By Jane Alexander, Managing Editor
This month’s MT Reader Panel question was sparked by Bob Williamson’s June 2017 “Uptime” column. In it, he recounted asking an audience of approximately 90 maintenance pros at an Oklahoma Predictive Maintenance User’s Group event to list the top three maintenance challenges they expected to see in the next three, to five, to 10 years. They came up with 117 challenges, which Bob discussed in detail. We wondered if our Panelists shared similar concerns. For purposes of this unscientific survey, we asked them to discuss a single “top” challenge—the most critical one in their respective views.
Q: From their perspectives as end users, consultants, or suppliers, what was the top maintenance challenge they would expect to continue nagging sites or emerge as another fact of life in industrial operations in the near future (over the next decade)?
The answers we received point to several storms rolling across the industrial landscape. Here, edited for brevity and clarity, are some of our Panelists’ thoughts.
Plant Engineer, Institutional Facilities, Midwest…
More testing is now tied to computers and maintenance departments use them to not only operate equipment, but to track maintenance and repairs. That means the average maintenance employee will need classroom training and hands-on experience in these technologies. On a related note, years ago, new equipment came with a user’s manual of about 20 to 50 pages. These manuals are now complete books, with as many as 500 pages (including 100 pages just on troubleshooting). Going forward, industrial maintenance or operations personnel will probably require at least a two-year associates degree. Those who used to be able to learn on the job may be left behind.
CBM Specialist, Power Generation, South…
The biggest challenge I see coming for maintenance and reliability across all industries is impending inexperience within the craft. It takes about three years for a reliability technician to become proficient in collecting good data, downloading it, analyzing it, and making good, solid recommendations. I don’t see any movement by upper management to begin incipient training in the reliability field or leverage valuable training from experienced reliability technicians that will retiring from industry within the next decade (and taking their knowledge and skills with them). This is my personal experience, knowledge, and general observation of the industry.
College Electrical Lab Manager/Instructor/Consultant, West…
Companies can’t find skilled technicians that have the values and ethics to stick to maintenance functions. Many techs don’t seem to want to learn continuously and tend to jump from one employer to another for a few dollars more.
Many colleges teach theory with little hands-on training and trouble- shooting skills. I’m 72 years old and still working. I’m educated, skilled, have degrees, licenses, all that stuff you earn after 50 years in the field. The people entering the maintenance field today want to solve everything with a computer and not get dirty.
Maintenance Leader, Discrete Mfg, Midwest…
This is a pretty easy question to answer, using another question: How do we replace our aging tradesmen and tradeswomen? At our facility, the average age of our trades force is in the mid-fifties. Within the next five to seven years, close to two thirds of our workforce could retire. Given the lack of young people interested in skilled trades over the last two decades, we really are in a bad situation. Having to hire a retired tradesman who is in his early sixties to fill a position goes to show you how much trouble we’re in.
Maintenance Manager, Food Processing, South…
To sum up the top challenge that will be affecting industry for years to come, we’ve basically lost at least two generations of maintenance technicians. Those that we (our operations) get now are what I call “gamers.” They’ve done nothing but play video games.
When I “signed up” for maintenance, everyone knew weekend work was part of it. Most newer maintenance workers seem to be against working weekends, the time maintenance really has to do their PMs and project work.
Our turnover is very high, which has really taken a toll on experience in my department. Having lost most of the senior techs, we are finding that the younger generation takes no ownership of equipment or shows much dedication. They will call in [take off work] regardless of our plans, knowing we’ll be in a jam. What’s worse, they’ll show no concern [for putting us in a jam] when they return.
Over the past couple of years, we’ve been anywhere from 10 and 12 to 20+ short in maintenance (from a 67-person total staffing). This leaves us with 20% to 30% of our workforce open, which creates a backlog of work that just keeps getting bigger, with no end in sight. About 50% of my current maintenance staff has less than three years seniority, and 75% of these have about a year to year and a half. We are challenged to say the least.
Industry Consultant, International…
Any and/or all of the points Bob Williamson discussed are of concern. As a consultant, I would say one challenge that has developed over the years involves almost all of them.
Senior management used to plan budgets with maintenance managers, plant engineers, maintenance superintendents, and others, on at least an annual-budget basis, with five-year plans furnished as estimates. These days, senior management frequently is tied to quarterly bottom-line results that tend to push quarterly financial results as a high priority.
The overall result is that maintenance asset management is often short-changed for the short-term goal of maximizing the quarterly bottom line. While this is basically a corporate management problem, it continues to interfere with good asset-management practices. MT