All sectors of the mining industries continually seek ways to counter the costs of major equipment failure. Forensic engineering is now emerging as the first course of action, according to an Australian engineering firm.

Forensic engineering consulting specialist Soto Group says a pattern is emerging where savvy mining companies initially engage them for emergency analysis before going to the manufacturer of equipment that is failing or under-performing.

Forensic engineering is very much a matter of “getting down to the root cause of what went wrong,” said Managing Director Frank Soto, “before making any recommendation for modifying or repairing equipment, based on our analytical report.

“It’s a lot like investigative policing, but with an engineering perspective that determines the cause of equipment failure. This type of analysis can expose any underlying problem ahead of operating machinery to ensure dangers and risk are identified and action taken,” he added.

A recent forensic challenge for Soto involved operational failure of coal shuttle-car wheel units and fatigue observed in longwall chocks underground.

The Soto team made analyses on critical drive components and suspension on the coal shuttle cars and determined the source of the failure ahead of componentry redesign to alleviate further breakdowns.

The challenge for Soto was intensified largely because the failed equipment formed part of a large contract with a major mining company and their global supplier of the units. “There was an ultimate question in our minds prior to any forensic engineering being deployed: What is the design intent and is it capable of delivering it safely,” said Soto.

“As we were approached by the mining company in the first instance to investigate why the units were failing, our mission was to calculate the cause of failure and the potential life in this component and provide a detailed analysis and report. From that point, engineering opinions were offered and the mining company was given a way forward, because they now knew the root cause of their problems.

“Consequently, Soto Group was appointed directly by the manufacturer to identify faults in their design and turn things around so from that point on, all batches manufactured were ideally suited to perform the functional role.

“Without forensic engineering, that mining company and the manufacturer would have remained in the dark about the complexities of the problem and it could have led to messy litigation and extensive delays, two significant issues which neither party needed,” Soto concluded.

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