Sunday 5th Jul, 2020

New CEO’s vision for REMA Tip Top


Growth and innovation are the top two priorities for Karsten Bartnicki, the new Australian CEO of global materials handling specialist REMA TIP TOP, writes William Arnott.

Growing up in Germany, Karsten Bartnicki is nostalgic about the REMA TIP TOP brand, a key fixture in every kids’ bicycle repair kit. Now, he is the company’s Australian CEO, appointed to the role in late 2018.

He began his professional career as an apprentice boiler maker in Germany 40 years ago, which he says helps guide him as an executive, with valuable insight into what it is like to work in the industry.

“My father once said to me that I would need to learn a trade before I went to study at university. I started my professional life as an apprentice boiler maker, before I got my bachelors, and picked up a thing or two about what it is like to work in that kind of environment,” Mr Bartnicki says.

“Safety is one of the most important aspects of a job – it’s vital we keep our workers safe, especially when they are out there in a hands-on environment.

“During my military career as captain in the German Air Force, I was leading the airbase EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) team where safety procedures and staying calm under pressure was essential to survival.

“I think the safety culture that has been built in Australia follows this same need. In Germany, safety is executed differently, for example, daily meetings don’t commence with safety moments whereas the business culture here drives that imperative,” he adds.

Materials handling has been central to Mr Bartnicki’s professional career, holding several GM positions in Germany before heading his own engineering office for five years. After this he joined engineering company Sandvik and moved to Shanghai as GM Material Handling China, responsible for projects with Chinese mining companies like Shenhua Coal, as well as heading its global procurement team delivering material handling systems to Africa, South America and Australia.

It was in China Mr Bartnicki met his Tasmanian-born wife, and the pair decided to move to Australia. Locally, Mr Bartnicki has worked with a number of companies, including Canadian engineering company SNC Lavalin, before signing on with Roy Hill as part of its project leadership team. He was responsible as Roy Hill port construction manager to deliver the port’s landside and marine infrastructure. After a successful handover, Mr Bartnicki provided leadership to a range of operational ramp up and optimisation projects where he saw how important the maintenance service is for improving a mining company’s productivity.

In 2018, he learned REMA TIP TOP was interested in finding a CEO with a strong understanding of the industry, including engineering companies, original equipment manufacturers and mining companies.

“It was the perfect fit for me,” Mr Bartnicki says. “With a dual German and Australian citizenship, I was uniquely placed to understand the culture of the German head office as well as the needs of the Australian customer.”

Safety is one of the most important aspects of the job, according to Mr Bartnicki.

Driving forward

Digitalisation is the future, according to Mr Bartnicki, and plays a critical role in achieving his vision for the company. He outlines the three key drivers of the mining industry: increased productivity, asset availability and cost reduction, all of which he says can benefit from continuous monitoring up to remote operation solutions – in one word: digitalisation.

One of the tools REMA TIP TOP is developing in this area is its Smart Conveyor Solutions, which aims to implement the company’s CARMA asset management approach and Internet of Things technology into remote operating centres.

“Many people in the mining industry are already moving towards smart plants,” Mr Bartnicki explains.

“My vision is to provide smart conveyor solutions where intuitive data analysis of all the conveyor components improves the cost reduction and asset availability, and I’m excited to lead the team towards this.”

REMA TIP TOP’s CARMA approach already allows clients to monitor the condition and implement improvement strategies for conveyor components including idle rollers and conveyor drives using leading maintenance practices. One client found the approach was able to halve its annual roller expenditure while also decreasing unplanned stoppages.

Additionally, REMA TIP TOP uses flow simulations with a discrete element monitoring package to show the material flow through a chute and where it will contact with it. This can be combined with wear protection materials like its REMALOX system, a ceramic and rubber product that increases the lifespan of the chute and extend asset reliability.

The Smart Conveyor Solutions are currently in field testing and could become a part of REMA TIP TOP’s one brand, source and system model as a maintenance, service and monitoring provider.

Building up a team

Political uncertainty and the price of major export commodities like iron ore and coal can lead to large shifts in the mining industry, however Mr Bartnicki says many commodities operate in market-demand cycles.

Borrowing a German expression, Bartnicki says electric vehicles are selling off the shelves like warm bread rolls, driving the mining industry forward for rare minerals.

“Australia has the advantage of a significant amount of rare minerals, with cobalt and lithium required to develop and manufacture battery-driven cars. This increase in demand is also why we’re looking to expand our core team, particularly in our Surface Protection business as more mineral processing plants ramp up.

“REMA’s capability servicing customers with remote conveyor solutions to wet processing solutions underpins its ability to be a one source supplier,” he says.

More than 700 people are part of the company’s workforce, with around 1,500 contractors to supplement this. REMA TIP TOP aims to address the skill gap in the market and respond to industry demands by upskilling more workers.

The company has approached government organisations and training funding bodies, to train apprentices at its specialised rubber workshops in Newcastle, Perth and soon in Adelaide. The pilot program has seen new trainees spend 10 weeks at the workshops before heading on site to get experience for the next 24 months alongside skilled workers.

Additionally, REMA TIP TOP aims to encourage more women as part of its team. Mr Bartnicki says there should be equal opportunities for everyone at the company, as he says doing so will be beneficial to the company culture.

“Our key priority at the moment is growth. We’re looking into what we have at the moment and how we can develop our business and products,” he says.

“It’s an exciting time and I’m proud to help lead this development. The first months have been very busy and I am very happy to see how everything is progressing in 2019.”