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MEI Online: General Minerals Engineering: Latest News: January 13th 2006


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:: After Sales Service - The Way of the Future

by Jason King

The current shortage of skilled labour is challenging all of the stakeholders in the mining and metals industry to improve business practices. We are all feeling the short-term effects of the excess demand for skilled labour in one way or another.

Not so long ago, Outokumpu Technology was looking for concreters to assist on a relatively small dewatering project in Australia. The local contractor we engaged could not hire or retain its staff. Two of the mines in the area were recruiting local tradesmen for underground work and, in some cases, offering them higher salaries plus additional benefits. This created some challenges for our project, all of which were overcome through sourcing of suitable labour from further afield, but this solution took a lot more time and money than previously anticipated.

Arguably, aggressive recruitment tactics will not continue if our industry downturns, as some expect it might in the next three to seven years. However, there is no doubting that, at present, we have a situation that goes beyond the corporate statement of “people are our greatest asset”. Without the human resources, many companies are simply unable to run their business, let alone expand it.

New trends

This severe labour shortage has seen new trends starting to emerge. As most sites have discovered, another method of mitigating the effects of the skilled labour shortage is to increase the scope of work of those with whom you work closest, ie those you trust. For example, external suppliers such as technology providers are now stepping up to the mark to provide a greater scope of supply to customers. This new trend has resulted in areas such as installation, supervision, commissioning, training, spare parts management, maintenance, plant audits, upgrades and optimisation increasingly becoming part of their scope of services.

So, let’s look at each of these after sales areas and anticipate how we see the future emerging [See Fig 2, Table].

By further investigating the willingness and capabilities of technology suppliers, sites may be able to further expand their network of resources for site-based activities.

Some technology suppliers have access to engineers, draftspersons, workshops, installation crews, maintenance teams, process engineers, project managers that planners and managers on mine sites do not normally call upon. The expert tradesmen who carefully manufacture the technology are arguably the most qualified people to upgrade and maintain it. The engineers who design the technology are well qualified to conduct plant audits and assess breakdowns. The service engineers and technicians are capable of regular preventative maintenance works. The draftsmen who were involved in initial supply are best qualified to design and draw up any modifications for optimum performance of the technology in the longer term.

In short, we would see the following key trends emerging:

  • Higher dependence on technology providers who can offer increased scope of supply
  • Greater reliance on maintenance personnel from technology providers rather than site-based personnel
  • Increased awareness of importance of holding an adequate level of spare parts
  • Increased need to access training services to optimise staff skills, improve job satisfaction and minimise impact of staff shortages

Development and enhancement of working relationships with technology suppliers may well provide an edge in future projects in this busy time and in the future.

Jason King has worked as a project manager in the engineering and construction industry for 13 years, with over 10 of those years specialising in the supply and installation of minerals processing technology. Jason has extensive experience in estimation, project management and product management. Jason is Outokumpu Technology’s Customer Support Manager in the Australian region.




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