There is a set of fundamental challenges that every Maintenance Manager across the world faces, but some regions have a unique set of pressures over and above these, that can hinder their ability to deploy effective and efficient maintenance tactics.
One region that has a particularly challenging environment is the Middle East.Damon Bowler, Add Energy’s Vice President for Asset and Integrity Management, worked as a Maintenance Manager and held a number of other operations roles in the Middle East for almost 15 years, where he was based in Syria, Egypt and Qatar. Damon has therefore gained first-hand experience of navigating this challenging environment, and developing and executing successful maintenance strategies in this part of the world.
In this blog post, Damon discusses the top 5 challenges he identified while working in the Middle East, and provides advice and guidance on how you can embrace and adapt to these added pressures.
1. Challenging environmental conditions
“In my experience, the environment you have to work in adds extra layers of complexity, that many people in other parts of the world do not have to deal with. It forces you to change the way that you work.
“There are particular times of the year when it is incredibly difficult to do work outside. During the summer, you do less work because of the extreme heat. Unless the work is absolutely necessary, you do not do it. Temperatures soar northwards of 50 degrees celsius in some countries which means you may have to do critical work orders at night time working when it’s cooler (which brings its own risks), or make provisions that will keep people cool. Otherwise the work cannot be done.
“Effective scheduling is therefore vitally important in the Middle East because of this. You do not have the comfort of a full year, as there are around 3-4 months that are somewhat out of bounds.
“You need to ensure you have first-class planners and schedulers in your team - who understand these pressures, and can plan and adapt accordingly.
“It’s also more important than ever to make sure the systems and data that they’re looking at and interrogating are accurate. There is less room for error, as the pressure to get the maintenance done during periods of extreme temperatures are significantly higher. Your team needs fit-for-purpose systems and processes to enable them to do a good job.”
2. The supply chain
“The supply chain in the Middle East always seems to be problematic, and this has a direct impact on maintenance teams. Logistics can be a major issue, particularly when it comes to spares.
“In the countries that I’ve worked in, our kit could sit with the authorities or customs for lengthy periods of time. And reliable transport is important, because often the places you work are very remote.
“This has to be accounted for in your minimum/maximum stock levels and in your analysis of critical spares, as the lead time could be affected.
“We often also see equipment being stored outside because it's dry, which is still not appropriate for the equipment or spares type, as this can still be affected by direct sunlight, heat and dust.”
3. Attracting and retaining quality resources
“Attracting quality people can also be challenging. Over the past 10-20 years, the Middle East naturally attracted very skilled engineers from India and Asia, as salaries were much higher in this part of the world. But this is changing, as these countries can now afford to pay their engineers very good salaries. So in order for companies in the Middle East to attract the same calibre of people, they will have to pay more - which will result in their fixed costs increasing.
“But retaining talent is actually one of the biggest issues, which is due to the nature of attracting expats. By definition, these people are transient - they are there for a fixed period of time, before going back home.
“The demands from people nowadays are very different than they were 20 years ago. People want different things now. They want more of a career, they want to ensure their families are provided for, and they want to know that there are additional benefits to being away from home.
“It is critical for organizations to plan based on these local environmental and locational issues. Be realistic about working time, factor it into the schedules and build it into the risk models so there are no surprises or a lack of contingency.”
4. Execution over strategy
“What I discovered during my 15 years of working in the Middle East, is that there is too much focus on maintenance execution, and not the right level of focus on ensuring you have an effective strategy.
“I think this is because the majority of the sites in the Middle East are huge. One of the gas processing trains in Qatar was over 1km long, and this didn’t include the full process - this was simply the part that changes the gas into something usable. And this was just 1 train out of 7. This meant we needed bicycles to ride around. Everything is on a big scale, and managing this large workforce is a sizeable task.
“This is why it tends to get the focus. But what tends to get overlooked is that there’s more to maintenance than just execution. It needs to be about strategy first and foremost.
“Do you have the right systems in place? Are they up-to-date and fit-for-purpose? Are you analysing failure data, and tweaking your approach and system accordingly? This evolutionary approach to maintenance is important, but it’s not commonplace in the Middle East, in my experience.”
5. Don’t forget the fundamentals
“I’ve seen Maintenance Managers, particularly in this region, get sucked into side challenges around execution, and neglecting the fundamentals.
“The biggest challenges faced by every Maintenance Manager are the same, regardless of where they are in the world. They centre around:
- Are you doing the right maintenance, on the right equipment, at the right time, with the right spares?
- Are you doing this as cost effectively as you possibly can? After all, the fundamental reason for doing maintenance is that it should be ultimately cheaper than the consequences of not doing it.
“In order to achieve this, you need to ensure you maintenance management system has all of your equipment correctly registered in it, all of your maintenance strategies are correct and appropriate, and all of your spares and materials are in your system.
“Once this is done, you then need to determine how you’re going to manage change. Everything is constantly moving and adapting, so how are you going to keep your system and strategies updated, efficient and effective?
“Ultimately, being a successful Maintenance Manager comes down to creating a solid strategy. But it can be very easy to get pulled in many different directions and divert your attention away from the fundamentals. My top tip would be to never lose sight of this - regardless of the pressures you face in your country or region, these considerations must be at the top of your list.”
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