Stepping Out of the Machine's Shadow

Elimination of Live Work gaining traction for improving the technician’s workplace safety

By Caterpillar | Posted January 31, 2024

The journey toward Elimination of Live Work (ELW). It’s a practice where some in the mining industry may be well along the journey’s path, others may just now be implementing some of the elements, while still others may have already implemented some of its concepts but have only recently heard the term mentioned. ELW efforts have been around for years and are gaining momentum at mines, dealerships and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs).

At its core, the goal of ELW is to eliminate the need, as much as possible, for technicians to work within the footprint of energized equipment. “We are walking the talk of safety, ensuring that we’ve done all we can to make sure a company’s greatest asset – its people – goes home safely every day,” explains Jenny Krasny, operational risk consultant for Caterpillar Safety Services. 

ELW has companies at all levels of the mining equipment supply chain working toward ways to review processes and reimagine procedures to reduce the inherent risk associated with working on heavy machinery. The solutions can range from the simple – ensuring maintenance manuals clearly state that the service should be done while the machine is “deenergized” – to the advanced like using technology to remove the worker from an energized machine’s shadow. 

Man reading laptop screen

OEM contributions

One key for the success of ELW efforts: it cannot be done in a vacuum or implemented only by one party. It takes a collaborative approach between the mine, the OEMs that supply mining equipment and especially the dealers supporting the equipment.

Caterpillar has worked with its dealers and customers for several years to help move the technician away from the danger zone of working on a piece of live equipment. One of the first efforts, which continues today, was to review and update manual maintenance and service procedures. Where possible, engineers reworked these procedures to eliminate the need for live work.

Miners have been a driving force for suggested ELW opportunities to dealers and manufacturers. “Generally, customers communicate with dealers and OEMs like Caterpillar where improvements can be made,” offers Dave Husted, Caterpillar technical manager and ELW team leader. “After Caterpillar assesses the procedure improvement, maintenance and service manuals are updated and communicated through our standard Service Information System (SIS) team, which is open to Cat® dealers and customers.”

The company is also clarifying in service manuals if a maintenance procedure can be accomplished without the machine being live, so the technician doesn’t have to assume. To date, Caterpillar has opened, resolved or is in the process of resolving over two thousand tasks targeting ELW.

“We have released more than 100 service magazine articles stating ELW procedures are now available, completed approximately 90 specific procedure changes included in SIS maintenance and service manuals, and generated more than 30 general service magazines to drive awareness of ELW enhancements,” adds Husted. These changes impact a range of mining equipment from haul trucks, loaders and shovels to dozers, drills and underground hard rock vehicles.

Earlier this year, Caterpillar and Cat® dealer, WesTrac, held an ELW workshop in Western Australia with three global mining companies. The workshop was designed to better understand the ELW journey for customers and dealers, share experiences and gain insight on the customers’ greatest ELW priorities.

The workshop generated different customer pain points for higher exposure, repetitive tasks for technicians, including articulation joint wear check, slew bearing bolt torque checks for hydraulic mining shovels and dozer equalizer bar checks. “We found with the high frequency of these tasks that technicians can become blind to the inherent risk, so this workshop was extremely valuable in generating multiple high priority areas for dealers and OEMs to innovate and advance ELW efforts,” says Krasny.

Tooling innovation

Frequently, it’s the dealer technician who works on mining equipment in the field as part of service contracts and equipment repair, so they face a greater risk of exposure. Work is often completed at the mine site, so mining companies want the dealer to have the same ELW commitment and standards.

Equipment dealers are doing their part to examine their processes and procedures and weed out any unnecessary live work. Plus, they are developing tools to remove their workers from the footprint of an energized machine.

WesTrac has an ELW project in which it has committed to removing personnel from within the footprint of live equipment for up to 90% of common maintenance tasks. To aid in this effort, the Cat dealer developed a remote-controlled camera fixed to an antivibration base, which has the ability to swivel 360˚. The camera can be mounted to any live machine to carry out various inspections. Another such tool innovated by the dealer screws into the S∙O∙S℠ oil ports on Cat trucks to remotely retrieve fluid samples.

As the OEM, Caterpillar’s Dealer Service Tool Group developed a tool that aids in the inspection of large mining truck steering linkage. Previously, this required the technician to enter under the truck to attach a dial indicator to the linkage and view it during testing. A new hand-held electronic unit with multiple diagnostic tools allows the technician to perform this inspection remotely without the need to be under the truck, allowing it to be completed more safely.

The road ahead

As the journey continues, the industry will see additional collaboration between miners, dealers and OEMs to uncover and leverage more ELW opportunities. Preventative maintenance practices and procedures will be further modified to reduce the need for higher exposure work. Look for OEMs to design future machines with fewer live work requirements. Also, technology will play an expanded role in reducing the need for technicians to work in the shadows of energized equipment.

One such technological advancement, Cat Electronic Technician (ET) is currently in field follow for the expansion to mining equipment. A licensed software available for dealers and customers, ET allows the technician to connect to the machine’s Electronic Control Module to access items such as status parameters, active and logged diagnostic codes, and diagnostic tests and calibration to help identify machine issues. Rather than using a wired connection to the machine, the ET field follow unit is wireless, so this information can be viewed outside of the energized machine’s footprint on a tablet.

OEMs, dealers and third-party suppliers will also develop more work tools to advance ELW practices as the need arises. As more tools are developed, look for a single-source system for supplying these tools to make it easier for mining customers to access them.

While originating in the mining industry, ELW is expanding to other industries that use heavy equipment. “These practices can be adapted and developed for related industries like construction, waste management, agriculture and forestry,” comments Husted.

Krasny cautions that technology and tooling are important, but they are not the entire solution. “The mining industry is moving toward a digital landscape, and the allure of technology is strong,” she says. “Unfortunately, without the cultural building blocks that reside in process, practice and procedure, the technology value-add is limited.

“ELW requires the development of a culture of change to adapt to new ways of working on equipment, teaching and mentoring technicians as well as customers. The journey toward ELW isn’t difficult in most cases. It just requires passion and commitment to see it through, ignited and supported from the top and led from the front line.” 

Learn more about Caterpillar Safety Services

Whether you’re looking to establish a strong foundation for safety excellence, or are looking to take your safety to the next level, we can help. Visit the Caterpillar Safety Services page to learn about all the ways we can help you keep your people safe.

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