Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but replication certainly is not. Particularly when it comes to the efficiency and profitability of your mine operation, and the health and safety of your onsite staff. If you’re looking to properly maintain your slurry pump, genuine parts really are the only way to go.
Replicators are an issue that those in the mining and engineering industries are all too familiar with. While most companies strive to provide the best possible product, investing resources into meticulous research and development to deliver something truly state-of-the-art, replicators exist on the fringes of the engineering industry, turning profits from poor copies of genuine spare parts – often at the expense of those who purchase them.
To grasp the impact of replicators on the mining industry and to ensure the continued success of your mine or quarry operation, it’s important we understand just how replicator spare parts are made, the restrictions of making parts in this way, and finally, the implications and the consequences of implementing replicator parts.
The vast majority of replicator parts are made through the practice of reverse engineering. A replicator will typically purchase a genuine spare part from an OEM and take measurements to create schematics, from which tooling, moulds, and patterns will be made. This way, the replicators’ imitation parts are able to fit other OEM products, despite not being made to the same standard as the OEM parts. Replicators attempt to make tooling and moulds directly from an OEM part.
The proliferation of 3D laser scanners and printers has made life easier for the manufacturers of replicator parts and it’s easy to fall into the trap of assuming that if it fits, it works. But not only do replicator parts lack the overall quality of the genuine article, the manufacturer often does not take into consideration the wider system of parts at play on a mining site. OEM parts are made to work in conjunction with the equipment it was designed for, and only the original manufacturer will possess the intimate knowledge of the part and its components, as well as how they integrate with the equipment.
Naturally, there are plenty of restrictions on the replicator when manufacturing their imitation spare parts. They often don’t understand the optimum tolerances for hydraulic and structural performance, don’t have the materials needed to adhere to standards for corrosion and wear, and are not aware of manufacturing methods that ensure required tolerances are maintained.
For example, hydrostatic testing is an essential step in the production process of any reputable manufacturer of slurry pump parts and cannot be replicated. To convey the tolerance requirements for a component part, design engineering drawings typically feature geometric dimensioning and tolerancing (GD&T), an internationally recognised standard for indicating the size and relationship requirements of a part’s design features.
Simply measuring a part without consideration for tolerance, which replicators typically do, results in a product that does not come close to industry standards. Most often the result is a pump part that isn’t verified and whose component designs do not meet structural requirements as stated by the OEM design specification. Ultimately, the end user is left with an inferior product that cannot perform to the same standard as the original and can end up wasting further resources when the imitation part cause issues with their pump.
The replicator’s knowledge gaps extend beyond design. Weir Minerals’ material specifications, for example, are exclusive commercial secrets and are privileged knowledge for Weir Minerals and their licensees. Often materials are patented alloys or elastomers that bear a registered trademark. As a result, true replication of an OEM part is simply not possible, as there is no way for a replicator to create materials that resemble the original’s composition and wear resistance.
Finally, manufacturing methods are often lacking among replicators. The products produced by OEMs are the result of years of dedicated research and development as well as refinements and advances in the manufacturing process. The production line for an original part is comprised of a network of advanced machinery that not only requires sophisticated engineering knowledge, but also a substantial capital investment that’s out of the reach of replicator part manufacturers.
So, what’s the impact once a replicator has completed their process of reverse engineering and an operator has purchased their imitation part? You don’t need to look far for examples of replicator parts where the inevitable has taken place. Operators who’ve employed replicator parts in their mines will have to deal with poor performance and a very short wear life, as well as more serious issues such as severe damage to the slurry pump. There are often cases where the measurement process resulted in dimensional errors and a part that does not fit the assembly.
In fact, it’s possible to break down how each part of the replicator’s manufacturing process results in a lacklustre product. With slurry pumps, issues with tolerance results in impellers that do not thread onto the shaft of the pump and excessive runout and/or vibration. Improper measurement can result in liners that prevent proper assembly or large gaps between liners that produce high levels of wear. Even slight mismeasurements or imperfections in the production process can result in a part that won’t do the job and heavily impact an operator’s bottom line.
A part that wasn’t made to fit the rest of a pump assembly will simply be less efficient and command a far lower flow rate than an OEM part. This decreases plant productivity and increases energy costs on its own, but an operator can also expect frequent downtime as a result of a shorter wear life and uneven wear at one or even multiple points of the part.
Because of the replicator’s inability to produce alloys and elastomers that adhere to the same standards of wear resistance and tolerance as proprietary OEM products, it’s not uncommon to see all out structural failure in replicator parts. The alloys and elastomers used in replicator parts are often an inconsistent amalgam of low grade raw materials that are cost effective but also deficient. Such manufacturers employ common industrial raw materials that have not been developed to withstand the unique and demanding conditions of a mine or quarry. Their processes often don’t include proper heat treatment of alloys or curing of elastomers.
It’s not hard to see how deficient parts will drive up maintenance and energy costs, decrease site productivity, and delay rebuilds and restarting of machinery. There are, of course, serious safety implications as well. As we’ve seen, OEM slurry pumps are purposely designed and manufactured to ensure high wear resistance and safe, efficient operation under extreme levels of stress. Operating a successful mine can often be a battle against the elements and it’s of the utmost importance that all onsite equipment is designed, manufactured, and installed with extreme conditions in mind.
When a manufacturer does not adhere to such standards, it can have serious ramifications for the safety of those operating or working near the equipment. Even something as simple as a non-OEM liner can have a significant detrimental impact on an operation. We’ve seen cases where an operator purchasing a replicated liner resulted in accelerated wear and eventually, irregular maintenance intervals and the shutdown of production.
But all this can be easily avoided by getting in touch with the OEM. They are more than happy to supply a replacement liner specifically designed for the operator’s pump and are there to solve issues just like this. The OEM’s engineering experts would analyse the worn liner and determine whether their pump required a different elastomer or whether different hydraulic designs were necessary to ensure a longer wear life for the new part. The OEM part would then be installed quickly and safely, adhering to international standards for safety on mining sites.
Having thoroughly looked at the implications of what engaging with a replicator manufacturer means and the often consequences it can have on your operation and its bottom line, we hope you see the advantage of contacting the original equipment manufacturer next time your site(s) require a spare part.
About the author:
Marcus Lane is the Global Product Manager of Centrifugal Pumps for Weir Minerals. Marcus has worked in new product development for over two decades, bringing a wealth of knowledge to the company and its customers. A Chartered Engineer by background, he currently works diligently to maintain the Warman® slurry pumps’ superiority as a global market leader through innovation and product development.