January 17, 2023
Brian Bernier points to a gearbox disassembled on the shop floor of Epiroc’s new global Remanufacturing Center near Sudbury, Canada. Its teeth are gouged and pitted beyond repair. The part is being prepared to be sent for full metal recycling.
That scenario is precisely what Plant Manager Bernier and his team aim to prevent with Epiroc’s Reman Program. The program is unique among Reman component solutions because it employs a custom core tracking and forecasting system that ensures equipment components are replaced before they fail and used cores are returned to the plant for remanufacturing.
“Catastrophic failure creates a lot more waste,” says Bernier as we make our way to his cheery front office, where Epiroc’s signature yellow and gray gleams in the natural light. “And if you’re always shooting from the hip, it’s difficult for us to ensure we’ll have a replacement component for you. If you sign up to the program, though, we’ll use forecasting to figure out how many Reman components you’ll need and when. That way we can guarantee availability.”
Traditionally, about 70% of component failure is unforeseen (the machine hits a mine wall, for instance). The remaining 30% is “planned” according to the expected life span of a component. Epiroc is reversing this ratio through a combination of initiatives such as matching equipment precisely to the job and operator training.
The latest solution involves tracking cores so that, as they approach obsolescence, a good-as-new Reman component is onsite, ready to be deployed at 70% of the cost of new. The spent core then returns to Sudbury in the same packaging, to be revitalized and reused.
"If you’re always shooting from the hip, it’s difficult for us to ensure we’ll have a replacement component for you. If you sign up to the program, though, we’ll use forecasting to figure out how many Reman components you’ll need and when. That way we can guarantee availability.”"
The beauty of the Reman Program is that it creates a circular economy by keeping parts out of the landfill for as long as possible and it reduces greenhouse gas emissions associated with manufacturing new parts. The zero-waste mindset has changed plant culture.
“We’re not satisfied with even 2% of material, the O-rings and other plastics, that are not recyclable. We’re going to get to 100%,” says Bernier.
To improve the program, Bernier has hired industrial engineer Klaryza Lehocky to conduct reliability projects to find ways to increase the lifespan of components so they can run 20–40% longer than the standard 10 000 or 12 000 hours. This involves improving parts that fail frequently or the serviceability of the component.
With her engineering background and expertise in continuous improvement, Lehocky contributes not only to innovation of the Reman components, but to tweaking the tracking and forecasting system to include automatic notifications when, say, a core is due, or making the interface more user-friendly for customer account managers.
“It all ties into longevity. At the end of the day, Epiroc’s contribution to the circular economy is to get longer life out of a component,” says André Bertrand, Business Line Manager Parts & Services at Epiroc Canada, and Global Project Manager for Reman components. “Then, when it comes time for the component to be replaced, to have a process in place to recapture that core.”
Epiroc opened the Sudbury Remanufacturing Center close to three years ago after outgrowing a previous location. The plant, one of two in the world, employs 30 people, including 17 technicians. As befits the base metal mining operations in the area, the plant specializes in underground machines. The other Remanufacturing Center in Tucson, Arizona – which employs 15 people, including the Reman Operations Manager – handles open pit mining equipment.
Reflecting Bernier’s preference for cleanliness and order, the plant walls are neatly stacked with racks of Reman components and parts, its concrete floors spotless. Every one of the tools the technicians use to disassemble components is in its place. Bernier’s “Achilles heel,” a washing bay that once wasted hours, is gone, replaced by a 22-ft-wide machine that operates like a dishwasher, to efficiently clean incoming components of grease and other debris.
The circular program works like this: imagine you have 50 machines in your fleet. The axels in three of your machines are reaching the end of their useful lifespan. You schedule maintenance downtime. If you’re registered with the Reman Program, Epiroc has already shipped a trio of remanufactured axels in a stand specially designed to prevent the leaks and other damage that can occur during transport from the Reman plant to the underground maintenance bay. You remove the aging axels and replace them with the like-new Reman axels. You arrange the spent axels in their molds in the shipping stand and send them back to Sudbury for remanufacturing.
Epiroc guarantees the availability of the Reman components by collaborating with the customer and forging an agreement that for every Reman component purchased, a used core will return to Sudbury.
“We chase the core until we get it back,” explains Bertrand. “That’s a big industry change – most suppliers charge for the core up front. If the customer sends it back, that’s ok, if the customer doesn’t, that’s ok too. They have no formal process for chasing the core like we do.”
The component remanufacturing and exchange process was spearheaded by the late David Palomaki, former plant manager. In 1998 one of his customer’s differentials failed. The customer didn’t have time to send the component out for repair so Palomaki suggested he provide a used differential that could be installed in exchange for the damaged piece.
"We chase the core until we get it back,” explains Bertrand. “That’s a big industry change – most suppliers charge for the core up front. If the customer sends it back, that’s ok, if the customer doesn’t, that’s ok too. They have no formal process for chasing the core like we do."
He started looking around local “boneyards” to find cores and purchase them by weight. Back then, there was plenty of supply because most spent cores were thrown out or even stashed in mined-out stopes. But with no guarantee the scrapped core could be fixed and with the potential for inventory build-up, the venture was risky. Still, Palomaki was able to sell the idea to customers, and now about 90% of them have registered with the Reman Program.
What’s new is Epiroc’s ability to forecast their component needs. Cores come from Epiroc’s “NASA” business region, including Canada, Chile, Mexico and the United States. When a core arrives at the plant, it is washed, sandblasted and disassembled to reveal the degree of wear and tear. Epiroc’s in-house partner Bristol Machine Works refurbishes internal parts that can be recycled (i.e., spindles and hubs) then returns them to Epiroc, where they are tested for quality before being used in the next remanufactured component.
Epiroc has programmed the testing machine to check for leaks and telltale noises along with standard hydraulics. Tom Hayden, another long-term Epiroc employee, has stepped into the role of Test Centre Trainer to teach apprentices how to set up and run the intricate tests. Components that fail, representing a very small amount of the total, go back through Epiroc's quality control process.
With thousands of components spread out in machines around the globe, forecasting and core tracking can be challenging. Olli Matikainen in Operations Support has set up a system on the customized in-house platform to do both tracking and communication. The system tracks when the component was sold to which customer, then communicates with each stakeholder to make sure the core is returned within four weeks. The database includes a list of machines and the components within them. Another column records the customer’s intention for each component: will they outsource next time, buy a remanufactured part or buy new?
“We can compile that data to figure out how many transmissions, axels, etcetera, we need to have ready for the next year,” Matikainen says.
There are already plans in place to expand the Reman Program to other regions around the world based on the success of the Sudbury plant. The program fits neatly under the commitments Epiroc has made to sustainability by 2030.
“Our goal is not only to remanufacture the component but to get that component’s life from 8 000 hours to 12 000 hours," says Bertrand. “If you’re using three transmissions per model per year, and you can get that down to two transmissions per model per year, that means burning less fossil fuel in the manufacturing plant.”