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Blog Post: Top 11 tips for Improved Analyzer Availability

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So you are using on-line instruments to monitor your process? Good for you! Using instruments for this purpose is a good investment. But do you make the most of it? Download checklist for analyzer availability here (pdf, 57 kB, opens in new tab or window).

Imagine a concentrator plant producing 10.000 tonnes copper per year. The copper price is 5.800 USD/ton. The daily production is then 27.4 tonnes of copper with a value of USD 158.900.
If the on-stream XRF analyzer of this plant is out of operation, it costs the plant somewhere in the range USD 2-5.000 per day. Or USD 1.589 per percent and day. That is money going to the tailings pond instead of being given to you from a buyer. If there are other metals in the ore as well, figures increase quickly.

The figures may vary depending on what analyzer instrument that is being discussed. However, there will always be a loss involved when they are not working. Availability equals productivity and profitability.

It is worth to consider that the cost of a broken component is often much lower than the cost of the downtime. 

Instrument service is not a place to cut cost. That is bad business. The problem is that no one is charging you money for downtime, so it does not show as a negative post in the books. That is why you need to do the math yourself, or at least have someone do it for you. That way you can build a real case:

Keeping the instruments operative is not only necessary – it is profitable!

A service engineer performing maintenance on a Boxray on stream XRF analyzer. Boxray 24.

The tips here and the linked checklist apply to many instruments used for on-line monitoring, it is meant to be very general. It spans over both strategic and practical matters to attend to. The aim is to give you a quick start guide to continuous maintenance and improvement of your instruments. You may also want to read this post on how to improve analyzer performance.

Boost availability by creating plans and strategies

The first five items are mostly organizational matters. Use them to form a strategy to prevent unplanned downtime, and to plan ahead what to do if the instrument fails. Doing this bit thoroughly is a real money saver.

Boost availability by checking your equipment regularly

The other six items are things to check on the analyzer instrument. Keeping the instrument in good general condition and looking for weak spots can prevent many unnecessary failures.

Go over this list every six months and enjoy the results!

Check service and maintenance

  1. Has the analyzer been serviced according to the manufacturer’s instructions? If not, first of all find out why. Is it a conscious decision or has the instrument not been given the attention it needs? Make a list of the gaps and make a plan to bring the service schedule back on track. Contact the supplier and ask them for a package deal on the next scheduled maintenance and whatever has been overseen.
  2. What details on the instrument has required service or repair the last year?
    Look back in the logbook, what items have been subject to repair lately? Are there any related items that should be replaced as well to prevent unplanned downtime? Replacing parts that break is the obvious thing to do, but think in wider circles at this point. Replacing working parts may at first glance seem unnecessary, and sometimes expensive. However, because of the cost of downtime, it is always cheaper.
  3. Check Service Level Agreement. Check the agreement, does it cover all necessary aspects of preventive maintenance and repair? Can you get a service engineer on site within a reasonable amount of time? Look back in the logbook, did you experience any trouble with the SLA? Make sure everything you really need is included and ask for a quote if you need it updated. It is always better to contact the supplier and ask for advice, then you can make a conscious decision based on cost and benefit. Don’t think “this is probably expensive/unnecessary/…” – get a quote and find out.
  4. Review the spare part strategy. Take a look at the logbook and list what has been replaced. Are there any items being replaced regularly? Looking at the instrument, what parts are critical for its function? Use the information to make up a spare part strategy. What parts should be available on site? What spare parts are held on stock elsewhere? What is the expected delivery time from the manufacturer? Parts with low Mean Time Between Failure and parts that are critical for function should be available on site.
  5. Review user competence matrix. When you experience unplanned downtime, time is definitively money. You need tools, parts and someone to fix it, the sooner the better. Looking at your colleagues: Is trained staff available on all shifts? Make a list of service and repair tasks you think you should be able to carry out yourselves. Verify the list against training records. Who is able to do what? Is it time to train the staff? Ask manufacturer to come to your location and train your staff once a year. Knowledge will be forgotten or reach its expiry date if it is not maintained. If it can be held in conjunction with annual maintenance or similar they should be able to give you a fair price for a full day of training.

Check the instrument

  1. Is it safe? Safety first, of course. Check for radiation leakage. Verify function of breakers in the safety loop. Verify Lock Out Tag Out procedures. Check pressure in pneumatic systems, check for leaks. Check for water leaks in flushing systems. Check for leaks in any sample/fluid/chemical handling system.
  2. Is it clean? Not only will a dirty instrument be less attractive to work with, it will also affect its availability in the long run. Increased friction and wear leads to downtime in the end. Remove dust and dirt on the outside and on the inside. Replace any mylar windows that are not replaced regularly.
  3. Is temperature cool and stable? Heat tends to age components more rapidly, and fluctuating temperatures can lead to problems over time. Check fluid level in cooling system. Replace filters. Check air conditioning of the room the analyzer is in and replace filters.
  4. Are parts moving freely? Check action of moving parts. Verify play and clearance against other parts. Look for wear.
  5. Is the sampling system OK? Check primary and secondary samplers for wear and clogging. Check sample pumps for wear. Check hoses and pipes for wear and that they are secured tightly. Check function of secondary sampling system.
  6. Is there a fresh backup of software and calibrations? Make a new backup anyway. Make sure it is stored on redundant disks and available to service staff. Check disk space on hard drive. Remove temporary or old files.

Click here to open the checklist and start improving! It is essentially a compressed for of the text above. Easy-to-follow instructions for increased availability, use as a guideline and adapt to your specific needs.

XRF instrument detail, on stream analyzer mechanics, high availability, ready signal