Podcast Masterminds in Maintenance

S2:E16 Simplifying Mining Maintenance with Gerard Wood

Ryan Chan

Gerard Wood is the Managing Director at Bluefield Asset Management, and the Director of Relialytics.


In this week’s episode of Masterminds in Maintenance, we are excited to have Gerard Wood, Managing Director at Bluefield Asset Management, and Director of Relialytics, on the show! Gerard has an extensive background on mining equipment maintenance. And, as the Managing Director for Bluefield, he is helping mining companies all over the world keep their machines running and improve their equipment reliability. So, for this episode, Ryan picks Gerard’s brain a little more to learn about mining maintenance. Listen today!

Episode Show Notes

  • What mindshifts are needed to prep the mining industry?
  • How can we improve maintenance programs?
  • How does reliability play into the safety of the team?

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00:03 Ryan Chan: Welcome to Mastermind for Maintenance, a podcast for those with new ideas in maintenance. I’m your host, Ryan, I’m the CEO and founder of UpKeep. Each week I’ll be meeting with a guest who’s had an idea for how to shake things up in the maintenance and reliability industry. Sometimes the idea failed, sometimes it made their business more successful, and other times their idea revolutionized an entire industry. Today, I’m super excited, we’ve got Gerard Wood here on the show. Gerard is the Managing Director at Bluefield Asset Management and Director of Relialytics. He’s also the author of Simplifying Mining Maintenance, and the host of Bluefield 30 in 30 Podcast. Welcome to the show, Gerard. I’m really excited to have you here on the show.

00:42 Gerard Wood: Thanks very much Ryan, it’s really good to join in and have a chat, great to see what you guys are doing at UpKeep.

00:48 RC: I would love for you to share a little bit more about yourself, your background and how you were first introduced to the field, this wonderful niche of maintenance and reliability.

00:58 GW: I grew up in a mining town in Central Queensland. I went through school, did all of the things and thought about going off to university, or the other option was to get an apprenticeship as an electrician at the mine and do my engineering studies externally. So, I went for that option, only because I got paid to do that, I could study externally and learn and get a trade and do engineering. Yeah, I went down the electrical path, only because it got paid $4 a week more than the mechanical path. No other logic to it, I liked it, I really enjoyed it, four years of apprenticeship, and then another four or five years in the pure electrical space, and then I moved across into just general maintenance, and I actually found that I enjoyed the mechanical side of maintenance much more.

01:46 GW: Yeah, and then I went on to planning role, superintendent, maintenance manager, engineer. For 25 years in the industry, I’ve done sort of pretty much all the roles you can do from tradesmen up to head of the function for maintenance for BHP Billiton, and then we started Bluefield in 2010, and we’re Asset Management Specialists, and a big part of asset management is maintenance, of course. And yeah, and we’re loving it ever since, because every day is different, and there’s always new challenges on the horizon.

02:25 RC: What are some of the similarities behind maintenance reliability in the mining field and industry, relative to, let’s call it, like oil and gas?

02:35 GW: Many years ago, actually, when I was working for BHP, I did a GAP analysis between what we did in mining and what Boeing did, how they approached developing maintenance strategies and all those sorta things. I went to Canada, what I found was actually very interesting, because they… We all do the same things, but their results are a lot better in the airline industry because they do the same thing as us, maybe less detailed and they do it simpler, but they do it properly. So they do it with quality, their execution of maintenance and all those sort of things, they do it properly and consistently across the whole industry, not just one company does it one way, another company does it another way. That’s some of the differences you see in mining where all the companies do it individually, even though they might have the same machines, but generally speaking, everyone’s got the same processes, they talk the same language.

03:35 RC: It makes a lot of sense. Your book, Simplifying Mining Maintenance, the learnings, the practices are actually quite simple, it’s just that you gotta do it repeatedly. Is there a difference between running a reliability program in a mine versus a manufacturing plant?

03:53 GW: If you’re a reliability engineer for an OEM, like a manufacturing company, that’s different, but if you’re a maintenance engineer or a reliability engineer looking after equipment and you wanna get the most out of that, it’s not about redesigning and designing out value modes it’s about understanding and managing value modes, and that’s a very different thing to the design area where you’ve gotta design value modes out. And one of the biggest mistakes I see in reliability in all these areas, we keep trying to design out value modes rather than just understand and manage them.

04:32 RC: I kinda love that because again, it seems so simple, but you’re absolutely right, you could spend so much time just mapping out the different scenarios versus trying to understand and mitigate against them, taking all that bandwidth energy into solving problems. What are some of the challenges within maintenance, within a mine, how does someone improve their own maintenance program, what are some of the biggest common mistakes that you see and biggest challenges that you see?

05:00 GW: I think in terms of challenges in mining, what differentiates it from other industries is only that you can be very remote, they never put great mineral deposits right next to a city, [chuckle] unfortunately, they put them way out where no one goes, but in terms of improving and how people go about improving, it really starts with just getting the culture right in the team. At some of the mine sites I’ve been to, one where we helped a few years ago, their mining fleet had never been to 90% availability before in like, 15 or 16 years, and that was our challenge to help them get there, and they were at 90% of availability in six months. All we did was enable those guys to work effectively as a team and focus on the quality of the work that they do and the care for the equipment, and the ownership of the equipment, all those sort of things.

05:57 RC: Yeah, that’s a common theme that we hear across so many people, which is… It’s not just people, it’s also the culture, and what you often find is that the people already there with all of the knowledge up in here, in your head, in their heads, it’s just building that culture to extract that information, give them the ownership, give the team the ownership to actually go out and solve those problems. You and I can both agree that safety is obviously absolutely critical in this industry.

06:30 GW: Yeah.

06:32 RC: And I’m also curious like, what role does reliability have within safety of the team, and how does reliability, maintenance think about safety as a component of their everyday role?

06:46 GW: Yeah, look for me, safety is also a culture, and I’ve worked in Indonesia, I’ve worked in Chile, I’ve worked in Australia. One of the things that I’ve learned in all those areas is that it’s just about the culture of genuine care for safety, and that’s the same as reliability. If you’ve got a culture where people genuinely care about the machines breaking down and focus on every single breakdown and none of them are acceptable, same with safety, you get the right outcomes. And I remember when working at one of the mine sites, we talked about safety every day, and there was a genuine culture, and just one of the guys mentioned that our morning safety discussion about the kangaroos on the road, and that afternoon I was going home at dusk and I was conscious of this and I was going a bit slower, and sure enough, I came across a pack of them, you know, they’re all jumping out.


07:44 GW: And because I was conscious, I was going slower and I didn’t hit them, and I just… I know that, that was on my mind, because we’re talking about it all the time. And the same with reliability, so one of the things we do is set up in the morning discussions, not only talk about safety, but also I talk about the equipment and the performance and the breakdowns and get everyone have them that discussion, and that actually helps, because the mechanics and the electricians and all those people, they want to talk about that stuff, and that helps them improve safety, because everyone is enjoying working there. So, yeah, they both go hand in hand, and it all comes back to that culture again.

08:29 RC: One thing that we’ve heard is that, typically, equipment is inherently safe when it’s operating the way that it should be, but the condition under which a typical maintenance technician or a mechanic goes out, is when it’s not operating as it should be. So then we get into this kind of paradox of maintenance technicians go out when it’s actually inherently unsafe.

08:58 GW: Absolutely, 100% agree I with that, and now in my career, I worked in a mine site in New South Wales, and we had two years without any injuries. It was really great performance, and after I left, I heard about one of the mechanics there who had an injury and he nearly lost his… Well, he did lose his eye. And when that was investigated, he was out there faultfinding this situation, and the seals had been installed in backwards and he was pressurizing the system, and he didn’t know, ’cause normally the load that you put in there would go straight through, but these seals were preventing it from going through and it built up a lot of pressure. And when he cracked the grease nippled it, it shot into his eye through his safety glasses. And this taught him a really great focus on safety, great culture. So that told me that for us to eliminate injuries, we also have to eliminate these breakdowns, which are caused by exactly what you said, the situations that aren’t normal, that people aren’t expecting conditions like that on the equipment.

10:08 RC: Exactly. And that’s why I think reliability and safety are so intertwined.

10:17 GW: Yeah.

10:18 RC: When an equipment is reliable, that means, at least to me, it means that it’s operating under the standard conditions that we expect it to. When an equipment breaks down, that’s where it is unsafe actually, that’s where problems arise.

10:39 GW: Definitely. And if you work mining, you know, if a truck breaks down, it never breaks down sitting in the workshop, it’s always out on an angle and you gotta recover it and all those sorts of things. So, it adds a lot of complexity and brings a lot of hazards into the work environment. So, yeah, it’s something that at least mining companies have to work on… Well, all companies have to work on every day and talk about every day and keep people away, ’cause it can be managed, the risk can be managed.

11:07 RC: You know, what are some of the key mindset shifts that need to occur to prepare people and professionals in mining for the future of all of these brand new technologies that are emerging?

11:20 GW: The mining’s not being known for being an early adopter, [chuckle] a quick adopter of technology like autonomous trucks I saw them in Chile in 2006, and now they’re only becoming… They’re really starting to take off now, so, 14 years later. There is a desire to take up these technologies, but people need to be prepared to try them and stick with them. Another one of the issues I see in mining is they get in one path and then it’s not working, so they throw the baby out with the bathwater and go an entirely different path, even though there was some good things. In Relialytics, we’ve semi-automated the task of reviewing oil and onboard data, and deciding on what action needs to happen in flowing that straight through to the maintenance system, the CMMS system, so that there’s an action. So effectively, we’ve automated a white collar role, which is not normally sort of focused on. Normally we’re focusing on the operating roles and those sort of things to automate those, but we need to just embrace those sorts of technologies and lead and identify what is the problem we’re trying to solve?

12:33 GW: Not, let’s just get this technology in for the sake of the technology, let’s solve this problem and use these technologies that we have and make sure that they really do save people time or take the monkey off their back. Another one of the things I’ve seen is, people putting in big ERP systems all the time, and they get so complicated that you need a team of people just to drive the system rather than the system taking the… Doing the work for the people, so.

13:08 RC: Yeah, I mean, we see that so much, which is like technology should be working for us not the other way around.


13:17 GW: Yeah. Absolutely, absolutely.

13:21 RC: I’m curious, Gerard, is there any technologies that you are specifically interested and excited about within the mining industry?

13:30 GW: Yeah, look, there is… And again with their focus in Relialytics of automating the role of a condition monitoring analyst or someone like that. So, the system now is like a really experienced condition monitoring analyst, he can… They can see the data and decide what needs to be done and open the work orders and all that. So I’m excited to take that further, especially image recognition, I think is something that’s, you know, got a long way to go, because, well, it’s something that we can really embrace. Because a lot of the data that we look at, their onboard systems or their oil sample data, it’s all very much available, but it’s a lot of defects on equipment that are like leaks, cracks, loose bolts, things like that, which you actually… Only the human can see them, but I think with image recognition, we can train computers to see those defects as well, and I think that when we’re taking the operator off the machine, we’re going to need to embrace those sorts of technologies as well. And that’s pretty exciting to me for the future.

14:43 RC: What’s something that you wish more people knew about within the maintenance and reliability industry?

14:48 GW: The two fundamental things that I wish people knew more about is planning and scheduling can make scheduled work more efficient, but quality execution of maintenance and a culture of care makes the equipment reliable. You can’t plan and schedule a machine to be more reliable. Planning and scheduling was invented to make scheduled downtime more efficient, and I wish people try and fix reliability issues with planning and scheduling, that’s the first issue. And secondly, you know, we were talking a bit about this before, we mentioned that an FMEA value modes affects analysis, which leads to your maintenance tactics, it’s not something that should be just done as a project, it’s gotta be… You gotta be thinking that way every day. So when you have a break down, the first thing that should go through your mind is, do we have that value mode on our FMEA, if so, why did it become a breakdown? If not obviously, it was going to become a breakdown. Just that continual reinforcement and rebuilding of that FMEA database, so it continually improves over time rather than just have heaps of projects.

16:10 RC: Could you share with our listeners all the different ways that they can connect with you, learn from you and follow you on your journey?

16:18 GW: Probably LinkedIn is the way to go, if they wanna listen to the 30 in 30 podcast that we have, which is really just about capturing all guys experience and people can take that for what they want, and we’re always sharing stuff on Linkedin or on our website at, we’re always trying to share whatever we learn with the industry. I’d like to myself too keep a bit more eye on UpKeep and see what you guys are up to in the future.

16:48 RC: Thank you again, Gerard, for joining us, and thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in to today’s Masterminds in Maintenance. My name is Ryan, I’m the CEO and founder of UpKeep. You can also connect with me on LinkedIn or shoot me an email directly at [email protected], you can also find me in the maintenance community on LinkedIn, the largest community for maintenance professionals in the world. We hold weekly conversations in contests all centered around all things maintenance. Happy to connect with all of you guys soon, until next time. Thanks again, Gerard, have a great rest of your day.


17:17 GW: You too, Ryan. Thanks very much.

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