Maintenance Work

A postcard from Phoenix and SMRP

Thomas Wilk says the weather was hot and the event speakers were cool.

By Thomas Wilk, editor in chief

“I don’t need the next shiny thing if I don’t have the fundamentals in place,” said Eruditio’s Shon Isenhour. “Otherwise I’m just optimizing my run-to-fail strategy.”

This was one of many thought-provoking observations about our profession delivered this year at the 2019 SMRP Symposium, held June 25-27 in Phoenix, AZ. The temperature outside may have averaged 106°F, but the program kept things cool all day while panelists and presenters each brought a little sizzle to their sessions.

The event offered 16 sessions across four maintenance- and reliability-focused tracks, with optional workshops, plant tours, and certification exams offered as well. The symposium is in its third year, and while smaller in scale than the national SMRP conference held every October, the more-intimate setting fostered a very familiar and collegial atmosphere, where each session felt like more of a group discussion than a formal presentation.

Leading off the day was a keynote address by Red Conger, president and COO of Americas Freeport-McMoRan Inc., who is responsible for nine mining operations in North America and two in South America as well as their downstream processing facilities. His keynote focused on fleet maintenance improvements at Freeport-McMoRan, which began as an effort to use big-data approaches to improve the reliability of ore hauler trucks. Once the program was fully operational, Freeport-McMoRan was able to collect 3.5 billion data points per day on nearly 500 assets and route those data into a central control room to give team members real-time visibility into hauler-truck performance.

The second and equally important part of the story, said Conger, was roll-over improvements in both CapEx cost reduction and team morale. By rebuilding trucks instead of replacing them at a cost of $5.5 million each, the company has been able to keep fleet operating costs flat over time while increasing availability, even accounting for inflation and employee raises, and “this is with equipment now that’s old enough to vote.”

His team also moves experts from site to site as needed, from startups to new fixed plants, so data collection is standardized across properties and sites. “The sites don’t compete against each other,” said Conger, and “nobody argues about data anymore.” Ultimately, he said, the company has saved almost $800 million since 2006 on hard capital costs, having quit buying new trucks in 2008, and saving more through improved reliability while building stronger morale.

Note: Registration is open for the 2019 SMRP Annual Conference, taking place this October in Louisville, KY. Join more than 1,200 of your peers to explore the 30-plus workshops and 60-plus track sessions that are designed to enhance your skills and build your professional network. The link to register is available at: