Rio Tinto Coal Australia (RTCA) wanted to increase machine productivity on a P&H 4100 electric shovel considered to be under performing. The goal was a productivity increase of at least 7%, or more than 2 million extra tonnes of material per year, to match equivalent machines within RTCA and hit material movement targets for the mine. Adding to the complexity was the project budget: $0.

Solution design 

Working closely with RTCA’s maintenance team through employees embedded in the mine operation, we conducted an extensive review of performance, reliability and machine configuration parameters. Team members identified several areas for improvement, including: hoist motors over temperature, dipper trips, high voltage supply interruptions, and air and grease system audits. 

Improvements in those key areas resulted in an increased mean time between failures of 31%.

But another piece of the puzzle remained. The review determined that the machine was operating within specifications and, contrary to original thoughts, performing at a high operational level. So, as the reliability of the machine improved, efforts then focused on operational constraints to help RTCA take productivity to the next level necessary to hit operating targets. 

We facilitated workshops with RTCA featuring a wide range of mine employees to look at factors impacting performance. Using internal data and prompts, shovel and truck operators were able to identify patterns in the daily mining process and trends impacting production, including: crib breaks, swapping truck operators, and the first and last loads of the shifts.  After validating the workshop outcomes, it became clear the shovel was experiencing unexpected periods of time when no trucks were available to be loaded, also known as “hang time.”

Solution design

Our fully integrated Smart Solutions engagement provided RTCA with tools, including PreVail remote health monitoring, and expert analysis to pinpoint consistent times during the shift where hang time occurred. The teams then cross referenced these times with truck fleet delay data. 

Expanding their focus to include two other 4100-series shovels at the site, our experts worked closely with superintendents of loading and haulage. The teams concentrated on the beginning and end of shift performance, maximizing tonnes over the lunch periods, understanding the causes of truck delays and prioritizing the shovels within on-site fleet management systems.

Ultimately, this led to a new process of swapping truck operators at crib time to significantly reduce Wait On Truck times at the shovels. Working with the Fleet Management System personnel to allocate trucks to higher priority machines then reduced delays caused by a shortage of trucks.

By helping RTCA employees pinpoint and understand the delays affecting the production cycle, and engaging directly with the customer’s teams, we helped overhaul performance on not one, but three shovels at the mine. The solution was enhanced by mine site employees’ desire to improve and willingness to embrace the companies’ partnership.


To date, the original project shovel has achieved an annualized increase of 2.7 million tonnes of material movement, while maintaining the $0 project budget. Total project value amongst the three shovels is now a site estimate of over $9M (AUD).

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