P&Q Profile: CDE’s Sean O’Leary

By |  March 1, 2021
Sean O'Leary CDE


An industry veteran of 30-plus years, Sean O’Leary is a certified maintenance reliability practicioner who has worked on both the producer side at LafargeHolcim and on the manufacturer side in his current role at CDE. O’Leary, who joined CDE as North American CustomCare manager in 2019, shares some industry insights, including how technology and labor have changed, and what he expects for the aggregate industry in 2021.

How has maintenance technology changed during your time in the industry?

[For] the large companies, it’s changed somewhat because you have more technically-available tools. We’re not looking at alignment with dial indicators anymore; we’re looking at alignment with laser.

But you’re only going to see that at companies that truly understand what the cost of downtime is. So, for the large companies where I worked most of my career, I had access to that, and you could see there’s a cost savings. But there’s also a cost output upfront.

Some of the smaller [producers] aren’t going to do that. It’s hard, sometimes, to show them that justification and time savings. A lot of smaller companies have no maintenance program. In some cases, they’ll put enough spare parts in to rebuild just about anything, and then just run it into the ground.

The conversations we have regularly are: ‘if you do it this way, we can save you some time and save you some money.’ We’re not going to be hot-shotting a part off; we’re not going to be red-labeling all this stuff; we’re not going to run out of parts – if you do these things in advance.

The challenge is putting it in terms of money. What’s your downtime cost? I can give them a rough cost, but sometimes they didn’t plan ahead or they don’t have the money now. They just don’t have the resources that the larger companies do.

How can manufacturers and producers alike attract their next generation of employees?

There’s a huge generational gap now between the guys you’re getting in as mechanics and the guys like me who aren’t mechanics anymore. You still have to get dirty because you’re explaining the basics to them.

They don’t know how gearboxes work or taper locks or understanding alignment. They didn’t work with their hands as kids. If my car didn’t start in the morning, I wasn’t going to school or work; they don’t have that issue.

The generational gap means I’m out doing it as much, if not more, than I was before. I like being hands-on because, when a customer calls, sometimes they want to deescalate [their problem]. I can talk their language, and I can talk to them about what their problems are, what their issues are, and what their needs are. So it lends a little bit of confidence to them.

The start is finding the right person. You need to find somebody who has some kind of mechanical ability and someone who wants to learn. That’s always going to be a challenge in the hiring phase. But you’re looking for guys who have worked on stuff before.

I don’t necessarily have to have a guy who’s had five years experience in this industry in order to make him effective. But I have to have someone who knows how to work with their hands. If I have a computer science graduate come in and all he’s done is work on computers, when it comes time to tear a plant down, you start coming into the safety aspect of it – we’re using cranes, telehandlers, manlifts.

Mining is definitely not what I would call an ‘easy job,’ so you need to have someone who’s got their wits about them and has some kind of mechanical ability. Same thing with electrical, which is even worse. Trying to find someone with electrical capabilities is very difficult. A lot comes down to finding the right person and then training them. Some of it is on-the-job training; some of it is sending them out for training.

What would you say to employers who are wary of the cost of training new employees?

It’s the return on investment you’re getting.

SeanO'Leary CDE

CDE’s Sean O’Leary on attracting the next generation of employees: “You need to have someone who’s got their wits about them and has some kind of mechanical ability.” Photo: CDE

Look at mean time to repair: that’s one of the metrics we look at in the maintenance industry. If I have a cost of downtime of $1,000 per hour, which is not a lot, you can repair it in two hours because you know what you’re doing, or four or five hours if you don’t know what you’re doing. You can see the difference.

What does training cost? $2,000? $3,000 if you want to go for some extensive training? On the maintenance side, you’re never going to see a four-month class, it’s going to be a two- or three-day class put on by a bearing manufacturer or a pump manufacturer – something like that.

If the cost is $2,000 or $3,000 per person, and your downtime goes from four hours to two hours, you just saved $2,000. You covered the cost of training the first time they touch the pump, and you know they’re going to do it right. Being in the maintenance industry for as long as I have been, I have to explain to guys who have never lifted a tool in their life what the financial impact of their decision is.

On the other side, I have guys who understand the practical application and the practical input and failure modes. I have to explain to them the financial implications on their side. You’re not always going to get what you want. My favorite saying to production managers is: ‘you’re going to take [the machine] down, whether you take it down for me or it goes down – it’s just a matter of time.’

It’s very easy for us to be right on the maintenance side because we have all the data. We’re looking at the work orders, we’re looking at the trends of the machine, we know what the timelines are for failure based on history and any number of factors. So I know [the machine] needs to go down, it’s just a matter of how much lost production and how much downtime and how much incidental damage you want to take. The longer you wait, the worse it gets.

What are your expectations for the aggregate industry in 2021?

Overall, there’s going to be increased growth. Infrastructure is seriously down. We need to do something about that as a country. And with that come jobs.

You look at the sand market and the base sand market: concrete is not going away; it’s only going to get bigger. You look at sand and gravel – a huge market – but probably the biggest market that people are missing is the construction and demolition market.

How much good sand goes to waste when you demo a building? So when you get into the recycling aspect of it, not only are you producing material, but you’re being paid to get it.

I think the [recycled materials market] is going to be the biggest grower because we’re running out of places to put this stuff. Yeah, Texas is pretty big; Nevada; some of the West, you could probably hide centuries of trash. But you start getting into any urban area and you’re going to have an issue of where to put this stuff.

It’s still a sand market, still a gravel market, still an aggregate market. But where it’s come from traditionally – digging a whole in the ground, which we know is not renewable – to construction site waste and demolition, which is more recycling, I think that’s probably the next huge wave. Definitely, you’ll see that in your huge urban markets where there’s nowhere to put this stuff anymore.

For us (CDE), we’re expanding so rapidly. We’re across the nation now, and I see 2021 as even bigger. We’re not so much targeting states as regions. The Northeast is still a huge region for us; the Midwest is starting to increase; and then the Pacific Northwest is starting to increase, as well. They’re all major markets, where if you were to look at sand production in need, those are the markets you see the highest value.

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