Interview with Dr Willem Sprong, Technical Executive, Electrical Engineering at GIBB – silver sponsors at the upcoming African Utility Week and Clean Power Africa in Cape Town from 14-15 May.
1. You are presenting a technical workshop at the upcoming African Utility Week on: “Addressing risk and client expectation through an effective maintenance strategy”. What will be the main gist of your presentation?
I will introduce the reliability focused maintenance strategy, called predictable maintenance to the audience. This strategy was developed when I worked for Transnet and was looking at ways to improve the reliability of the infrastructure. It is important to understand that there is a huge difference between reliability and availability of infrastructure. Most people view a system only as reliable when it is 100% available. This unfortunately is not true and will be discussed in the paper. If you can warn a client in advance that a system will not be available for a period of time, they will be accommodating of the idea. But should that same system be unavailable without warning, you have an unhappy client at hand. The effect of this strategy on risk is also discussed in the paper.
2. Which examples/case studies will you be using in your presentation? What were the main lessons learnt here?
I studied the traction transformers used in railway substations to determine means of implementing predictable maintenance. Groundbreaking research in the measurement of vibration of transformers will be discussed.
3. What would you say are the main challenges in managing risk and client expectation in maintenance?
A serious shortage in skill to maintain infrastructure is causing unplanned shutdowns of the systems. Clients get irritated and become increasingly agitated because of this. Loss in production time, high start up costs after shutdown and possible damage to their plant cause huge financial loss. Unplanned maintenance is extremely expensive, takes much longer and requires more people to execute compared to planned maintenance. Insurance companies increase their premiums and excess payments due to the unpredictable nature of the failures. Such failures normally also cause bigger damage to the system.
4. What is your definition of “reliable” and managing reliability?
A system is reliable when you get the expected performance from it. If you get what you expect, you will deem the system to be reliable. I will use the example of routine maintenance on your car where it needs to go for a service. You don’t view your car as unreliable because you can’t use it for that specific day, you can plan ahead!
5. Which projects that GIBB is involved with at the moment are you most excited about?
I am working on the Kazungula Bridge Project between Botswana in Zambia. This bridge will replace the ferries currently transporting trucks across the Zambezi river.
6. What is your vision for this industry?
We need to be innovative in the way we do maintenance due to the shortage in resources we experience. These resources are skills and money. We have an aging pool of infrastructure that needs to be maintained. This can only be done effectively if we are able to introduce innovative ideas such as predictable maintenance.
7. What surprises you about this industry?
We think that most money needs to be spent on new development of infrastructure and sometimes forget that the cost of maintenance is more that 75% of the life cycle cost.
8. What will be your main message at African Utility Week?
Innovation in our thinking is the only way we can stay sustainable.