In the last 10 years, the Australian resources sector has invested more than $400 billion in gas, coal, iron ore and other minerals sectors. Delivering a return on this investment requires reliable, efficient operations and equipment. Historically, the sector has relied on skilled technicians who often work in dangerous and difficult conditions to maintain operational assets. We are striving to maintain technical depth and skills.
We are just beginning to explore the important issue of what motivates maintenance technicians to perform the very best work, safely and productively. At UWA, we are looking at how to align maintenance practices with the desired outcomes of safety, availability and productivity. understandably, this involves a multidisciplinary approach and I work with colleagues in UWA engineering, mathematics, psychology and the Business School, all coordinated through the newly-established Centre for Safety.
These issues of productivity and safety are paramount importance to Australian industry and, in fact, businesses, organisations and governments around the world. At the moment, there is little research or understanding of the nature of maintenance work, outside of aviation and nuclear industries. Our research will directly inform strategy, policy, training and operations in the real world. It can also be incorporated into teaching at UWA’s Accelerated Learning Laboratory and AIM WA-UWA Business School Executive Education.
We are seeing a step change in how resource assets are designed and operated, with more and more autonomous equipment and remote operating centres. In the future, operators may not be needed but, unless equipment failure is eliminated, skilled maintenance workers will be. Our research will help to anticipate the competencies and organisational processes needed to ensure those workers are available and effective. The maintainers of the future are 10 years old today and their expectations, ambitions and competences will be vastly different from what we have now. Our vision is to shape the work environment so that this next generation can perform at a high level.
Maintenance is an often overlooked part of business and, yet, failure to maintain assets well can have devastating results. Earlier in my career, I worked in maintenance and I have enormous respect for maintainers and what they do. Undertaking research that will keep them safe in challenging but rewarding work environments means a great deal to me. I am excited to be part of the multidisciplinary team that will make a difference in their lives, while improving the productivity of the sectors that employ them.
- Professor Melinda Hodkiewicz, Mechanical and Chemical Engineering.