Gerard Wood, the author of Simplifying Mining Maintenance, is one of the mining industry’s top authorities on mining equipment maintenance.
He’s had a long career helping the world’s mining companies keep their machines running. In this episode, we talk about his approach and some of the common problems he sees that a lot of these companies are overlooking.
If you’re in the mining industry or you know that maintenance management is something you need to improve at your company, this episode’s for you.
Gerard Wood: I grew up in a mining town, and I always wanted to be an architect. The teachers at school said, “Gee, that’s a lot of work, you’re not going to get any money.” The guidance officers back in those days, we’re talking 30 something years ago, said in those days they knew you’d be an engineer or maybe something in the medical profession or a lawyer, and that’s all the professions we knew about.
I thought I’d go to university and do engineering, but I didn’t get into the university I wanted to go to. My second choice was, I’d go out to the mines and become an electrician. They got paid $5 a week more than the mechanical guys.
There was no real logic behind it other than you’re young, you don’t really know anything. But we’re not going out there, I applied myself and I loved it. I really enjoyed it.
Fast forward 30 something years later and I’ve gotten through a lot more things and moved on from the electrical profession, but I’m still there doing it and still enjoying it.
Becoming an Industry Leader
Charlie Hoehn: You are considered one of the mining industry’s foremost authorities on mining equipment maintenance. How did you get into that position?
Gerard Wood: Yeah, I suppose it’s a factor of two things, one is time of course, but it’s also a factor of the variety of experience. My first 16 years of my career was working in the mine site, in all the roles that you can be in maintenance—electrician to supervisor, mechanical and electrical maintenance supervisor, maintenance planner, superintendent engineer—because I studied externally for many years to get an engineering degree.
I did all the roles over 16 years, and then I went into central improvement roles where you got exposed to so much more theories around maintenance and go to all the different sites. When you’re trying to help someone improve, it makes you really think about what you know and connect with that. So that really helped as well.
“I think it’s the time and a variety of experience that allows you to get things locked in.”
The thing that I did at the end of the central improvement roles was get back in the mine, back in the maintenance manager’s role and really test whether you really do know your stuff. It’s easy to float around the central maintenance improvement group or something like that, thinking everything theoretically.
Simplifying Mining Maintenance
Charlie Hoehn: Why did you want to write this book, Simplifying Mining Maintenance? Is this a really complex problem otherwise?
Gerard Wood: No, I think that over the years, I’m talking probably over the last 15 to 20 years, maintenance leadership in the industry have overcomplicated things and what I know works and what I know delivers reliable equipment, the simple basic things. We’ve been in Bluefield, that’s where I’m working now, we’ve been helping clients improve their maintenance, and that’s great.
You get so much satisfaction about seeing a team of people enjoy their work and be proud of the results that they’re achieving.
But you know, our goal is to make a difference in the mining industry, not just how many clients we can help per year in that transformation type work, that improvement work. You can’t help that many clients per year, so if you want to make a difference in the industry, you’ve got to get the knowledge out there. A book is, I suppose, one of the mediums to get that out there.
Plus, I’ve also always want to write a book as well. It’s always been on one of my to dos for my life.
Charlie Hoehn: Let’s talk about the actual content in the book. There are two parts in the book, the first part is an asset management journey which covers a bit of your journey that you talked about of experiencing all the roles but could you give sort of a quick overview of this first part?
Gerard Wood: One of the models that I present, part one, I developed when I was in my first maintenance manager’s role. I knew we needed to get all the people in the team in mind and heading in the right direction. The way that I did that was to get this model and present it to the guys and talk to them about it and get their input so it became theirs as well.
Specifically, the part around the values and getting us around the values in our department, the maintenance department. What was important to us? Just getting the line that enabled us to move forward together in the same direction.
Charlie Hoehn: What were some of those values?
Gerard Wood: The culture in the mining industry, it’s quite male dominated, and there’s big egos and all those sort of things. To talk about values is probably not something that we commonly did or do these days.
But there are values in terms of what people believe are important.
“People have a very strong belief that you’ve got to do the job properly.”
Do it once, do it right the first time, all those sort of things. And that’s one of the values of going in there. Yeah, the right PMs done properly. These are the values that we develop and important to me even today.
Other people may have different things that they agree or feel are important. You don’t have to talk about them as values and those sort of things.
Motivating people, everyone needs that, always consider safety first, accept responsibility for performance, and face reality.
People all align to those core things.
Pain Points in Maintenance
Charlie Hoehn: Absolutely. Let’s talk about some of the major pain points. You list off some big pain points in the book, what are they?
Gerard Wood: Yeah, the pain points that I’ve listed in the book are things that I see over and over again. They’re the same problems every day. I’ve been back to where I worked 25 years ago and the same problems appear that we solved 25 years ago.
What I’ve done here is just to categorize them in five different areas. You know, one of the things that is key is around too much unscheduled down time. Every time I go to the site, I find that PMs are not done properly. Which is one of the core values back there before—preventative maintenance checks, if they’re not executed properly with the right quality and focus.
One of the ones I went to a while ago, it said that a fuel line was wearing out and rubbing. It was picked up on the PM, so that mechanic actually did a good inspection. But then there was no follow up and the defect wasn’t put into the maintenance systems.
Effectively, it was never going to get repaired unless someone picked it up later on. It could easily become a breakdown. Really serious defects actually become a fire or something like that on the equipment.
“The things that I’m still seeing today are the same problems we had many years ago.”
I’ve categorized them as the pain points. Someone else could categorize entirely differently, but effectively, they’re the same thing.
Charlie Hoehn: Yeah, it’s funny that you have as a problem, a common problem, excessive unscheduled downtime and excessive scheduled down time.
Gerard Wood: Yeah, many years ago, when I become a planner, you start to think about, why do we shut the drag line down at that frequency? Every three weeks for eight hours and every five years. When I asked the question way back then, it was like, well, that’s just what we do.
That’s still the case if you go to a site and you say, okay, how do you shut the machines down in a scheduled fashion? No one really is conscious of why it is, it’s just is as it is. It just sort of evolves along.
The core part of that section around excessive unscheduled downtime is just getting clarity and deliberate reasoning behind how much scheduled downtime we’ve got to have in a year and then working out how we can optimize it and make more efficient.
Charlie Hoehn: Of these problems that you list in the book, along with their practical solutions, which ones tend to cost companies the most money or the most hardship?
Gerard Wood: Yeah, I’d have to say, excessive unscheduled downtime. A general manager or a CLO or someone, the problem they’ve got with maintenance is too much expenditure, high cost. But 90% of the problems are there’s too many breakdowns, too much unscheduled downtime.
Charlie Hoehn: What are some of the practical solutions for that?
Gerard Wood: I’ve listed several solutions there. A year or two years ago, all the guys did was to implement a process of talking at their shift start meeting about quality of work, sharing some photos of good quality so that the people who do the good quality can feel good about themselves and also sharing photos of bad quality and talking about that with the teams.
It’s not the leaders, not the supervisor talking to them. It is an engaging conversation, that is all they implemented, and their performance improved out of sight. So whilst it is a very hard subject and people could over complicate the solution, that’s all these guys did to solve it, and they achieved incredible results.
Charlie Hoehn: I want to touch on people problems, because people problems tend to be the messiest and the most unpredictable. So do you have a story of a common people problem?
Gerard Wood: I think every problem in those five categories eventually comes down to people problem, but I categorize people problems in that you’ve got people that are leaving and no one is happy and all of those sort of things.
Really that has come down to just caring about people. So they don’t feel valued. It’s the same in our business if I’ve got a guy that doesn’t feel valued. Just yesterday I was talking to a guy, he is a senior guy in maintenance.
He said to me that the company implemented some changes which he had already investigated some years ago, and he had been in this role for six or seven years, done a great job, and he wasn’t consulted. No one thought to ask him, no one thought to engage his experience, and those sort of things really demotivate people. Something so simple it ends in them feeling not valued and looking around for a new job, which this guy told me that he was.
Charlie Hoehn: Yeah, absolutely. That goes for any industry.
Gerard Wood: Absolutely it does, and look, the reason I wrote Simplifying Mining Maintenance is because of my expertise is in mining. I don’t want to talk about maintenance in other organizations because I cannot profess to know those other organizations or other industries. I believe that a lot of the information in this book is also relevant developer industries.
Results from Simplified Principles
Charlie Hoehn: Of the principles that you list in your book, what kind of results have you gotten and do you have a favorite that comes to mind?
Gerard Wood: The one I talked about before where the guys just implemented such a simple process and achieved incredible outcomes is probably my favorite but we’ve had some problems as well where we did one about a year and a half, two years ago.
We always let the site come up with their own solution. We would guide them, but in the end it has to be theirs. They have to own it, otherwise it doesn’t matter.
“If they don’t feel like they own it, it doesn’t get implemented anyway.”
It can be the best solution but if they don’t own it, it might not be implemented. So we did this one a couple of years ago, and they decided to implement it in a different way. They put some additional resources in there as quality inspectors. They’ve got some results, and I am happy with the improvement results that they achieved—but they didn’t change the culture. So it is much less sustainable.
It relies on certain people taking the responsibility for the quality of execution and making sure the defects are raised in the system or those sorts of things rather than that being the culture.
The first guys I talked about, they changed the culture because their whole team was on board. Their whole team was going in the same direction. A successful team needs commitment to common performance goals and people with variety of skills.
If you look at a sporting team, you need people that are great at attack, people that are great at defense, all those sort of things. At every site, we always find those elements. They are always there, they are always committed to the same KPIs, all of that sort of stuff.
The third essential element for a successful team is people who are committed to an approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable, and it’s that mutual accountability that really make the team perform.
The example that I shared there before about these guys having that discussion every morning around quality and the things that they said were important to them around execution or work that really was generating that mutual accountability, and that is what created the cultural change where everyone was aligned.
Connect with Gerard Wood
Charlie Hoehn: What is the best way for listeners to get in touch with you?
Gerard Wood: Probably the easiest way is via LinkedIn. I am up there but I am happy for them to email me, [email protected] Either of those two ways is fine.
Charlie Hoehn: Let’s say people in the mining industry are listening to this podcast, give them a challenge, something they can do this week that will have a positive impact from your book.
Gerard Wood: Great question. You know, the book is probably going to be the most interest to people who are experts in maintenance processes of some sort.
So my challenge would be to go out and simplify part of the process so that people who are executing it, who aren’t experts in it and don’t want to be experts in it, they just want to come to work, feel good about the results they have achieve, go home and go fishing, do something like that you know?
Simplify just one aspect so it is easier for them to do that job and get the results that we all need to get. If you’re an expert you will be able to simplify it.