Why Technology is No Replacement for Team Alignment

The following is adapted from Simplifying Mining Maintenance.

The problems related to mining maintenance come in various shapes and sizes, but all of them share a common starting place: people. It takes an aligned and focused effort from an entire team to avoid costly breakdowns and unscheduled downtime.

Yet many mining operations function in silos or fail to get buy-in from all parties on key work processes. As a result of the disorganization, costly delays occur constantly.

My job as a mining maintenance specialist involves visiting sites where equipment is not performing well to determine what’s going wrong and how it can be fixed. I often find great people but flawed teams. Here I’ll list the three elements all successful teams must have and I’ll put a ✔ next to the elements that I see often and an ✖ next to what’s often missing.

People with complementary skills and experience.

I always find this element. Sites have mechanical experts, electrical experts, skilled planners, engineers, and managers. Broad skills across the team.

People committed to common performance goals.

I always find this element. There may be some differences on some metrics, but everyone wants to achieve good reliability and business performance.

People committed to an approach and sharing mutually accountability.

This is a common issue. When people don’t talk about problems or buy into a philosophy that includes taking responsibility, they don’t feel a sense of duty or satisfaction in being part of the team.

Technology Is Not The Sole Solution

If I found problems in any of these three areas, I’d recommend solutions that shared a common theme: teams must be aligned with each member’s job and responsibility.

This alignment can’t come from a manual; it must come from frequent discussions which create teamwork, mutual accountability and a successful mindset. Solving problems this way is much easier and more effective than developing a bureaucratic solution or creating so many documents that no-one has time to read them.

Over many years I have seen people try to solve this problem using technology. Unfortunately, in maintenance, technology can not yet do the work for the people so it is rarely an effective solution.

Technology can be a great benefit and must continue to advance, but if the basics described below are not done well, even the advanced technology will fail.

There are many examples of new technology in our industry that failed to deliver. In one business there was a project to automate the warranty management process. Warranty claims were not being processed and the business was losing money. The site decided to automate the warranty management process in SAP. It cost $2 million to implement the automation process. Site people only had to push a button to initiate the process.

After two years the CFO asked me why the site was turning off the warranty automation software tool. I investigated and found they were turning it off because it was not adding any value. No one had initiated any warranty claims in the system.

In another business that I worked with they had a central function to monitor equipment health data using predictive analytics and raise work orders to take action to developing problems. The central team provided this function for multiple sites. Two of these sites had the exact same series of mining trucks. One site had 92% availability of the fleet and yet the other had 75% availability. On investigation it was found that the basics of good maintenance execution were missing at the site with low availability.

These are clear examples of why a system will not work if the people are not engaged. It is even more important now as we head into the world of using artificial intelligence and predictive analytics. These technologies are great but there must be a culture of quality work execution to support these technologies.

Ownership Creates Alignment

Here’s a great example that shows how technology, systems, and processes don’t necessarily create team alignment, but ownership of work always does.

We visited a site in Ghana that had zero systems in place. The truck fleet was in shambles, but the maintenance crew achieved remarkable performance from their drilling equipment. Drills are notorious for breaking down, but the guy who was in charge of the drills maintained an extreme level of ownership over them.

When a mechanic did any work on the drills, the manager wouldn’t let the mechanic leave until he had inspected the services performed and had signed off on the quality of the mechanic’s work. If an operator damaged a machine, they had to help mechanics fix it before the equipment could be put back into operation.

You must have that kind of devotion to quality. I’ve never seen a site with reliable equipment that didn’t have a crew that was passionate and eager about its work. Maintenance crews can have all the systems and processes and computerised maintenance management systems in the world, but if they don’t have a staunch commitment to servicing their machinery, the results will be substandard.

For more advice on creating team alignment in your mine, you can find Simplifying Mining Maintenance on Amazon, Play Books or

Gerard Wood is one of the mining industry’s foremost authorities on proper mining equipment maintenance. In his long career, Gerard 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, Gerard helps the world’s largest mining companies keep their machines running with a simple, practical approach that saves money and improves equipment reliability.