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Working as a Team – How to Avoid Breakdowns and Downtime, Part IV

The following is adapted from Simplifying Mining Maintenance.

Addressing breakdowns is the first step to improving maintenance and reducing unscheduled downtime—not planning and scheduling. You need the fundamentals in place first, otherwise your plans and schedules will always be interrupted.

There are many explanations for why mines have excessive unscheduled and reactive downtime, but the main one is a failure to take ownership and care of the assets.

In this article, we’ll see how breakdowns and downtime can only be dealt with effectively if all the mine’s stakeholders come together and work as a team. To illustrate why this is important, let’s look at three problems that arise in the absence of teamwork.

Problem #1: Teams don’t track and measure improvement actions

When a team discusses difficulties and breakdowns but doesn’t track the actions required to avoid them in future, improvement tasks don’t get finished. The team doesn’t lock down who is responsible for the corrective action and doesn’t document the action to ensure it’s completed. Sometimes the actions are captured well, but no one monitors them.

We’ve all been in meetings where people agree to take action on a maintenance issue but as soon as they walk out they are swamped with other requests and forget. No one feels satisfied working in this environment; maintainers genuinely want to complete the preventive work and avoid repeat failures but urgent tasks keep that from happening.

Solution #1: Set up an action-tracking system

Teams must have an action-tracking system, which is simple to do with the ERP or computerised maintenance management system, and those actions must be reviewed on a daily or weekly basis to ensure improvement occurs quickly enough.

For example, a hydraulic system breakdown lasted two days as mechanics struggled to fault-find effectively. When the problem was finally discovered, the fix took an hour.

The action for this situation would be for someone on the team to research options for training on fault-finding this hydraulic system and bring those options to the team so it can decide who to train and when the training will occur.

This action plan can’t be put into a work order, but it must be tracked to ensure it is completed. The training has to be scheduled, put on people’s calendars, and not postponed. This is not an urgent task, but if this training is pre-empted by the little emergencies that pop up during the day, the same problem will pop up.

Problem #2: Reliability engineers role is misunderstood

When I started in the industry thirty-three years ago, there were no reliability engineers. Over the past three decades, the industry has gradually introduced reliability engineers and charged them with fixing the little issues causing unscheduled breakdowns.

Unfortunately, many people now think it’s the reliability engineer’s job to fix all these issues with no involvement from the people executing the maintenance.

In reality, these problems are often caused by factors (e.g. poor workmanship) that are outside the reliability engineer’s control. Reliability engineers cannot solve problems without working with the people who respond to breakdowns. Both have responsibility for ensuring the reliability of equipment. They must keep the parts for inspection or discuss the conditions found by the technician who went to the breakdown.

Solution #2: Recognize the responsibility

To correct this problem, we must recognise the joint responsibility for reliability between execution and the reliability engineering team.  

The maintenance execution team is responsible for equipment reliability, and reliability engineers support the execution team. This process works when teams understand their responsibilities and never abdicate that responsibility to another team. The vast majority of breakdowns can be solved by the execution team alone.

Problem #3: Operations drive reactive maintenance

Maintenance needs a regular routine. If the general manager and operations manager suddenly change priorities and the maintenance crew is forced to change its schedule, all of the effort that went into planning and scheduling is wasted.

Maintainers become reactive, their proactive work is delayed, and the breakdowns caused by delayed maintenance start to mount.

For example, say one of a site’s four shovels is scheduled for planned maintenance. However, when that shutdown time arrives one of the other three shovels breaks down. Operations—not wanting more than one shovel to be shut down at a time—orders the shovel scheduled for maintenance back to work until the other shovel is fixed.

This approach hurts your operation in the long run.

Scheduled maintenance requires a lot of planning. Sometimes it is necessary to hire off-site contractors who specialise in specific areas of the machine. You have to organise ahead of time when they will come in, and if you cancel at the last minute, you may not be able to reschedule these specialists for quite a while. So the work ends up not getting done at all or done poorly, which starts the reactive cycle.

Solution #3: Look at the big picture

I have found that general managers typically get on board when they can see the ripple effect of these types of last-minute decisions. They just need to be shown how it impacts the ability to perform good quality scheduled maintenance.

When I was a supervisor, I came to work one day and found a shovel down. There was already a shovel scheduled for maintenance, and the operations manager asked me, “I know we’re supposed to service that shovel today, but we need to get the coal out so we can meet our production targets for the month. Can we cancel that service?”

I said, “I’m only a supervisor, so I can’t overrule what you say, but I know that if we don’t do this service today, we won’t get to all these things that need to be fixed while we have the labour and parts. The next time, this machine is going to break down, and we’ll go down this spiral, which will impact the production targets every month.”

The manager understood. He agreed to continue with the maintenance as scheduled.

I have a short presentation I show executives on the need for scheduled service. I show how the reactive loop starts when we delay scheduled maintenance. The only way to prevent that is to remain committed to scheduled maintenance.

For more advice on avoiding breakdowns and downtime in your mine, you can find Simplifying Mining Maintenance on Amazon, google ebooks and at www.simplifyingminingmaintenance.com.

Gerard Wood is one of the mining industry’s foremost authorities on proper mining equipment maintenance. In his long career, Wood has been all over the world, working his way up from an electrician’s apprentice to a maintenance manager with advanced degrees in electrical engineering and business. As managing director for Bluefield AMS, Wood helps the world’s largest mining companies keep their machines running with a simple, practical approach that saves money and improves equipment reliability.