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Fix-It Factories

Posted: March 12, 2015

As the years and experiencing challenges of mining operations in all corners of the world accumulate one common thread keeps coming back in getting more out of a mine maintenance department – stop fixing and start maintaining! That being said every maintenance operation I go to regardless of how mature or new, large or small, underground or surface, exudes a level of pride in how well and how successful they are at maintaining their fleet and preventive maintenance in particular – “we have a world class preventive maintenance program here” is what you will hear at almost every mine maintenance facility. This may or may not be the case but it is very unlikely to be as rosy as you may believe or wish it to be. I know for a fact and have witnessed over and over that one of the main factors that affect this is purely cultural – the fix-it culture.

The fix-it culture is engrained into almost every level of a mining organization, most often and by most without ever being aware of it – too often it’s just how we do business. The example I often use for this is with the trades people on the shop floor – they work off of recognition just like anyone else and perhaps moreso considering the level of pride in being a professional. Ask yourself when was the last time anybody in your organization passed on recognition for doing an outstanding job of performing a PM inspection – “man, you guys did an awesome job on that PM and really covered the list of defects from the inspection, way to go!” When was the last time? Never? The reality is that even the operations people despite professing to the contrary don’t always see the value added side of preventive maintenance. More often than not they are asking when the machine will be ready from the PM before they have even brought it in to you, how you answer that question may have a direct effect on when it even shows up. On the flip side of the coin, when a machine goes down due to a failure of some sort everyone’s level of ambition comes pouring out, you can tangibly feel it – right on, let’s make this happen. There are a few things at play here including the adrenalin level of just about everybody because now we have an elevated sense of urgency and priority. I am convinced that the biggest factor is that these are the only circumstances where recognition and praise will be doled out in volumes – “man, you guys are incredible, you got that transmission swapped out and back up in half the time we thought it would be” Sound familiar? If you were a skilled trades professional which of those two scenarios would you be putting emphasis on, maintaining or fixing? Thinking this is an unrealistic assumption? In 2014 at a large modern mining operation I had a maintenance supervisor reply that “making the mechanics become grease monkey’s” was not something he would ever support when trying to discuss this issue. Where would you even begin with that? If maintenance supervision and management doesn’t see this for what it is how would you ever expect the professionals on the floor who make it happen to get switched on?

So I suppose it comes down to whether you want to be a maintenance facility that supports and delivers equipment performance or a fix-it factory. It’s never that simple or black and white and there are varying ratios of the two but one thing is for certain, every mine maintenance department is challenged by how they can be doing more maintaining (proactive) and less fixing (reactive). Don’t get me wrong, there are operations where maintenance is highly effective and efficient and others that struggle in a big way but this phenomenon exists across the board nonetheless. We look to all sorts of new technologies, softwares, etc. to help us move toward that but sometimes the answers are closer than we think. Thing is, change management is never an easy thing. Really though, should what we see as value added and our value and recognition around that be so painful to turn into reality? Make that happen!

It doesn’t have to be a complex or complicated thing to be honest. Perhaps just pull away from the heat of the situation a bit and look at it from above – a good honest look at what the reality is and not what you wished it to be. Have a look at your work history could be a good start. Do you see emergency jobs that could or should have been planned jobs? Obvious things like say a complete midship centre hinge done as an emergency job – that’s a real example and pretty much impossible to explain why it was never identified from PM inspections but just one of many real examples. You will likely say that’s somebody else but not me. That’s true enough but if you are willing to get introspective and honest you may be surprised at what you find!

Sean

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