Operations and maintenance departments need not be distanced from each other, explains Alex Hughes
It’s a sad fact that he who shouts loudest gets heard first. And in ports that can mean that the commercially-facing operations department pulls the strings, sometimes at the expense of the passed over maintenance department.
This, says the TT Club, is a mistake since it is the terminal as a whole that will suffer further down the line as deferred maintenance invariably results in major failures and increased downtime.Yossi Bassan, vice president for Engineering and Logistics at Israel's Ashdod Port Company, believes that it is a balancing act: “I think there is always a balance to be struck between the needs of the operations department and those of the maintenance department.
“Quite often when we have to take down a crane to undertake maintenance, the operations department will try to prevent that, because they'll claim they need it. As far as possible, we try to be accommodating, by putting back maintenance by a day or so,” he says.
To ensure that both sides are aware of which cranes will have to come out-of-service, a weekly maintenance programme is agreed in advance, although Mr Bassan concedes that there are invariably differences of opinions. Operations are therefore encouraged to participate in this as much as possible.
“Operations tells us when a crane is not functioning correctly and will give us a good idea of what they want us to look at. From time to time, they also ask us to improve how a crane performs a specific task, which involves getting significant feedback from them,” he says.
For its part, Ports of Auckland (POAL) does not see the needs of the operations
and maintenance departments as mutually exclusive. “Operations is the
customer and it is understandable that they want all their plant
available when a ship is in and for the equipment to perform well,” says
a spokesperson. “It's our job to deliver, so maintenance is scheduled
As to whether the operations department has significant input into maintenance policy or strategy, he says that maintenance standards and procedures are designed to best serve the terminal and, as such, everyone has visibility and input to ensure all and any activities within it, remain aligned with business needs.
“Maintenance and operational activities need to be aligned with the business needs at all times. This approach ensures that our business processes will serve customers in the most efficient and effective manner,” Mr Sharaf says.
At POAL, the operations department does not have significant input into either maintenance policy or strategy. Nevertheless, key performance indicators are in place to monitor equipment from both the operations and maintenance perspective in order to make sure both are singing from the same hymn sheet and therefore avoid potential conflict.
“Essentially, good maintenance practice is all about being sensible around the flexibility of the servicing schedule. In this respect, common sense plays a big part,” says the POAL spokesperson.
Ashdod already has KPIs in place to measure operational performance and is now introducing these to a certain extent to cover maintenance. So, in future, KPIs will govern how long a crane can be idle because of breakdowns and how long it takes to repair them.
“I think it is very important that we have these, because without KPIs you are effectively working in the dark. However, no KPI in the world is a substitute for common sense. KPIs simply dictate the scheduling of maintenance; after that you use common sense when deciding when the actual work should take place.”
At Auckland, POAL's port engineering team reports directly to the general manager of the container terminal, resulting in a single person effectively overseeing both operations and maintenance departments, thereby ensuring both are on the same page.
At Ashdod, there are separate heads of operations and maintenance. Mr Bassan, who now heads up the maintenance department, was formerly vice president of operations, so appreciates the demands on both sectors and also underlines the fact that there are very good communications between the two departments.
As to whether in a perfect world these two jobs would be combined, he says this very much depends on the size of the port or terminal's complexity of problems and on the overall amount of traffic being handled.
“It's not a bad idea to combine these jobs, but won't always be practical, since in a really big operation, one person wouldn't be able to dedicate sufficient time to each job,” he says.
He adds that, in general, a lot of equipment malfunction in the container handling business is down to a combination of operational and maintenance negligence.
“Crane downtime is not always entirely due to bad maintenance, but this is definitely a factor,” he says.
To avoid these types of problem, Ashdod is now implementing a preventative maintenance programme, which means that, every month, service checks will be carried out on each of the cranes, as well as heavier overhauls every three months and every six months.
“We aim to prevent breakdowns as much as possible and also avoid the cranes from sustaining unnecessary damage,” Mr Bassan says. “However, we have to schedule these maintenance checks so they don't conflict with operations.
The majority of the engineers and technicians that undertake maintenance at the terminal tend to be graduates of Israeli technical schools and have a good understanding of the equipment and how to maintain it. This, emphasises Mr Bassan, is the best way to avoid damage on the cranes.
At POAL, the engineering team receives annual competence and technical training by equipment manufacturers so as to train staff on any updates; these same courses also serve as key knowledge refreshers, says a spokesperson.
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