ausenco and Agnico Eagle subject matter experts to help identify and implement maintenance improvements. These included technical advisors, reliability specialists, field technicians, managers, supervisors, and project support staff. This allowed us to collect real-world data, understand historic experiences and create a practical and realistic plan that the technicians could execute.
  2. Embed the momentum. We worked closely with Agnico Eagle to define the key performance indicators we would use to measure the project and ensured ongoing reporting throughout. We developed a long-term annual resource plan to help their team sustain the improvements we’ve made. And we proposed future improvements that would allow them to achieve further gains down the road.
  3. Create a culture of continuous improvement. Asset optimization is not a one-and-done exercise. It requires a culture of continuous improvement and a deep desire to find better ways to deliver on company objectives. Agnico Eagle’s culture encourages its employees and partners to seek opportunities for improvement at every level, meaning that our team was highly empowered and encouraged to challenge the status quo and bring new ideas to the table.

New ideas based on proven solutions

As a member of Ausenco’s Asset Optimization team, I focus on helping small and large businesses achieve their reliability goals through efficient management of their assets. This project reminded me that finding a better way doesn’t always require finding a new way—sometimes it’s just about applying tried and tested ideas to new problems.

Any questions? Please contact Johan Hoarau.