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DEF Management Tips to Keep Running Clean

August 29, 2022
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As the mining industry moves to net zero, many mines are transitioning to equipment that meets the latest Tier-4 emission standards. The Cummins diesel engine that powers Komatsu equipment achieves this with selective catalytic reduction (SCR), which removes harmful nitrogen oxide fumes (NOx) from the exhaust. 

Managing the proper use of DEF fluid requires additional steps and precautions that many are unfamiliar with. In this edition of Experts Corner, SMS Equipment’s Technical Support Manager Mark Haywood shares some tips and tricks on managing DEF fluid properly to ensure your equipment runs to its full specifications.

Educate your maintenance teams.

Emission control systems are sensitive and must be handled carefully to avoid downtime and equipment degradation. 

Mark: The requirement to use DEF fluid is relatively new to mining, so it’s a learning curve for everyone. The mistake people make is to treat it like windshield washer fluid – something you just dump in. If procedures aren’t followed, you can degrade engine performance and cause costly shutdowns. 

Keep it clean!

DEF fluid is non-toxic but extremely sensitive to contamination – according to the ISO 22241 standard, an entire 5000-gallon tank can be taken off-spec by less than a teaspoon of many common elements. 

Mark: In a mining environment, it’s very easy for DEF fluid to get dirty, and the downstream effects can be a big problem, causing disruption and resulting in some lengthy repairs that may take the unit out of production.  

To avoid all this, here are the procedures I recommend:

  • Always fill from the DEF quick fill. (This avoids opening the DEF tank cap and allowing debris to enter.)
  • Always wipe the dirt from the DEF quick fill connection before connection.
  • Regularly sample the DEF in the dispensing unit to ensure it is clean.
  • Follow OEM guidelines on the machine’s DEF system filter replacement.
  • Follow OEM guidelines on the machine’s DEF tank breather filter replacement.

To support our customers, our engineers have developed a filtration system that can be installed on the DEF dispensing unit at the mine (e.g., a lube truck) or installed directly on to a mining shovel.

Don’t let it freeze!

DEF fluid freezes at -12 degrees centigrade and expands when frozen, causing potential damage to tanks and dispensing equipment. This means that mines need to take proactive measures during the winter to prevent DEF fluid from freezing. 

Mark: During the winter, it’s typical to have a lube truck with a tank full of DEF fluid driving around a mine site in minus 40-degree conditions. So, a requirement for many mines in Canada is to use tanks and dispensing equipment with heating systems installed.

SMS Equipment provides solutions to combat harsh environments and is geared towards cold weather. We have designed heated DEF fill hoses for the mining shovels and heated blankets for the DEF tanks on the mining shovels. We partner with several manufacturers to deliver these solutions to our customers.

Include a DEF system audit in your pre-winter preventive maintenance.

Mark: At a scheduled PM in early fall, do a complete audit of the DEF system to ensure all DEF system tank and line heaters are working before the start of the cold weather. This will ensure that the DEF system is fully functional and ready for the cold winter.

Bottom line:

Modern SCR systems enable the high-powered diesel engines used in Komatsu equipment, to meet government Tier-4 emission requirements. Operating them at their full performance ratings requires careful management to ensure that DEF fluid cleanliness keeps mining equipment running clean. The result is equipment that performs 100% while helping the mine move forward to net zero performance.

SMS Equipment provides complete support for customers who adopt Komatsu Tier-4 equipment, including some solutions we’ve developed to keep DEF fluid clean and protect it from freezing. 

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