Although huge investments are being made in new public enterprise projects, maintenance of existing infrastructure is a massive challenge.

This is according to Tracey-Lee Zurcher, project director of Reliability & Maintenance Week, taking place in Johannesburg in November.

“These new projects still won’t help public service delivery if equal attention isn’t given to maintenance,” she says. “If this does not change, existing infrastructure will begin to fail and this will ultimately have a knock-on affect of the productivity of any new-build projects.”

She adds that the infrastrucutures of organisations like Eskom are already running at higher capacity than they should. “Brian Statham, chairman of the South African National Energy Association (Sanea), said recently that, in general, South Africa’s electricity sector is not in better shape than it was a few years ago due to the fact that while electricity demand has rebounded after the global financial crisis, little will have changed on the supply side, prior to the new power station units coming online.

“He said that to keep the lights burning, Eskom is running its generation plant harder than it knows it should, and is unable to do the necessary maintenance it knows it should, which includes making up a backlog.”

The annual Reliability & Maintenance Week conference and exhibition aims to unite public and private sector industry to share and align maintenance best practices.

“We are looking to address advanced maintenance planning techniques and overall industry trends that will affect maintenance practices to the more senior maintenance professionals and look at more technical, on-the-ground issues for the engineers entering the space,” says Zurcher. “We are also trying to take some best practices from the private sector and create stronger relationships between public and private sector by aiming to align maintenance practices across the board so public service delivery can assist world-class manufacturing productivity.”

Co-located with the event is Technical Skills Africa, which will look at skills management strategies in the power, mining, ICT and infrastructure sectors through analysis of skills acquisition, development, maintenance and retention.