The culture behind a well-oiled machine

National Group maintenance teams tackle each job from all angles.

Effective maintenance practices are built on a supportive training environment, a dedicated workforce, forward planning, and a good understanding between supplier and customer, according to the team at National Group. 

To keep Australian mines running smoothly, only the best equipment and support will do. When mine owners attempt to produce thousands of tonnes of ore every day, rarely is there time for a break in play or a malfunctioning machine. 

Understanding this reality, leading mining equipment supplier National Group puts many hours into improving its maintenance team so that they, in turn, can best support Australian miners. 

National Group founder and managing director Mark Ackroyd said the company prioritises its maintenance team to ensure 24–7 availability for its customers. 

“It’s prudent throughout most mine sites to maintain fleet availability and access to skilled workforces. These things can be quite difficult for some businesses, so having uptime in the equipment is highly important to us and our customers,” Ackroyd told Australian Mining.

“To achieve that, you need the right people doing the right maintenance and it all goes hand in hand.”

To ensure his crew can be counted on for any repair jobs that come up, Ackroyd said the company instils a culture to “train and retain” staff, to ensure they know exactly what the company and its customers expect. 

“We operate across a lot of mine sites these days and for many we supply fully trained superintendents and maintenance personnel to carry out those tasks whenever required,” he said. 

“They work on site every day to provide 24–7 maintenance and maximise fleet availability.”

At the coalface, National Group Queensland maintenance manager Craig Weller is a testament to the culture and quality of the company. 

As a qualified diesel fitter, Weller was contracted by National Group 14 years ago and has now made his way through the ranks to manage Queensland’s maintenance department. 

Weller described what kept him around and why the next generation would love to take the same path. 

“When I joined, National Plant & Equipment were the people to work for,” Weller said.

“These days, one point of difference for the company is we can train people, especially apprentices, in every facet of the trade.

“We’re not just parts fitters. We do a lot of repairing of our own components using our own rotatable stock. Having this system is a big bonus to us and our customers in reducing downtime.”

National Group retains its people to maintain its machines.

The variety of work is another plus, according to Weller, who said most people were enticed to the company by the range of equipment and projects. 

He expects this will be enough to welcome a new class of apprentices in 2022 to rival the intake from 2021. 

“We want to train these people our way and retain them so that in the future we can send them out to do a job knowing they have the skillset, they know what we expect and we can confidently rely on them to get it done right,” Weller said. 

New apprentices will not only be walking into a comprehensive training program, but into a tight-knit community among National Group customers and staff, according to Weller. 

This connection is the key to effective maintenance in order to understand exactly what needs attention and an expectation it will be managed appropriately. 

“There are important relationships across National Group. They’re at the sales levels to understand the top-down requirements of businesses across Australia, but they’re also at the coalface,” Weller said. 

“It’s a big thing to have a relationship not only with the National Group supervisors and the managers on-site, but also with the customer’s maintenance team. 

“This is because some of our jobs we do hire the equipment out and maintain it ourselves, but other jobs when we’re 100 per cent dry hire, the client maintains it.

“So relationships with everyone on-site are key to maintaining equipment and it makes everyone’s job so much easier.”

With the skills and understanding ingrained into the National Group culture, downtime can be minimised and everyone comes away happy. 

“My phone is on 24–7 and then there’s a group of people who do the same in case I’m not able to be contacted,” Weller said.

“If there’s a call made and we haven’t got something on the move within two hours, I’d be pretty disappointed.”

Proud of a job well done, Weller gave an example of when this system sprang into action and satisfied one of many customers. 

“Yesterday, I received a phone call from Curragh coal mine, I rang Komatsu in Emerald, the parts were in stock, so I ran straight there and took them myself,” he said.

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