Where does operational readiness start and finish?
by: Gerard Wood
Many years ago, I was introduced to the concept of operational readiness and I learnt about the importance of enabling plants to ramp up to capacity in the shortest possible time. I had no idea it took so long sometimes for mines and plants to reach nameplate production and that good practice was 12 months into operations. Obviously, this delay can significantly impact the project NPV and getting to the rated production rates in the quickest time possible is essential for these investments to provide the expected economic returns.
Over various years of doing operational readiness progress reviews on many projects in feasibility phase and in execution, I was diligently following the checklists to ensure that everything had been done and was on track.
Then I was lucky enough to be part of a post investment review (PIR). It was on a mine where they had invested very early and heavily in operational readiness. They had a great team that knew the operational processes as they had developed some of the early progress review checklists. What I found though was that in the fixed plant a lot of the PM’s that were coming out of the system had been shut off after a few months into operations. There were simply too many to deal with especially while the plant was still going through the early-stage engineering issues. The mining equipment side was awesome, and all the PM’s were working well and the team that had done all of the PM development was there in operations.
The learning I took from this review was important in shaping the way I think about operational readiness these days. It is still essential to have a checklist to guide progress, but it is not necessary/possible to have all the PM checklists 100% perfect from day one, especially if the team coming in has a different view of how they should look. I believe that it is best to save a significant portion of the operational budget for the first 1 to 2 years into operations. In this way the operating team has resources available to continually update the PM program, adjust as required for unknowns in the fixed plant environment, and most importantly ensure that the team doing the maintenance has the ownership of the PM program and is executing with quality.
The other experience I had that reinforced this view was on another project where the plant was going through commissioning and the maintenance team were being on boarded. It was not possible in that hand over period to do all the necessary training around fluid management, reliability concepts and the normal training necessary to stand up a new team. The plan needs to be created over the first 12 months of operations to get everyone on the same page and allow the daily routines to setup the right culture from the start.
So, for me the key to success is to recognise that operational readiness does not stop at plant handover to operations. It continues for the first 1 to 2 years into operations, and it is best to save money for this period. This is more easily done when the ops readiness team will be the same team in operations, however this is not always possible, and it is the most expensive option.
Also, all of the operational readiness checklists are setup to being in the feasibility phase of a project and there are some key inclusions for any feasibility study such as a budget for ops readiness, critical design aspects for the plant, equipment, spares and infrastructure but most of the other work can start later. We have been engaged when projects are well into execution and there is a rush to get the maintenance systems, data and people all setup for handover. While the mistakes from feasibility will have an impact it is still possible to get in and get the ops readiness work done on time and at the required quality, especially given that we should be planning for 1 to 2 years into operations to have it all finalised.