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Cameco’s asset plan: How Brad Owen’s team reduced mine costs

Cigar Lake uranium mine gets a strong start with a focused lubrication strategy.



Dewatering at a Cameco uranium mine. PHOTOs: CAMECO

When Cameco Corp. was making plans in 2013 for the Cigar Lake uranium mine, its fourth in Saskatchewan, lubrication was identified as a critical aspect of the asset management strategy.

Cameco created a lubrication group tasked with ensuring its new mine, one of the world’s highest grade operations, started off on the right foot. With commercial production beginning in 2015 and many expensive, essential assets, including an innovative jet-boring system, it was critical to have the right maintenance strategies in place to maximize productivity.

One of the first steps, with the support of an external resource, was to conduct an audit of lubrication processes, identify deficiencies and highlight areas where improvements could be made. This led to the creation of a group focused specifically on the lubrication strategy.

“We wanted to come out of the gate the right way, designing and implementing the right processes to ensure Cameco’s assets had maximum uptime and the longest possible lifespan,” says Brad Owen, an industrial fluids and lubrication specialist based at the uranium producer’s Saskatoon headquarters.

“Part of the process involved identifying where the gaps were in our current reliability process, but also ensuring our team had the right skills to develop the best strategies for our new mine.”

Owen joined Cameco, one of the world’s largest uranium producers and significant supplier of conversion services, in September 2006 as a mechanical engineering technologist. With a background in maintenance and engineering, his skills fit in well at Cameco, which owns and maintains a variety of assets including a varied surface mobile equipment fleet and innovative underground equipment.

His early responsibilities involved working on mechanical projects and designing maintenance processes. He enjoyed focusing on developing and implementing effective processes that related to work management and reliability, which prepared him for starting this greenfield project from scratch.

Owen’s management team recognized the Maintenance Management Professional (MMP) program offered by the Plant Maintenance and Engineering Association of Canada (PEMAC) would provide members with a wider perspective of reliability and maintenance management. But it also allowed Owen to connect all of his previous lubrication training to Comeco’s strategic goals.

The MMP certificate program, designed by PEMAC, a Canadian national not-for-profit association, provides professionals with the tools, techniques, strategies and skills necessary to manage physical assets.

Wider lens

Owen enrolled in the first of eight modules at the University of Saskatchewan, and quickly learned the value of a wider lens when it comes to maintenance, reliability and asset management.

“The MMP program, offered online or in face-to-face classrooms in post-secondary teaching institutions across Canada, provides a well-rounded perspective of how reliability and maintenance should be integrated with an organization’s entire asset management strategy,” says Dick Olver, a retired senior specialist in asset reliability and MMP instructor.

“Participants gain the skills they need to effectively manage their assets, driving improvements in uptime, equipment reliability, as well as production capacity, while at the same time learning to work more cohesively with other departments towards the overall business objectives of an organization.”

Owen’s Applied Science Technologist and Society of Tribologists and Lubrication Engineers (STLE) training provided a solid foundation for developing strategies the new lubrication group would use. And as he worked through the program, he developed additional skills.

The fourth module in the program, Financial Management for the Maintenance Manager, was key. This course provides skills needed to work with finance, which helped him build a strong business case to request funding for projects by putting the benefits in financial terms.

There are a number of gearboxes and a variety of pumps used in Cameco’s mining process that move ore slurry through the processing mechanisms. High-pressure jetting pumps generate a lot of waste oil mixed with water (as per design), but he knew there was a better way to process the ore, reduce waste and lessen the environmental impact.

He devised a business case for a change to a 100% water flush, eliminating oil waste that would have to be hauled up from the underground operations. Using techniques he learned in the program to justify the cost of modifying the pumps, he was able to show significant benefits in spite of the required investment. That made the decision to move ahead with the project an easy one.

The lubrication group is currently examining Cameco’s overall strategy for screw freeze compressors. Its fleet of nine 250-ton compressors is expanding to 14. Any downtime today will delay the mining plan in the future. The lubrication group is working with the operations team to improve reliability.

The initial strategy involved rebuilding the compressors at 30,000 hours, whatever their condition. Using oil analysis and vibration monitoring rather than a time-based strategy will extend the rebuild time to 60,000 hours. The strategy includes adding finer micron oil filtration, modifying the piping to isolate the filters so the compressor continues to run during a filter change; and conducting a maintenance history analysis to identify the causes of downtime that will allow the team to remediate any issues.

“Coordinating between departments has enabled Cameco to develop a strategy that takes into account many perspectives and considerations. This latest initiative will provide maintenance and capital cost savings worth millions of dollars. It will also allow us to collect baseline data to target problems, make changes, and verify the results,” Owen says.

“Often as maintenance professionals, we lose perspective of how things are working in other departments, and how synergies could be gained by working together more effectively.”

Owen and his team have applied other insights gained from the program. They implemented more effective reliability centred maintenance (RCM) strategies to confidently schedule repairs when they’re needed, identified the critical assets, and prioritized lubrication plans to minimize downtime while maximizing their productive life.

The lubrication program has reduced costs and improved equipment availability, leading the group to look at standardizing the strategy across Cameco’s other operations in northern Saskatchewan.

Having more standardized lubrication products and supplying more effective RCM strategies has made ordering and storage more efficient, reduced on-site inventory and made it easier to locate.

Today, Owen is responsible for lubrication strategies across all of Cameco’s northern mine sites.

“I started with technical knowledge: now I understand how to apply that knowledge to ensure the lubrication group is a recognized asset.”

Nicolle Guillen is the professional development manager for the Plant Engineering and Maintenance Association of Canada (PEMAC). Visit www.pemac.org.

 

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