My Asset Management Life: The 80s, 90s (Part 1)

By: Leon Best

I joined the Royal Australian Navy in 1981 and became an Electromechanical tradesperson on weapon systems. I was young and excited to be touring the world on a 'state of the art' Warship.

My first deployment was on HMAS Perth (2) a DDG or Guided Destroyer around the Indian Ocean, which included convoys with the American Navy in the Gulf war zone during the Iran/Iraq conflict of the 80s. I look back now and recognise that the RAN was very much ahead of mining and infrastructure regarding asset management (AM) and its principles of use at the time.

The RAN had three principles:

  • 'Preventative maintenance', also known as PM
  • 'Corrective maintenance' where equipment was repaired or replaced after wear, malfunction or break down
  • 'Predictive maintenance' which uses data to monitor and evaluate failure analysis against historical trends to predict failures before they occurred.

I remember having to read many "BRs'" which were weapon systems operation and maintenance manuals. These manuals listed many 'preventative maintenance' requirements and included step by step instructions, they were extremely comprehensive, and in hindsight were about 20 years ahead of the industry in general.

Due to the large volume of preventative maintenance items required to be complete daily, weekly, monthly, three-monthly, six-monthly, etc. we did not get very many 'Corrective Maintenance' breakdowns. It was a rare occurrence that a failure eventuated.

'Predictive maintenance' also known as 'condition-based' maintenance was integral to the system upkeep. Hydraulic fluids being checked and replaced as required, electrical signals or voltages regularly scrutinised for deviation to the norm. This data, or what we referred to as our 'paper trail', was our historical information. The analysis of which was how we predicted failures.

Oil samples tracked the internal damage for wear of hydraulic parts, and electrical signals gave us feedback to determine if our weapon systems were operating as intended. I remember having to change out 'electronic valves' in my electrical cabinets and testing voltage outputs to ensure the capability of my weapon system was operating at optimal performance.

'Valves' you say, yes this was even before the days of 'digital technology' and analogue data was what we relied upon.  

The RAN in those times had a perfect understanding of asset management and the use of 'predictive replacement'. In the 70s, 80s and 90s within the mining industry, it was often a tax-benefit based replacement policy. For the RAN, it was a necessity to ensure that the 'assets' or ship and its systems were 100% operational and all personnel were safe and available to fulfil their roles accordingly.

The 80s saw the first commercially available computers and PLCs programmable logic controllers. The RAN implemented many changes in their operating system to incorporate this technology in radar, sonar, guidance, weapons, propulsion and ultimately their asset management systems, it was a fast-changing world, and I was lucky to be a part of it.

By the 90s, I started the second phase of my working life, and I moved into the Mining electrical maintenance space. I continued to evolve my 'Asset Management' knowledge as a specialised electrician on shift work.

As technology advanced, it enabled us to collect and store data and made retrieval of this information more accessible. These 'data processors' were prevalent in most mining operations, and the miners were investing heavily in data storage and retrieval, but it was still clunky and expensive. Mostly the computers were being used to plan and track maintenance schedules, and spares' inventories and PLCs were being incorporated into the processing plants.

These shift roles led to a greater understanding of risk and asset reliability using PLC technology and SCADA data outputs. I had to consistently make 'asset management' choices on the fly assessing the risks involved in plant breakdown and ensuring operations continued, and shutdowns were kept minimal by bypassing the failure, always with safety at the centre of my mind.

It never really became apparent to me at the time that asset management, as it is today, does this by weighing the risk to acceptable levels and deploying mitigation to the risk dependant on the asset integrity principles of the business. Asset management is data-intensive. To completely utilise its capabilities, we had to wait for computing to evolve fast enough for it to be useful in the asset management space, then came the turn of the century and the explosion of technology.