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ht. J. Pres. Ves.

& Piping 61 (1995) 329-347

0308-0161(94)00114-6 Elsevier Science Limited
Printed in Northern Ireland



Test & Analysis Section/Mechanical Engineering Department,
Anglo American Corporation of South Africa Limited
45 Main Street, Johannesburg, South Africa


To operate successfully in a competitive world catastrophic failures need to be prevented.

This can be achieved by implementing a balanced approach which covers all phases of the
life cycle of equipment.

To gain maximum benefit, the effective prevention of failures should involve a team of
people ranging from the supplier to the maintenance personnel on site. Initially, the logic
and main elements of the approach are discussed, whereafter the practical implementation and
benefits are illustrated by means of two case studies comprising, respectively, a bucket wheel
excavator and a main ventilation fan.


Premature failures in the mining industry are expensive not only because of the high repair
costs involved but primarily as a result of the cost of lost production. This has been the
experience of the gold, coal and diamond operating divisions of Anglo American Corporation
of South Africa Limited. The paper outlines efforts that can be made to reduce the number
and extent of failures hence reducing the risks of catastrophic failures and their expensive

330 E. Dreyer

The approach to be discussed does not rely on a single activity or person, nor is it
limited to a single phase of the equipment life cycle. In fact, as various persons have an
influence on the operational success of equipment all parties involved should be co-opted
during the implementation of such a failure prevention philosophy. Potential role players are
0 supplier who designed the equipment.
0 project engineer who specifies the operational requirement.
0 operator who controls the production rate.
0 maintainer who ensures the operational availability.
0 failure analyst who determines the cause of failure.

What is meant by cost-effective prevention of failure? The aim of this approach is

firstly to minimise the probability of failure by ensuring that the equipment is adequately
designed. Secondly, regular inspections make provision for the early detection of faults
before catastrophic failures develop and thirdly, the life cycle loop is closed by incorporating
the experience gained into in-house standards which are to be used during future design
audits or equipment specification.


Although the equipment referred to in the text will be mainly capital equipment of a
mechanical nature, the main elements of the approach to be discussed are applicable to all
capital equipment in production based industries.

The life cycle of capital equipment in the mining industry can be simplified by
dividing it into three phases namely
0 procurement
0 operation
0 decommissioning
as shown in figure 1. To prevent operational failures cost-effectively, it is necessary to
introduce a balanced approach which addressesthe activities of all three phases of the typical
life cycle. Overemphasis of a specific activity such as, for example, finite element analysis,
cannot compensate for the neglect or absence of other activities such as routine inspection.

As an input to the overall process the operational requirement must be an accurate

representation of what is expected from the equipment, not only in terms of function but also
regarding expected fatigue life, reliability as well as standards to be used in design and
manufacturing. After a suitable supplier has been selected the proposed design needs to be
audited. This also applies to design modifications after operational failure has been
experienced. The main aim of design audits is to ensure that the operational requirement has
been translated accurately into the design and that the equipment will perform its intended
duty successfully for the duration of the required operational life. Guidance can be obtained
from international and in-house standards referred to in the operational requirement. A
design audit may be concluded by the specification of recommended routine inspection



Figure 1: Cost effective approach to prevention of equipment failure

Prevention of equipment failure 333

Also provided for is the option where equipment has reached the expected operational
life without suffering a failure. At this stage mine management will be faced with the
decision to replace or to extend the service duty. The latter option may involve partial
upgrading of the equipment and the decision will be influenced by the integrity of the
equipment at the time as well as by the business environment of the mine.

The main elements of the approach will be discussed subsequently in more detail by
means of two case studies. The first case study involves an 18 year-old bucket wheel
excavator used at CDM in Namibia to remove the sandy overburden before the diamonds on
the rockbed can be recovered. It is shown in operation together with its beltwagon in figure
2. As early as seven years after commissioning, the first fatigue cracks initiated. After
repetitive on-site repairs and ever decreasing times to the initiation of the next. cracks, a
decision was made in 1992 to upgrade the design of the affected parts.

Secondly, the cracking of a 2,5MW main ventilation fan impeller, of typical design
shown in figure 3, will be discussed. These fans are used for the ventilation of South
African gold mines. Failure of the ventilation system cannot be permitted as thousands in
the mine rely on its effective functioning. Therefore, a set of three identical units is
normally installed at a shaft. While two units are permantly in operation, the third one is
undergoing maintenance and is available should one of the two operational units become

Figure 3: Main ventilation fan impeller.

334 E. Dreyer


After 17 years of operation various sub parts of the bucket wheel excavator (BWE) suffered
extensive cracking. The main components of a typical BWE are shown in figure 4. The
worst affected area was the undercarriage, while minor cracking was also present in the C-
frame. Various earlier on-site weld repairs and add-on design improvements had been
carried out previously.


1. Bucket wheel boom

2. C-frame
3. Turntable
4. Undercarriage
5. Discharge boom

Figure 4: Main structural components of a bucket wheel excavator (BWE) [l]

Cracks were detected at various details of the undercarriage as shown in figure 5.

The most critical one was in the turret section and resulted from an eccentricity between the
slew bearing reaction forces and the vertical diaphragm of the turret. Innumerable in-situ
weld repairs of cracks had been made and machined surfaces such as the slew bearing
mounting face were already excessively distorted. As failure of the turret could have caused
the catastrophic failure of the complete BWE, the urgent replacement of this part of the
undercarriage was being planned.

Routine inspection

Before focusing the attention on the post-detection period, the routine inspection leading to
the detection of the cracks needs to be discussed. The basic philosophy of routine inspection
is to assume that flaws exist even in new structures [2]. This results from acceptance
Prevention of equipment failure 335

Detected cracks

Figure 5: Extent of cracking in the undercarriage of the bucket wheel excavator (BWE)

standards for welded fabrication allowing certain levels of defects. The purpose of routine
inspections, however, is to ensure that the design life will be achieved and that cracks will
be detected before they can propagate to cause catastrophic failures. By complementing
regular visual inspection by formal non-destructive testing techniques such as ultrasonic
testing and magnetic particle inspection, should be possible to detect defects timeously.

Inspection intervals are to be calculated so that an undetected flaw will not grow to
the critical size as indicated in figure 6 before being detected. In practice, a safety factor
needs to be included to allow for situations where the equipment will not be available for
inspection on the scheduled date. References 2 and 3 give guidance on the calculation of
inspection intervals based on the fracture mechanics approach. Although not mutually
exclusive, an alternative approach is to rely on the expertise of experienced non-destructive
testing inspectors and past experience with similar equipment. Where welded steel structures
exposed to dynamic loads have been successfully design audited, an initial inspection interval
of 6 to 12 months is recommended. Should any defects be detected during an inspection, the
following interval should be shortened to monitor the crack propagation accurately until the
component can be repaired or replaced.

After initial detection of the cracks on the BWE, the crack tips were punch marked,
properly documented and the Test & Analysis section notified for assistance. The formal
inspection interval was shortened to one month, while maintenance personnel were given the
task to visually inspect, on a daily basis, any identified cracks for possible propagation. The
theoretical explanation of this approach can be found in the crack propagation curve shown
in figure 6. It is important to note the three identified regions in figure 6. Region 1
represents the crack initiation period, region 2 represents the constant rate propagation (Paris
Law) and region 3 is the undesirable rapid crack growth domain which frequently leads to
catastrophic failure. Therefore, the aim of extensive routine inspection is to monitor the
crack while in region 2, but to raise the alarm when it approaches the critical crack
336 E. Dreyer



Detectable crack leng

Operating time

Figure 6: Schematic representation of fatigue crack growth in steel [3]


As the consequences of a catastrophic failure may be devastating and may have far-
reaching effects on production, inspection results must be absolutely reliable. Thus, the
importance of using qualified inspection personnel cannot be over-emphasised.

During this period of intense monitoring, crack propagation rates in a complex

structure such as this proved to be highly unpredictable. While some cracks experienced no
propagation, others propagated rapidly and new initiations were detected. Routine inspection
proved to be more applicable to this environment and definitely more reliable than theoretical
predictions regarding crack propagation rates. This is quite understandable as it is not
feasible in this random loading environment to accurately derive a constant stress range to
be used in crack propagation formulae.


Regarding the structural maintenance of large welded constructions like the BWE, it is
advisable to get all repair work, including emergency repairs, done by qualified and
experienced personnel. Using incorrect repair procedures may solve the problem temporarily
but may worsen the situation in the long term. An example of such a situation is where
emergency repairs were done to remove a crack from a fan impeller using the wrong welding
consumable. The welder was not aware that the impeller was fabricated from high strength
structural steel ROQ-TUF AD690. The crack was temporarily removed but reappeared
within a week or two and propagated more aggressively in the heat affected zone of the weld
repair, resulting in an expensive rebuild of the fan. This contrasts with the initial intention
to simply repair the crack.
Prevention of equipment failure 331

Failure investigation

To plan the repair or replacement of equipment cost effectively, the operational loads leading
to the failure need to be known. These can either be obtained from the original design
documents or, alternatively in the absence thereof, need to be measured operationally. As
the original design documents were not attainable from the overseas supplier owing to
repetitive take-overs and mergers as well as a recommendation from them to replace all
major components of the BWE with newer designs, the decision was taken to solve the
problem amongst the user, the local supplier and the Test & Analysis section of the
Mechanical Engineering Department. After emergency repairs had been done by a qualified
contractor who had been on-site to work on other equipment, preparations were made to
carry out strain gauge testing while the structural integrity was temporarily restored.

Measurement of operational stresses: The advantage of operational testing is that it

measures the operational loads, even including loads resulting from operator behaviour, as
they are experienced by the equipment. No assumptions are made as in design analysis, and
even finer detail such as stress concentration effects can be evaluated.

Strain gauges were used to acquire operational data while the BWE was performing
its normal duty of sand stripping and travelling. The undercarriage was instrumented with
a three-rosette gauge at each of the positions where cracking had occurred previously (shown
in figure 5). The bending moment at the transition between the C-frame and the turntable
was also measured. To assessthe structural loading of the bucket wheel boom, stresses were
also measured simultaneously in the boom itself. No cracking had been experienced in this
component up to the time of testing.

As various parties had reported previously that earlier preparation of the pad to be
negotiated had not always been according to the supplier’s specification, preparation of the
pad was neglected deliberately in order to represent actual conditions more accurately.

Fatigue analvsis: A comparison between the measured stress ranges and the allowable
ranges as per BS5400: Part 10 (50% probability of failure) is shown in Table 1. Measured
ranges exceeding the allowable values have been underlined. Also recorded in the table is
the cracking history for that specific detail. For readers who are not familiar with BS5400:
Part 10, an abstract from the standard describing a typical Class F2 detail is shown in figure
7. The S-N curve, based on the 50% probability of failure, for the different weld detail
classes has been included as figure 8.

It has been found that when the operational sample is limited to one or two machines
only, the 50% probability curve is the best approximation to compare with operational
cracking history. Although BS5400: Part 10 is primarily aimed at the fatigue design of
bridges, it can still be regarded as one of the best references for fatigue design of weldments.
Other more recent publications such as the Recommendations for the Fatigue Design of Steel
Structures [2] have also been found to be useful.
338 E. Dreyer

Measured stress ranges versus BS5400: Part 10 allowable values

Measured stress range Allowable

values BS5400:
Part 10
Measuring Travelling Stripping Class Stress Cracking history
position NW WW detail range*

l Turret F 120 Severe cracking
Multiple repairs
0 Top plate 47 36 F 120 No cracking
l I-stiffener 150 52 G 83 Severe cracking
Multiple repairs
l Bottom plate 225 119 B 219 Cracks initiated

2. C-frame 90 85 Original configuration
as well as add-on
plates cracked
3. Bucket wheel 28 30 No cracking

* Based on 1 million cycles and 50% probability of failure.

F2+ F+ F2+ F+ F2+ W+



Figure 7: Abstract from BS 5400: Part 10 outlining weld detail classification

Prevention of equipment failure 339



I I Ililll I I I I III I I I llll11

2 L 6 8 2 4 6 8
105 2 3 L 5 6789 106 IO7 lo8
Endurance N (cycles1

Figure 8: S-N curve for weld classes B to W as per BS5400: Part 10

(50% probability of failure)

Compilation of a duty cycle: In an attempt to determine the damage caused by the

different components of the sand stripping operation, the approximate duty cycle listed in
Table 2 was compiled. Rainflow cycle counting was used to reduce the complex load history
to a cumulative histogram. For explanation purposes, the histogram has been simplified to
contain only four bands.

The histogram representing the stress history in the turret section is shown in figure
9. By using the Palmgren-Miner hypothesis [3] where failure is predicted when the
cumulative damage approaches unity, the predicted fatigue life for the turret section was
calculated to be only 66 repetitions of the duty cycle which is equivalent to approximately
eight years. This explains the premature cracking in the turret section that had been detected
within the first seven years of operation.

Another very interesting aspect has been derived from the relative damage caused by
the individual load cycles as tabled in Table 2. It was previously assumed that the premature
cracking of the undercarriage was caused by the extensive travelling done by this machine
when it had to move from one mining site to the next which may have been up to 10
kilometers away. However, from the last column in Table 2, it can be seen that travelling
to the next site, only contributes 10% of the total damage. The major damage is caused by
repositioning the machine between subsequent cuts. This can also be concluded from the
measured stress ranges shown in Table 1. Stress ranges resulting from travelling, in general,
exceed the allowable values more frequently than those resulting from stripping. All these
aspects contribute to the fact that 87% of the damage is caused by the normal stripping and
repositioning operation (Load cycle A).
340 E. Dreyer

Approximate six week duty cycle for bucket wheel excavator (BWE)

IIThe duty cycle is based on the following operational data:

Bucket wheel diameter 6,5m
Bank height .. 10m
Total width to be stripped .. 42m
Effective width of single cut . 12m
Progress per position . 3m
Total length to be stripped .. 1OOOm
Period at typical site .. 6 weeks

Load Description Number Relative damage

Cycle of (Palmgren-
repetitions Miner)
A Stripping and repositioning 1000 87%
B Move to start of next 1 000 m cut 3 3%
C Travel to next mining site(10 km at 1 km/h) 1 10%
D Maintenance 8 h/wk 6 0%
E No production on Sundays 6 0%


Cycles 2624

15 MPa 25 MPa 157 MPa 175 MPa

Stress range
Figure 9: Duty cycle of BWE presented in histogram format

In principle the failure investigation revealed the following:

0 Undercarriage: Stress levels at all design details where cracking had occurred
previously exceeded the allowable stresses as per BS5400: Part 10. In some areas,
design detail could be improved but at others cracking could be ascribed to sheer
Prevention of equipment failure 34

overloading. The design had to be improved.

0 Bucket wheel boom: The low stress ranges measured confirmed the absence of
cracking after 17 years of operation. No need for replacement was identified.
0 C-flume and turntable: Although not as badly cracked as the undercarriage, the C-
frame needed some repair work to be done at the knee formed by the C-frame and
the turntable.

The need for technical specifications

Once all the deficiencies had been identified the requirements for the replacement hardware
had to be specified. In this instance where the user had experience with the equipment, only
the deficiencies had to be addressed. No need was identified to refer to standards such as
IS0 5049 [9] for guidance on load cases, stability analysis and other aspects as existing
dimensions and interfaces were adhered to. However, a crack-free fatigue life of 15 years
based on BS5400: Part 10 (2,3% probability of failure) and a coastal environment was
specified as a design target.

In general, a few guidelines exist when considering the need for a detailed technical
specification [5]. When standard equipment is purchased with which the purchaser has had
experience and the standard of reliability offered by industry is acceptable, limited details
need to be specified. A more comprehensive specification and possible follow-up with a
design audit will however be required where [5]:
0 equipment to be purchased is of a new kind or size or features a new configuration”
0 an inexperienced manufacturer is involved.
0 previous operational experience has revealed a history of problems.
0 more robust or reliable equipment is required than would normally be available from

Audit of design and manufacturing procedures

To ensure that the local supplier remains responsible for supporting the equipment and to
utilise their valuable experience, it is advisable to involve them continuously throughout the
failure prevention exercise. Major contributions have been made by suppliers and unique
solutions proposed as they experience the failure from a different angle. However, the user
must ensure that solutions to failures address the identified problem, which emphasises the
need to have designs as well as manufacturing procedures audited before implementing them
in practice.

Design audits are aimed at evaluating the final proposed designs in terms of function
as well as operational life. Formal auditing of designs of new as well as replacement
hardware is highly cost-effective as potential changes are made only on paper and do not
involve hardware at this stage. As there is a major cost disadvantage in having to repair a
structural failure in a high security area of a remote diamqnd mine or two thousand metres
below surface in a gold mine, all effort put into design audits can only result in savings in
the long term.

The local supplier of the BWE was requested to redesign the undercarriage according
to the technical specification. As no detail design loads were available from the original
design done in the late 1960s a cost-effective approach had to be followed during the short
342 E. Dreyer

time scales available. Only the travel mode was to be modelled as it had been identified as
the worst loading case. By assuming a certain degree of undulation in the pad supporting
the crawlers, a finite element model of the original undercarriage was first calibrated against
the operationally measured results to determine a suitable load case to be used in the
definition of a new design. When comparing the FEA calculated stress pattern of the bottom
plate of the original undercarriage shown in figure 10 to the position of actual cracks in the
bottom plate as shown in figure 5, the accuracy of the approach can be appreciated.

* Enclosed areas are identified to be prone to fatigue

Figure 10: Stress contours of bottom plate as predicted by finite element analysis.

During the definition of the new undercarriage shown in figure 11, stress levels were
reduced by incorporating the previously protruding turret section into a more uniformly
stressed structure. The vertical diaphragm was moved to be in line with the load path of the
slew bearing. This, together with the increased depth, resulted in the maximum stress range
of the new design being less than 25% of those of the original design and well within the
allowable limits set by BS5400: Part 10 to achieve a 15 year crack-free life.

The audit also addressed other aspects of the design and proposed manufacturing
procedure such as:
0 weld transitions between thick and thin plates.
0 the use of AWS Dl . 1 [6] as a guide to general fabrication workmanship.
0 NDT requirements.
0 required impact toughness of material to be used.
0 welder qualification
0 welding procedure qualification and
0 post-weld stress relieving.
Prevention of equipment failure 343

Quality assurance

Quality assurance ensures that the design as well as the agreed quality requirements are built
into the hardware. Apart from the in-house procedure of the manufacturer an independent
quality survey is required during manufacturing. The success and applicability of this
approach can best be discussed by an example taken from the manufacture of the replacement
BWE undercarriage. During the non-destructive testing, approximately 30% of the critical
welds of the design were rejected and had to be gouged and rewelded as they did not meet
the acceptance criteria as per AWS D 1.1. This identified a sudden deviation from the quality
levels normally produced by that specific supplier and necessitated an investigation by the
manufacturer into his process control. If quality assurance has been omitted in this case,
then even a thoroughly analysed and designed component would have caused excessive
downtime and expensive repair work early in its operational life.

Figure 11: Replacement undercarriage being fabricated.

Incorporation of results into design standards

As people are transferred to other divisions and move along the normal progression routes
the experience gained in this exercise can be lost soon if not properly documented,
Therefore, existing in-house standards should be updated to feature the experience gained.
This is seen as one of the most cost-effective ways of assisting future efforts to procure and
maintain equipment, without repeating past errors.

The replacement undercarriage was installed and the BWE was fully commissioned
again. No unnecessary components were replaced and the routine maintenance and six
monthly NDT inspections will once again continue to keep the BWE fit for purpose for its
next term of service.
344 E. Dreyer


As most of the aspects of the suggested approach have already been discussed in depth, only
the ones unique to this case will be discussed in depth.

Detection of cracking

The fan impeller, of which a typical example is shown in figure 3, operates at a speed of
approximately 490 rpm and is driven by a 25 MW electric motor. The design life is
specified to be in excess of 1 500 stop/start cycles, which is equivalent to an operational life
of afiproximately 30 years in the gold mining industry. While three identical units had been
installed at the mine and are exposed to identical operational conditions, only the number 3
fan had suffered repetitive cracking of the weld holding the stainless steel wrapper plate in
position as shown in figure 12. This plate protects the nose of the blade from excessive

Detected crack

Figure 12: Cracking of the weld holding the wrapper plate to the blade

The failure was detected after the vibration levels of the fan exceeded the preset limit
(3 mm/s) of the permanently installed vibration monitoring system. During the formal
vibration test and non-destructive examination it was found that the out of balance was caused
by water and silt accumulating between the wrapper plate and the blade itself after cracks had
initiated on two blades. Although the cracks were in a non-structural weld, a failure
investigation was necessitated as the out of balance made the fan inoperable and experience
has shown that an insignificant crack like this may propagate into the structural members,
leading to disintegration of the impeller.
Prevention of equipment failure 345

Failure investigation

A finite element analysis of the impeller revealed the maximum nominal stress range near
the leading edge to be less than 100 MPa. This was verified by strain gauge testing when
a range of 90 MPa was recorded [8]. Although it is general practice to use BS 5500
Appendix C [7] for low cycle fatigue applications such as this, BS 5400: Part 10 was used
owing to the low stress ranges recorded. This resulted in a predicted life of approximately
785 000 cycles [8]. In parallel, the dynamic behaviour of the fan was also investigated. No
mode of vibration of the impeller was found to coincide with the operating frequency or
blade passing frequency.

In conclusion, the design itself was found to be suitable to perform the intended duty
successfully. This was also supported by the failure-free operating history of many similar
units. Therefore, the consistency of manufacturing quality, including the effective post weld
grinding of welds in critical areas, had to be addressed.


The cost of operational failures is not always known as all relevant costs cannot directly be
traced to the incident. In general, the cost of a failure increases exponentially as the
equipment progresses through the phases of the life cycle. This implies that should the
detection of a potential failure during the design stage cost one unit, during manufacturing
it would cost 10 units, during commissioning 100 units and should it go undetected until it
results in an operational failure the ultimate cost will be 1 000 units. Not only must the cost
of the failed component be considered but also the consequential damage of the failure. This
alerting statement still neglects the most important costs to any operation, namely the cost
of a disabling injury or death.

Figure 13: Remains of main ventilation impeller after a catastrophic failure

346 E. Dreyer

Judging by the magnitude of the direct and consequential damage caused by the
disintegration of a main ventilation fan impeller as shown in figures 13 and 14, the
advantages of the failure prevention philosophy seem obvious. Although no figures have
been given to indicate the cost of lost production, the conclusion is obvious.

Figure 14: Consequential damage caused by the catastrophic failure of Figure 13


Operational failures can be cost-effectively prevented by introducing a balanced

philosophy of design auditing, routine inspections and interactive failure

Prevention of failures cannot be brought about by a single party but requires the
dedication of the supplier, the operator, the NDT inspector as well as the failure

Where operational failures have occurred, the real cause of failure needs to be
determined in order to effectively focus on the required corrective action. In this
regard, operational testing has been identified as one of the most powerful tools.

Most equipment found in the mining industry can be regarded as crack-tolerant, i.e.
operation can continue after crack initiation and equipment need not be replaced
immediately if frequent monitoring is possible.

Lastly, to prevent future recurrences, experience gained should be recorded in project

reports and design standards. To repeat previous errors is inexcusable.
Prevention of equipment failure 347


The author would like to thank Anglo American Corporation of South Africa Limited for
permission to publish this paper as well as all other parties involved during the mentioned
failure investigations.


1. Durst, W. and Vogt, W., Bucket wheel excavator, Trans Tech Publications,
Clausthal - Zellerfeld, 1988.

2. ECCS - TC6 - Fatigue, Recommendations for the Fatigue Design of Steel Structures,
European Convention for Constructional Steelwork, Brussels, 1985.

3. Collins, J.A., Failure of Materials in Mechanical Design, John Wiley & Sons, New
York, 1993.

4. BS 5400: Part 10, Code of practice for fatigue: Steel, concrete and composite
bridges, British Standards Institution London, 1980.

5. Herringe, R.A., Wills, K.J., and Manser, B.L., Structural design codes for mining
equipment. In Mine Planning and Equinment Selection, ed. Sighal & Vavra,
Balkema, Rotterdam, 1990, pp 509 - 521.

6. AWS Dl . l-85, Structural Welding Code - Steel, American Welding Society, Miami,

7. BS 5500: Appendix C, Recommended practice for assessment of vessels subject to

fatigue, British Standards Institution, London, 1991.

8. Steyn, J., Vaal Reefs #lO Main ventilation fan Finite element analysis and Strain
measurement, Mechanical Engineering Department, Anglo American Corporation of
South Africa Limited, Johannesburg, 1993.

9. IS0 5049/l, Mobile continuous bulk handling equipment - Part 1: Rules for the
design of Structures, First Edition, 1980.