The physical work at the sharp end of Asset Management is every bit as important as the high-level strategy, planning, and coordination. This article explains how working agreements assist, to ensure that the work is not just done, but done right.
As commodity prices decline it is essential for mining companies to be more competitive. With mine plans already adjusted to reflect current commodity pricing, companies are putting in a significant amount of effort to get more from their assets.
Critical outcomes of this effort must be:
- achieving more life,
- improving reliability, and
- increasing throughput from the assets at lower costs, without impacting safety.
In order to maximise the value of an asset, it is essential to have a full lifecycle asset management approach, including acquisition and disposal, asset operation and maintenance. This article is focussed on improving the maintenance of the equipment, which will improve the business bottom line through improved reliability, lower costs and enable the asset life cycle to be optimised.
Over the past 15 years, the mining industry has completed many ERP implementation projects, with large investments in the ERP systems and business processes, justified on improved maintenance outcomes. As a result, many mining operations now have very sophisticated maintenance management systems and very detailed workflow processes. Despite this, the equipment performance is often not operating near best practice levels and the unscheduled maintenance downtime remains too high. The data in Figure 1 below, from an average performing site over the past 3 years, is typical of the levels of unscheduled maintenance downtime.
A key learning is ERP systems can enable better planning, scheduling and information management, however, they do not affect the quality of the work performed on the equipment.
Improving mining equipment reliability starts with the quality execution of the lifecycle management plans. Good practice availability for mobile mining equipment, of 90+%, can be achieved by focussing on the quality of the maintenance inspections and the subsequent action on defects. Achieving this level of work quality starts with team alignment.
When presented with a reactive environment we almost always find misalignment between the key sections; planning, execution, and strategy. In extreme cases, people are looking to blame other areas and this creates further misalignment. It is never possible to fix these situations by just working with one section. It always requires cooperation, no surprise!
So what is required to enable cooperation between all areas? We learned a long time ago that successful teams require three key elements:
- First, they must have people with complementary skills. This is always already in place. There are different technical skills in every team, people who are experienced across different machines and people who are strong with business processes.
- Secondly, it is essential that everyone is committed to common performance goals. This is almost always in place, everyone has the same availability targets, department budgets and mine targets are clear.
- Lastly, successful teams need to have people who are committed to “an approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable”. This is almost always the core problem in less successful teams - even when the business processes have been documented in the greatest level of detail and people have been taken through them until they are almost ill!
The phrase “For which they hold themselves mutually accountable“ is key to achieving alignment and commitment to a common approach. Similar to any sports team when they agree on a game plan it does not go to plan from the first game of the season. They have to go back to training and discuss where their game plan broke down. When people do not follow the agreed approach or implement the agreed standards, teams must talk about it openly and honestly and allow for changes that make the standards achievable.
In Bluefield, we utilise a working agreement toolkit to document the agreed standards and setup routines to create alignment and a culture of asset care. The working agreements are the practical details that are not written in the business processes, they can be site-specific or related to the acceptable standard of completed work. An example is the standards required for completion of the PM checklists. The Figure 2 below shows a standard that is too common.
When people notice this poor standard they often think that the PM checklist must be modified. While this is valid, as the instructions are not great, improving the PM checklist descriptions does not correct the problem. Only attention and alignment to the agreed acceptable standards will correct this problem.
As part of the working agreements, the required course of action when the agreement is not followed is documented. This establishes the required commitment and enables open discussion when the standards are not met.
Informal working agreements are always created when people start working together. The problems often occur when there is staff turnover and new people have different ideas on what standards are acceptable. It is important to get the teams together to discuss the agreements regularly until they become part of the culture.
Unscheduled downtime can be reduced to 30% and availabilities improved to 90% through agreement and alignment on acceptable standards, as this allows planning, execution and strategy to become more effective.
Metrics and Visibility
In order to continue to improve it is necessary to measure the performance. Work management metrics, such as schedule compliance and schedule completion, are indicators of efficiency and reliability metrics, such as equipment Availability and Mean Time Between Failure, show the results of the maintenance effort. However, it is difficult to get meaningful metrics for work quality.
Over the years organisations have tried to use re-work and time to failure after service as indicators of quality. Bluefield has found that by keeping and displaying the failed parts and photos of the equipment so the maintainers can see the conditions when failures occur, the quality of the inspections improves. Reviewing the failed parts in detail and linking the conditions to the preventive and proactive maintenance tasks improves the quality of the work.
Bluefield is focused on enabling our clients to improve asset performance in a sustainable manner and bring back the pride in "well-maintained" equipment!