Performance and Operational Effectiveness through Maintenance

james-reyes-picknellIn a recent Mincom survey, some 67% of the mining executives responding indicated that performance and operational effectiveness were major issues for them. Yet, in that same survey, 87% were spearheading aggressive cost control and 53% were reducing staff while retaining core competencies to enhance profitability in this period of slow economic growth. Performance is seen as operational. Profitability is seen as a financial matter. People are expendable and maintenance is not even part of the picture. Yet they really go hand in hand or the results will not appear

Performance and operational effectiveness require that mining, plant and upgrader equipment be working and working well. That will not happen unless the correct maintenance is carried out the right way and at the right time. That requires fore-thought, skill, patience and discipline. Maintenance delivers uptime. Mining and upgrading use it. Finance pays for it and sees the benefits come in. If any one of those perspectives is ignored we are left with only two of three legs on the stool. Aggressive cost cutting often targets activities maintenance is using to deliver more uptime – proactive maintenance, training and improvement initiatives aimed at determining the right maintenance, the right time to do it and the right skills. Operators overload equipment and create downtime. Maintenance fails to be proactive and allows more downtime. The three are seldom working together – and the problem gets worse in difficult economic times.

In terms of maintenance, around the world “lean” has morphed into “anorexic.” Overzealous cost cutting has targeted all but the absolute minimum necessary efforts (as seen by those doing the cost cutting). Repairs are a must – they fix what broke – so there is always money for those. Yet money for preventive and other proactive maintenance that will keep equipment from breaking gets cut, as the need is not seen as immediate. One cannot downsize in maintenance while retaining core competencies. Those competencies reside in the oldest, most experienced and most expensive workers – the ones most likely to go in any voluntary redundancy program. They are smart. They see the games. They are tired of them and they want out. Programs like that give them the chance to go sooner, making our skills problems even worse. A psychology of lack prevails – only the bare minimum can be afforded and we create the bare minimum as a consequence of those choices.

Maintainers can be a bit less articulate in business language compared with their financial brethren. Consequently their proactive message does not get through to those wielding the cost-cutting axe. I am convinced that, in some cases, maintainers do not even believe that they can deliver on the proactive promise they love to promote. I have seen many maintenance managers, given the opportunity to get their improvement programs running well, who will not relinquish their budgets for repairs. Why not? It is not as if they will not get money for repairs if needed regardless of what the budget contains. In truth, they fear that they are unable to deliver on their promises. That lack of confidence shows and the cost cutters have their way. The emasculated maintainers acquiesce, allowing their proactive programs, their training budgets and their improvement programs to be cut. The situation spirals downhill.

Seeing the problem for what it is helps, but the choice must be made to turn it around. Once maintenance has spiraled down into that reactive, fire-fighting mode, it is difficult to halt the process and it is really hard to bite the bullet, to spend that little bit more that it takes, and to halt the degradation. Confidence in the ability to turn things around is truly lacking. The solution lies in knowing they can be turned around.

The choices require spending time on proactive maintenance, even when equipment is down in need of repair and waiting for “resources.” Put the time into preventing. It will slow and, eventually, halt the descent. Operators need to know what is going on and to understand their part in proactive maintenance, too. They need to realize that this will help them deliver on their commitments for production. A bit of training goes a long way here. Effort must be put into scheduling work and enforcing the discipline to comply with that schedule. Reactive fire-fighting supervisors in maintenance need their wings clipped. The wrong behavior should no longer be rewarded. Repairs mean that somehow we have failed to maintain. As schedule compliance grows, confidence in the ability to achieve what you set out to do, on time, will grow. Operations gain confidence in the ability of maintenance to deliver on its schedule promises. The abuse of priority schemes on work orders subsides. The entire operation goes from being a chaotic game of catch-up to one that is under control. And then the improvement initiatives that will require some investment of time and effort can work.

Getting the operational, maintenance, financial and people dimensions to a state of balance requires the choice to work together in these disciplines. Optimized results require a balance at all times. We cannot optimize overall by targeting improvements or changes in only one dimension. Cost cutting measures without balance will not deliver.

James Reyes-Picknell of Barrie, ON-based Conscious Asset Management is a Certified Management Consultant and Professional Engineer specializing in operations excellence and physical asset management. You can reach him by phone at 705- 52-8115 or email at [email protected]

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