The Syncrude mining and extraction team is betting that their new crusher roll replacement strategy will take a big bite out of their operational costs.

A set of steel rollers with spikes that look like teeth.
View from the top of a double roll crusher at Syncrude primary extraction.

Like your very own set, the teeth at our Syncrude Mildred Lake site have a very important job to do. Mounted on a crusher roll, these giant teeth are the first step of the oil sands extraction process. They crush and chew up large chunks of mined bitumen into smaller pieces for further processing. The teeth grind through approximately 280,000 tons of material a day. With that much crushing, the teeth wear, chip and at times, detach from their holders.

To ensure reliable operations, these teeth must be kept in good working order. The preventative maintenance strategy typically calls for five mini-outages and two major outages per crusher per year.

In the summer of 2023, Harsh Shah, Specialist, Rotating Engineer, Oil Sands, took a deep dive into the maintenance strategy for the crusher rolls. He questioned the need for multiple outages because of equipment availability and potential safety risks associated with winter maintenance and costs.

“I started looking into the facts and data and realized that we were running the crusher roll with segments older than two or three years and replacing teeth and segments only as needed,” says Harsh. “The data also showed that at approximately the two-year mark, many teeth and teeth holders begin falling off the segments resulting in a ‘metal event.’ A metal event is when pieces of metal end up in our secondary and tertiary sizers (responsible for further breaking down the oil sands materials) and must be removed. Each metal event costs us an average production loss of about $100,000.”

A section of steel with large teeth.
A typical segment of the double crusher roll. The base holds the triangular-shaped teeth with a holder and pin. Each crusher segment consists of eight tooth holders and eight replaceable teeth, with a total of 36 segments per crusher roll.

Harsh challenged the status quo and took his findings and idea to his leader, Giuliana Tatonetti, Manager, Machinery Engineering, Oil Sands and to Jeffrey Bursey, Manager, Operations, Primary Extraction, Oil Sands. “Harsh started by looking at the historical information and understanding causes of the equipment problems. He compared the data with our current equipment strategy and brought us an idea to improve it,” says Giuliana.

While your dentist might disagree with this approach, the team saw an opportunity to increase reliability and reduce costs with an “all-in-one-go approach,” replacing the entire set of teeth (crusher roll) at once, instead of removing individual teeth across multiple appointments, as they fail.

The maintenance and operations team collaborated and supported Harsh’s project to prove his strategy in a one-year trial. “I’ve been given one crusher roll and one year to trial my strategy,” says Harsh. “Six months in, I’m happy to see that it’s working out. Thus far, the full crusher roll replacement, with no equipment maintenance outages, has seen only three missing teeth in six months as compared to about 20-25 teeth.”

With the reduction of metal events and cost savings from a reduced number of maintenance events, this project has an estimated savings of about $9 million per year for our Syncrude site operations and helping to contribute to our overall goal of reducing the operating costs per barrel.

And the improvements don’t stop here according to Jeffrey. “Syncrude’s Research and Development team came up with a new, solid tooth design that is being trialed in one of our crushers. We look forward to sharing the progress as we continue to improve our business.”