We were proud to once again participate in Mainstream, Australia’s premier conference for maintenance, reliability and asset management. This year, we had the privilege of being a Premier Partner and speaking to a range of professionals on challenges past, present, and future. The following summarises some of the key themes discussed during this year’s conference.

1. Many organisations are still struggling to implement the basics.

Christar Idhammar from Idcon reminded us, in his keynote, that while technology creates many opportunities for improvement, new technologies, to be effective, need to be built on a foundation of solid maintenance work practices. Organisations need to ensure that, once they have identified maintenance work to be done, that this work is effectively prioritised, planned, scheduled and completed to a suitable quality standard. Key fundamental disciplines need to be in place regarding maintenance work management, and data collection and management. Ensuring that these are in place fundamentally requires sound management of people and processes; technology solutions are unlikely to help in many of these areas. Based on some of the discussions, it appears that many organisations are still struggling to ensure that these fundamental work practices are fully embedded within the culture of their organisation. The concept of entropy applies – without continual injection of energy, fundamental work practices fall into a state of disrepair.

Wes Cash from Noria reminded us of the vital importance of making sure that we follow sound lubrication practices. Contamination control at all stages of the lubricant lifecycle, from receival to storage to dispensation is essential, as is error-proofing lubrication practices.

2. Maintenance is a people business.

There was a strong theme repeated amongst many presentations, that we should not forget that, despite all the technical and technological aspects to maintenance and maintenance improvement, maintenance and asset management is, at its heart, still a people business.

Bonita Carroll shared the research that she has completed relating to female maintainers within the mining industry, and reminded us of the huge distance we still have to travel in order to overcome our unconscious biases, be truly inclusive and support and encourage women who choose to take up maintenance trades.

Christine Hassler gave some valuable and practical tips on how to recognise when you are stressed and how to relieve that stress and become more productive.

James Kerr drew on his experience with the All Blacks to describe their culture of excellence and how they maintain it. The results that are achieved speak for themselves.

Sarah Hannah from AGL gave an excellent presentation which described the journey that AGL is on to bring together and align their various operations with a common approach to Asset Management Plans and planning. She explained that the key was engaging with and involving all key stakeholders in the improvement process, and that a “back to basics” approach has provided benefits. In addition, individual operations still have the freedom, within limits, to customise the format of their Asset Management plans to best suit their specific needs.

Jimmy Wilson, CBH’s CEO, and Mike Greyling, their Head of Asset Management, described the improvement program that they have embarked on to move the organisation from a reactive approach to maintenance to a more proactive approach. Once again, one of the key messages was that this required a fundamental change in organisational culture. A comparatively high level of employee churn resulted, but this was not necessarily a bad thing.

3. Technology is an enabler, but not a silver bullet.

There were many excellent presentations that demonstrated the use of new technologies – some with proven results, others where the benefits are yet to be proven. There is little doubt that the trend towards implementation of mobile solutions for maintainers continues, and there are some impressive technologies available here, including a user-friendly drag and drop solution from Sigga Technologies.

Pramil Agrawal from Visy explained how, due to COVID-19 and the resulting travel restrictions, they used simple, cost-effective virtual reality glasses to get input and guidance from international experts during a recent major shutdown. The results were so successful, that they believe they will continue to use this technology even when borders open for international travel.

Johan Barthelemy from the University of Wollongong and Mark Edmonds of Sydney Trains outlined how they are using Artificial Intelligence to scan, in real time, video streams from their security cameras and automatically create alerts for safety related incidents. These could include such actions as fights, ingress into track areas, unconscious or immobile bodies etc. They explained how they are looking to enhance the technology to be able to detect other legal, but potentially threatening behaviours such as stalking, aggressive actions etc. While the presentation clearly related to transport security, there are many other potentially useful applications for this technology.

Countering the abundant optimism regarding the potential for advanced technologies, however, Professor Melinda Hodkiewicz gave an excellent presentation on the technical and human limitations of machine learning and artificial intelligence in a maintenance environment. Some of the key items that were discussed included the fact that:

  • all algorithms, being based on past data, are biased;
  • there are limitations inherent in trying to detect, using statistical methods, rare events for which there is limited failure data. At best, “anomalies” may be able to be detected, but the rate of false positive alarms can be high; and
  • data quality for input into the algorithms needs to be high – but the reality in most organisations is that data is duplicated, not consistent and/or missing essential elements.

Instead, Melinda suggested that a better use for AI within Maintenance is to automate repetitive, mundane processes – such as producing regular reports.

4. High reliability organisations do not play the blame game.

Lt Col David Wilbur from the US explained that it is inevitable that people will, from time to time, make mistakes. Further, the more senior the individual involved, then likely the greater the consequences of those mistakes. He emphasised that high reliability organisations understand that human error is inevitable and build in organisational resilience by taking proactive steps to reduce the likelihood of those mistakes as well as to minimise the consequences of those mistakes when they occur. This can involve training, as well as establishing contingency plans and procedures – however, on occasions, we need to allow individuals to come up with creative solutions to recover the situation. His paper gave a great example of how these principles are applied in practice within the US military.

5. A focus on sustainability can lead to higher profits.

Drew Troyer noted the worldwide move from a linear economy to a circular one and reminded us that Maintenance has a vital role to play in improving environmental sustainability. He gave some excellent examples of practical opportunities to reducing energy usage can help both the planet and the bottom line.

6. The challenges of getting senior management support.

Gavin Campbell from Ventia emphasised the need for a strong business case for Asset Management if you want to get CFO support, but also recognised that CFO’s are human beings, with all of the associated emotional responses. Once they become enthusiastic about something, they will actively advocate for it. He also stressed that those wanting CFO or board level support need to recognise that there is never sufficient funding available to do everything that everybody wants, and your project may not be the highest priority for the business at the time that you want to do it.

Jimmy Wilson, CEO of CBH also gave some practical tips on how to convince a CEO of the value of better Asset Management. These fundamentally involved being able to link better asset management to better safety outcomes and using a value driver tree to explain the financial benefits that will arise from better maintenance.

Thanks to Eventful and the Mainstream crew.

Lisa Irving, Steve Morris and all the crew at Eventful Management pulled out all the stops for their 25th Mainstream conference and made this the best one yet. An outstanding achievement made even more notable by their success in transitioning this to a 100% virtual event.

Despite the potential limitations of an online event, there were numerous opportunities for online networking which many delegates took advantage of, Q&A and workshop sessions went off without a hitch, and the virtual exhibition by partners and sponsors was well attended throughout the event. New relationships were established, and old relationships renewed. We are very proud to have been given the opportunity to be part of it.

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