Due to my background in maintenance execution, I have had to deal with the pointy end of maintenance for more years than I care to mention.

I have done this in multiple countries, different cultures, different equipment, all for the satisfaction of getting a piece of equipment (or a plant) from being a basket case into a reliable and operating “silk purse”.

The true cost of poor availability

When I arrived at one such mine, it was running at 35% availability. There were breakdowns everywhere – frequently multiple breakdowns of the piece of equipment just worked on – not necessarily re-work.

  • Transfer chutes were patched on the outside of the chute when they became holed.
  • The main chute had more patches than it had original steelwork.
  • A production critical vibrating screen spent more time being repaired than it did running.
  • Another transfer chute had so much spillage that the dust from it was crotch-deep.

The issues didn’t stop there. The warehouse was exactly that, a place to hold stock. Not to re-order stock, just to hold it. If you forgot to re-order something you used, it was your problem when the spares were used up.

There were no planners, no historical data for equipment failures, no way to know when a piece of equipment was due for a service, other than it had worn out.

A recently established asset management plan had equipment taken down for a daily inspection longer than they were taken offline for an annual service.

The equipment condition was so bad that, on a morning when there were no equipment breakdowns to report, everyone just looked at each other, because there was nothing to say.

Where should we start?

The most pressing task was to ensure the maintenance was being done properly. The afore-mentioned Swiss cheese chute had new plates prepared, it was taken offline and repaired properly, with wear plates fitted. There was immediate pressure from the operations manager to get the chute finished, but we were allowed to finish the work as was planned, and that chute subsequently stopped being a “bad actor”.

After dealing with numerous pieces of equipment in a similar manner, it was time to look at inspections. Using the OEM manuals and experience, I threw together a simple preventive maintenance program – but not for all the assets, as time restraints meant I had to focus on the major components of the plant.

Having no Computerised Maintenance Management System (CMMS), I drew up a work order template in MS Word, made a spreadsheet on Excel for capturing work orders (so we at least had a way to track failures), wrote up a procedure for using the work order system and presented it to management.

The morning production meeting changed to discussing work orders and planned downtime, rather than the latest equipment failure.

As a result, availability rose to an unprecedented 86%.

Another mine I had the pleasure of working at already had an availability of 91%. Due to the usual desire to maximise plant throughput, an availability target of 96% was set.

Meetings were changed to assist in meeting this target:

  • The first morning meeting took place between production and maintenance (including the planners). Here any new issues were discussed and accepted into the days plan; or given to the planners to schedule into the upcoming weeks work; the maintenance team plan for the day was discussed and then all this information was passed on to the local crews.
  • In the next meeting, the crews were briefed and set to work for the day.
  • The production meeting started after the crews started work and the manager’s meeting was complete.
  • This meeting was immediately followed by a meeting with supply, where the status of various orders was discussed.
  • Planning meetings were held twice weekly, and shutdown meetings were interlaced in between the normal daily business.

Other improvements were also brought in (updated equipment inspections, shutdown management improvements, management re-shuffles). Once in place, we achieved the 96% availability target.


The first example in this article was (even by the standards of the places I have worked) extreme. It required the trust of the management to allow the equipment to be taken offline for maintenance, which was a huge issue, when the mean time between failures (MTBF) of all equipment was so short.

Simple best practice maintenance and sheer bloody-mindedness was the only way to get the required improvements to the plant.

The second example proved to me that maintenance was not all about the execution, but rather, maintenance execution was the tip of a pyramid. When all parts of the pyramid support each other, maintenance execution is no more or less important than the other sections.

Further reading

If you are experiencing availability or reliability challenges at your site, consider exploring some of our other articles on this topic. Some of our most popular include:

We are also able to assist you as experienced reliability, maintenance and asset management training facilitators. Consider browsing our reliability training courses if you or your team are in need of improved capability.

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