Maintenance is King

“Renewal is so Yesterday” (December 5) argued that, in a changing world, we cannot afford to think of renewal as replacing what we currently have, perhaps with ‘better’or ‘higher’ quality which, when you think about it, is what we are currently doing.  We need to focus instead on ensuring that any infrastructure we build now is ‘future friendly’, meaning it can be adapted as needs and opportunities change.

However, new infrastructure – while it often occupies most of our thoughts and media column inches – is at any time really only a very tiny percent of our total infrastructure stock.

How do we defer the need to renew – and thus avoid committing ourselves to another 20, 40 or more years of 20th century assets?    The answer is obvious:  we need to put more effort into maintenance.  Well-maintained assets last!

So, if we are to maximise our chances to benefit from the changes that are coming – and avoid adding to the mounds of redundant, or stranded, assets that change has already brought about – then we need to focus on extending the lives of our existing assets by better maintenance.

It may not be as glamorous as renewal, but better maintenance is key to succeeding in a changing world.  It does what nothing else can – it gives us the chance to learn more about the future before we build for it.

Agree/Disagree?  Counter arguments welcome!

Special Note: The Asset Management Council is running a special webinar on Tuesday 19 December – “Life extension of a gas powered generator” the award winning presentation by Mark McKenzie and Giuliano Cangelosi,   Find out more and sign up here


Adaptable Infrastructure

The strength of concrete – but with adaptability! Interblocs are large scale concrete lego blocks, and just like lego you can construct – and then reconstruct.  I was fascinated with the ability of interblocs to adjust as needs change over time, but when I spoke with Jack Bright at the IPWEA Conference in Perth last August, he was more interested to tell me about their environmental and cost aspects, and – not for the first time – I noted how good ideas tend to address not one, but multiple issues.

1. Avoiding Waste

NZ and international evidence indicates that 2.5-3% of all ready mix concrete will end up as surplus to requirements. This is perfectly good concrete, however because of the perishable nature of concrete it ends up wasted. Traditional approaches to dealing with this waste is to dry it, crush it, and use as recycled concrete aggregate (which has a high embedded energy content), or is sent to landfill.   Jack explained that the Interbloc system was part of a larger sustainability iniative called Envirocon, a product stewardship scheme for the ready mix concrete batching waste streams.  Envirocon have developed technology to analyse each unique mix of concrete and put it to sleep for up to 72hrs, which allows the  aggregation of wet surplus concrete for transport back to a central processing plant where it is upcycled into precast concrete products.

The major benefit here is the reuse of a substantial waste stream with minimal extra processing. There are also a number of indirect benefits; an estimated 1.3 million km of truck movements are eliminated by enabling trucks to return direct to the plant; new jobs, compounding economic growth etc.

2. Re-Use and the Circular System

The design principles behind the precast concrete products also lends itself to this idea of a truly circular system. Both Interbloc and Stonebloc are modular wall systems which deliver greater efficiencies in the building process. While acting as a permanent structure when assembled, the blocks can be easily disassembled, reconfigured to suit changing requirements, and reused at the end of the structures life.   In New Zealand, where Interbloc Systems have been in use for over ten  years, there is even a buy-back guarantee.

3. Security and Reliability

Each block has a unique serial number so you can track the construction process including the original test data.    Intrigued?  Want to know more?  Here is a short company video.   Or go to or

Question this week:  What other commercial products do you know that allow adaptability?

Renewal is “So Yesterday”!


“Lasting” is not enough

It seems strange to us today, but 30 years ago little thought was given to infrastructure renewal.  Infrastructures looked so solid, and lasted so long, that little attention was paid to ‘how’ they lasted so long.  This was the mid 1980s, and for the past 25 years, the focus had been on construction.  As the world had recovered from WW2 and refugees and immigrants flooded into Australia, we had expanded and we had built.  In fact, we expanded so rapidly, that not only did we build but the focus of our building was speed, on how quickly we could establish the new housing, the new developments that were needed by our burgeoning population.  That was the background for the eight Public Accounts Committee’s Reports on asset renewal.  The purpose was to convince the Parliamentarians that they needed to pay attention to renewal.  It worked.  We started to forecast our renewal requirements and we started to manage our assets so as to contain our future costs. Maintenance improved. Decision making improved. We rethought our existing renewal practices and, in many cases, realised that our assets could last far longer than we had previously thought.

For the last 30 years we have focussed on trying to make our assets last as long as we could so as to reduce our life cycle costs.  It was a worthy ambition and it fuelled an entire discipline.  Asset management was born and it has flourished.

But now, as we look ahead, it is clear that the world is changing. Climate change and rising sea levels are producing problems since many of cities around the world have been built near the sea to allow for rapid sea transport. Demographic change is impacting service demand. Technological change is impacting not only consumption but production. With an internet connection, we can work most anywhere and this is changing our ideas about cities.

That is why I say that renewal is yesterday’s problem.  Renewal underlies the concept of longevity.  But tomorrow’s problems are around our ability to adapt to constant and rapid change.  They are about Adaptability.  This is where we now need to focus. And this is why our theme for December is “Adaptability”

Your ideas on this topic welcome!