CRUSHING and screening on mines and quarries often entails 24/7 operations where downtime is out of the question. The importance of skilled customer support technicians in maintaining high machine uptime cannot therefore be stressed enough, states Jorge Abelho, director technical support at Pilot Crushtec International.
“Given that South Africa is a major global producer of several minerals such as gold, platinum group metals (PGMs), chrome and manganese, amongst others, it is vital that the crushing and screening sector plays its part in keeping the industry running smoothly,” Abelho says. “Skilled customer support technicians are therefore a non-negotiable in crushing and screening operations.”
Given that these Pilot Crushtec individuals spend most of their time at different sites and environments, customer support technicians develop profound knowledge of machines and applications. Crushing and screening customers, says Abelho, should therefore tap into this knowledge bank for advice on equipment setup, operation and efficient maintenance. This helps minimise equipment failures and subsequent downtime which, by its very nature, is costly.
With the crushing and screening industry constantly evolving on the back of advancements in technology, Pilot Crushtec invests heavily in training to keep its customer support technicians up to date with the latest equipment and industry trends.
“As machines get more complex incorporating more automation, onboard diagnostics and remote telemetry solutions, we continue to invest in the multiskilling of our technicians to enable them to diagnose and set up machines quickly and safely,” he says. “This builds trust with our customers knowing that we can deliver and support our equipment. Our customers, both experienced and inexperienced, appreciate this level of technical expertise and that in turn has been key to the growth of our business.”
“In my opinion, the starting point is training. We have developed a very detailed training matrix for the customer support team – a live document which we update on a monthly basis. Our corrective action request (CAR) is also an engrained process in the organisation that often provides input into our training matrix,” Abelho explains.
Pilot Crushtec’s matrix identifies training requirements within the customer support team and indicates which individuals are being trained and which technicians are already competent. The company also conducts formal weekly training sessions, which vary from a formal structured training session to less formal discussions about an activity or experience gained during the week.
In addition, as the Southern Africa distributor for Metso crushing and screening equipment, Pilot Crushtec has access to this global player’s online eLearning portal with well over 100 courses. The goal is to get RICO certification for every Pilot Crushtec customer support technician, which takes about a year to acquire and requires a formal assessment by a Metso engineer.
While training presents a prime opportunity to expand the knowledge base of field service technicians, it is, however, not cheap – it takes time and money to develop technical skills. Given the dearth of these skills in the industry, Abelho notes that it is a challenge to retain skilled technical people as they are in great demand globally.
“Some years ago, we had to come to terms with the fact that there is a massive technical skills shortage in the country and the world at large. Instead of moaning about it, we decided to be part of the solution. We therefore invest in a training programme for university of technology students which has, over the years, provided us with a sustainable pipeline of technical skills,” he says.
During the past 13 years, more than 70 engineering students have gone through the practical phases of their mechanical and electrical engineering studies at Pilot Crushtec’s Jet Park, Gauteng facility. The programme plays a critical role in developing Pilot Crushtec’s talent pipeline and is also a deliberate effort to foster skills development and transformation in the engineering and mining sector as a whole.
“About 10 of these graduates were permanently employed by Pilot Crushtec after demonstrating an in-depth understanding of our products’ mechanics, electronics, performance and maintenance. For these efforts, Pilot Crushtec has received the coveted Employer Excellence Award from KwaZulu-Natal-based Mangosuthu University of Technology for the practical support it continues to give to engineering students, which is testimony to our efforts to plug the technical skills gap in the country,” concludes Abelho.