Author Archive | Bob Williamson


3:23 pm
March 13, 2017
Print Friendly

Uptime: Improve Equipment Effectiveness

bobmugnewBy Bob Williamson, Contributing Editor

Equipment or, for that matter, any physical asset in our plants and facilities is generally expected to be efficient and effective. In other words, it’s expected to do what it was designed to do under defined operating conditions for specified periods of time. It doesn’t seem like we’re asking too much: RCM (reliability-centered maintenance) focused on improving equipment maintenance with a generally accepted definition of efficiency and effectiveness.

Another, broader perspective of equipment  efficiency and effectiveness, however, also deserves our consideration. This concept was introduced in the 1980s with the concept of    Total Productive Maintenance (TPM).

When TPM hit U.S. shores in the mid to late ‘80s, it was supposed to help us develop organization-wide work cultures for improving equipment effectiveness. The five basic, interdependent “Pillars of TPM” defined principles that made the process work. Coupled with the Theory of Constraints, those principles should have launched a paradigm shift in equipment-performance improvement. In fact, in 1990, I was constantly insisting that TPM would become the predominant equipment-effectiveness strategy of the 21st century. Little did I realize it could become so de-constructed that it would no   longer represent an effective business-improvement process.

Unintended consequences

What changed? TPM’s intent of improving equipment effectiveness devolved into the widespread practice of “operator care.” [Specifically, the Autonomous Maintenance (AM) model for training turned into yet another spin on operator care as being synonymous with TPM.]

As guided by the first Pillar of TPM, the “focused-improvement” principle morphed into a calculated metric of Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE). In turn, OEE launched itself into a mega-metric, well beyond its intended use to compare a machine to itself over a period of time.

Of the original five principles (Pillars) of TPM, two were widely embraced by many implementations: operator care/autonomous maintenance and OEE-percentage. Much to my dismay, this reality debunked my previously mentioned “predominant equipment-effectiveness strategy” prediction. Unfortunately, operator care and OEE do not define true TPM.

But it’s not too late to learn from TPM. Given industry’s skilled-worker shortages, demand for significantly improved equipment performance and reliability, and dependence on rapidly growing new technologies, true TPM will be the answer, whether labeled “TPM” or not.

Consider TPM’s expressed aim to improve equipment effectiveness by engaging the entire organization. The first Pillar, “improving equipment effectiveness by eliminating the (six) major losses,” led to a growing list of such losses (or causes of poor performance). The bottom line is that the starting point for TPM-based improvements is the identification of the problems to be eliminated.

Let’s explore those two foundational principles: eliminating the major losses and engaging the entire organization. Improving equipment effectiveness begins and ends with them (and all remaining Pillars of TPM rely on them.)

This diagram helped plant personnel recognize fundamental metrics and measurements for improving bottom-line business performance, as well as deploy plant-floor business-oriented metrics in critical bottleneck areas.

This diagram helped plant personnel recognize fundamental metrics and measurements for improving bottom-line business performance, as well as deploy plant-floor business-oriented metrics in critical bottleneck areas.

What gets measured gets done

Building on the original TPM teachings of the Six Major Losses, let’s jump into what I refer to as “actual equipment losses.” Identifying them is central to improving equipment effectiveness, as well as to getting organizational buy-in and ownership of root causes and sustainable corrective actions.

The accompanying diagram was developed for a client organization to help personnel recognize metrics and measurements that must exist as a foundation for improving bottom-line business performance, as well as help in deploying plant-floor business-oriented metrics in critical bottleneck areas.

Equipment capacity losses

Because the plant-improvement project focused primarily on improving production flow through the manufacturing processes, it was important to understand Equipment Capacity. A fundamental re-definition was necessary since the site had historically linked the concept to standard production rates. Downtime was treated separately, and in very general terms.

Basic equipment capacity was ultimately defined as the design capacity or historical best. Capacity Utilization losses occur when plant leadership makes a conscious decision to not run the equipment. Consider these losses “Planned,” as shown in the diagram.

Equipment utilization losses

Losses occurring when equipment is scheduled to run are categorized in the diagram as Equipment Utilization losses. As shown, some of them, i.e., Unplanned Downtime, Efficiency, and Yield losses, are straightforward. Setup/Changeover losses, though, can be planned or unplanned.

Setup/Changeover losses occur as Planned when those actions are accomplished properly, in the designated timeframe. When setups/changeovers are not completed within the planned timeframe and/or not performed properly, they should be categorized as Unplanned Downtime losses.

While the literature is rich with standard terms for equipment-related losses, there’s a significant advantage in leveraging terminology that is commonly used at a site. The diagram shows a combination of traditional definitions used around the client’s operations, with the addition of new loss descriptions: No or Defective Material, No Operator, and the granularity of three Yield losses.

Material: All bottleneck equipment in the plant depended on material flow to the machine. Unplanned Downtime should be captured whenever material is not available or when it’s damaged or incapable of being run at acceptable rates.

No Operator: Occasionally, some of the plant’s most critical equipment couldn’t be operated due to the absence of a skilled operator. Regardless of the reason, these incidents are logged as a type of Unplanned Downtime: No Operator.

Yield & Waste: Yield losses have a negative impact on planned flow through the equipment and the rest of the plant. The site is now tracking three types of them as part of its flow-improvement project and a separate waste-reduction initiative.

Product Rework losses have a triple impact on the business, i.e., waste of materials, unproductive machine time, and the cost of committing additional labor and machine time to rework the defects or sort the good items from   the bad items.

Despite the amount of actual material waste being created, the plant didn’t historically capture materials lost due to equipment Startups and/or Setups (including Adjustments). This type of loss also contributed to inaccurate inventory downstream, leading to additional small lot re-runs.

Tapping the hidden factory

Plant-floor employees and senior management, and all those in between, should be able to understand the impact of equipment-related losses that have a direct line-of-sight to business goals and objectives.

Tracking Equipment Effectiveness losses and then focusing on eliminating the impact of the “critical few” depends on a collaborative effort that begins with equipment operators. Engaging them and the Operations leadership team in loss-elimination efforts is not only a key component of TPM, it’s an essential element of any reliability-improvement initiative. MT

Bob Williamson, CMRP, CPMM and member of the Institute of Asset Management, is in his fourth decade of focusing on the “people side” of world-class maintenance and reliability in plants and facilities across North America. Contact him at


8:11 pm
February 10, 2017
Print Friendly

Uptime: Problem Solving — A New Competitive Challenge

bobmugnewBy Bob Williamson, Contributing Editor

What do robots, integrated automation systems, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), ISO 55000 Asset Management Standard, TPM, RCM, Lean Manufacturing, and re-shoring of jobs have in common? Yes, they’re here, now, and defy many traditional ways of managing a business. But there’s more. The rapid implementation of these performance-improvement technologies and solutions has also accelerated the demand for systematic problem solving.

In my opinion, problem solving is the new competitive challenge thrust upon us by global competition, shortened product cycles, and the explosive adoption rate of integrated and interdependent technologies. The big question, with regard to remaining competitive, is how do we develop a problem-solving workplace?

Let’s start with the definition of a “problem.” According to, the word means “a perceived gap between the existing state and a desired state, or a deviation from a norm, standard, or status quo.” Based on that definition, for a problem to be a “problem,” there must be a standard from which we can determine if there is a problem, i.e. something defining the normal condition. This is where standard work (a defined way for performing a task) comes in. The same goes for reliability standards (equipment doing what it’s supposed to do), quality standards (defect-free products), and safety standards (injury-free workplaces). Given the fact that problems are deviations from expectations, identifying and solving them without standards can fuel guessing games of chasing false problems.

Determining, then implementing, the correct solution and proving its success, is the end goal.

Determining, then implementing, the correct solution and proving its success, is the end goal.

Before we can even begin thinking about problem-solving tools, however, we must consider the human side of the issue: Does a person have a problem-solving aptitude and, if so, what type? Here are several styles you might have encountered:

“Ostrich” approach. Some view problems as negatives, as opposed to opportunities for improvement. They tend to avoid considering solutions: “We can live with this problem, if we just . . . ”

“Denial” approach. Some people routinely fail to recognize or admit that the problem exists: “That’s not a problem. It happens all the time.”

“Always did it that way” approach. For some people, problem solving is more intuitive than systematic and structured. Past practices tend to frame their solutions to a problem: “Let’s try what we did the last time something like this happened.”

“Remove and replace” approach. Some specialize in the trial-and-error method (some solutions work, others don’t): “I’ve replaced most of the parts in the unit and it finally started working.”

“Yes, but” approach.  Someone will miss the problem entirely, yet already be working on a solution: “I hear what you’re saying, but here’s what we need to do.”

“Work around” approach. Some people will look for ways to work around the problem rather than look for the cause: “I know it quit working, so we just put in a by-pass circuit to keep it running.”

“What do we know” approach. The most successful problem solvers take time to better understand the problem before beginning a systematic process of identifying options to pursue: “What happened? Was anything changed here before the problem occurred? Who was there at the time?”

Problem solving is more than RCA

Analyzing problems to determine their causes is a scientific discipline, of which there are a variety of proven processes. One key point here is “discipline.”

Root-cause analysis (RCA) not only requires a proven step-by-step process, it also depends on the human-performance discipline to adhere to that type of process—a standardized problem-solving approach embraced by the organization.

Another phase of problem solving is arriving at and establishing solutions that prevent a problem or its effects from recurring (or continuing). Arriving at a solution can also be an iterative process of trying potential solutions and analyzing the outcomes until a sustainable and affordable solution is determined.

RCA is more than problem solving

Whenever I think about problem solving, I’m reminded of my conversation with auto-racing’s Ray Evernham nearly 20 years ago. At the time, he was still serving as crew chief for Jeff Gordon, who, late in the 1992 Winston Cup season, had begun driving for Hendrick Motorsports, a top-level NASCAR race team.

As a consultant to the organization, I was focusing on Hendrick’s use of root-cause failure analysis in its problem-solving process (a very robust and rapid one). How delighted I was when Evernham explained that the team also performed root-cause “success” analyses, i.e., analyzing what went unexpectedly right, whether it was a win, an ultra-fast pit stop, or a zero-failure race. Wow.

A root-cause success analysis can turn the tables—from eliminating problems to repeating successes. Seeking answers to “what can we do consistently better,” which is a critical success factor in motorsports, can be just as valuable in plant and facility operations.

Troubleshooting is not necessarily solving problems

In the world of industrial and facilities maintenance, troubleshooting varies widely. At times the troubleshooting process involves removing and replacing parts one at a time until the defective one is located. (Not too scientific, but a common practice.)

Scientific troubleshooting requires a troubleshooter to truly understand the inner working of a device that is harboring the fault. That includes understanding components, systems, circuits, hardware, software, and firmware.

Again, the more the technician understands the device the more efficient and effective the troubleshooting process becomes.

But troubleshooting is only half the battle. Determining, then implementing, the correct solution and proving its success, is the end goal.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: For some troubleshooting tips, see this month’s feature “Boost Troubleshooting Skills at Your Site.”)

Problem-solving mindsets

The ability to troubleshoot, perform root-cause analyses, and solve problems (or improve performance) requires disciplined human performance, i.e., adherence to proven processes.

Furthermore, those doing the problem solving must have the aptitude and ability to think through the variables in the problem-solving process and the associated equipment conditions. They must be able to understand what a pre-fault (or normal) conditions are and must be able to recognize fault conditions.

In my generation, we grew up taking things apart. Fixing things. Building things. We had access to tools and looked for things to do with them.

Shop classes and working on cars and other things around the house or farm helped build our confidence and respect for how “stuff” worked. Sometimes we got hurt (nothing serious); sometimes we damaged things. But that’s how we learned many of our skills.

Over time, many of us developed mechanical aptitudes along with a variety of abilities to put them to work. A solid mechanical aptitude and an understanding of basic cause-and-effect relationships are central to problem solving.

Sadly today, we’re witnessing the impact of exposing two generations to few, if any, shop classes. Individuals entering the workplace without problem-solving aptitudes and abilities are at a severe disadvantage. So are our industries. Growing effective problem solvers is becoming increasingly difficult in today’s plants and facilities.

Building a problem-solving mindset (or paradigm) in your organization takes people with the right skills and lots of practice. It also calls for a consistent and systematic approach to solving problems.

And, one more thing: A problem-solving mindset must be set from top management as a way of doing business. In the meantime, try testing your own skills with Mind Tools’ “How Good is Your Problem Solving?” online assessment. MT

Bob Williamson, CMRP, CPMM and member of the Institute of Asset Management, is in his fourth decade of focusing on the “people side” of world-class maintenance and reliability in plants and facilities across North America. Contact him at


8:43 pm
February 9, 2017
Print Friendly

Establish a Problem-Solving Organization

By Bob Williamson, Contributing Editor

The ISO 55000:2014 Asset Management Standard could play a major role in industry in the coming years. Keep up to date with our ongoing coverage of this Standard at

The ISO 55000:2014 Asset Management Standard could play a major role in industry in the coming years. Keep up to date with our ongoing coverage of this Standard at

Asset management, as defined in the ISO 55000:2014 Standard, spans the entire lifecycle of an asset. While this standard applies to many asset forms, from our perspective as reliability and maintenance professionals, the main emphasis relates to the physical assets of a business.

In ISO 55000, an asset is defined as “. . . an item, thing, or entity that has potential or actual value to an organization.” I’ve made the case in past columns, however, that highly skilled employees (such as maintenance technicians) should also be considered assets because they represent potential and actual value through developed and deployed skill sets.

There’s also a lifecycle element in the development of a qualified maintenance technician, beginning with aptitude and core-job competence. At some point, due to aging out, retiring, or the inability to perform specified work, technicians’ value-adding qualities fade.

That holds true for any highly skilled decision maker, including engineers, buyers, chief executives, and project managers. They all reflect potential or actual value to the organization. Thus, their lifecycle skill sets must be honed to contribute to achieving asset-management goals and, by extension, organization goals. Problem solving is one of those skill sets. In fact, it’s a primary and pervasive requirement in an asset-management system.

According to ISO 55000, “The management system elements include the organization’s structure, roles and responsibilities, planning, operation, etc.”

One of the major characteristics of an asset-management system is that it must assure the ability of the organization’s key stakeholders at various levels to identify and solve problems when an asset deviates from the normal or expected performance. Problem solving must then be a key responsibility of specific roles. In turn, a problem-solving mindset is essential within an asset-management system to identify risks that could affect the organization’s goals.

An organization’s problem-solving mindset plays a key role throughout all phases of an asset’s lifecycle.

An organization’s problem-solving mindset plays a key role throughout all phases of an asset’s lifecycle.

The lifecycle perspective

The intent of ISO 55001 is to set the requirements for a system to manage selected assets throughout their lifecycle. Asset lifecycles begin in the design stage, and progress through engineering and procurement, installation and startup, and operations and maintenance, to decommissioning and disposal.

Each phase of an asset’s lifecycle involves people in a variety of roles and responsibilities, and differing disciplines and priorities. While the phases are sequential, they must remain highly interrelated and interdependent when it comes to assuring reliable performance of the asset. Requirements of the ISO 55001 Asset Management System assure that the organization’s goals will be met. For a functioning asset-management system, there must be an organization-wide problem-solving mindset that translates to problem identification and mitigation responsibilities within each lifecycle phase of the assets.

In the earliest phases, this problem-solving mindset must deal with anticipated and potential problems and their mitigation. Later, in the installation phases, the problem-solving mindset must deal with physical-asset damage and installation errors. During the operation and maintenance phases, the problem-solving mindset must deal with proactive problem prevention. Finally, in the decommissioning phase, the problem-solving mindset must deal with asset removal and disposal hazards.

Organizing for asset management clearly requires a problem-solving mindset within the organization. Consider this mindset a fundamental skill set to be deployed in a consistent and systematic manner. MT

Contact Bob Williamson at


9:49 pm
January 13, 2017
Print Friendly

Uptime: They Don’t Know What They Don’t Know

bobmugnewBy Bob Williamson, Contributing Editor

Why haven’t our continuous-improvement programs over the past 10 years given us sustainable improvements? We’ve focused on most of the top five ‘improvement tools’ with very little result. What are we missing?”

This question is being asked more and more these days. The good news is that it’s an excellent question. The better news is that someone in a leadership role is asking such a question. The not-so-good news is that there are far too many stalled continuous-improvement initiatives that should be similarly questioned.

What’s missing in too many continuous-improvement (CI) initiatives? The people? Leadership? Improvement tools? Overall purpose? Compelling need? In many cases, it’s all of the above.

Danger in the comfort zone

Frequently, the CI initiative itself drives the quest for improving business performance. Whether the initiative is TPM (total productive maintenance), RCM (reliability-centered maintenance), 5S, Lean, or something else from a long list of options, the intentions are almost always good. Each initiative requires a new perspective on how to get new things done to achieve new results. That, quite frankly, tends to be the fun part of rolling out new initiatives: new training on new tools to create a new mindset for solving old problems.

CI training and tools can be a pleasant departure from the run-of-the-mill problem solving—pleasant, that is, for some people. Others will choose not to be involved. They’re more comfortable with “the way we’ve always done things around here.” Change is not a priority. “We need stability, consistency, standard ways of doing things around here. Change is too risky.”

For many individuals in today’s workplace, there are comfort zones where routines prevail over the will to improve. This inertia of the past can be difficult to overcome. This, quite often, is where new CI initiatives come into play. “Let’s get everyone involved. That way they’ll see what can be improved and how they can pitch in to achieve new and higher levels of performance.” Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out as planned. Soon after the CI initiative rollout, things fall back into “the way-we’ve-always-done-things-here routine” (the comfort zone.) The situation reflects a culture defined by the past, i.e., “how we’ve done things that have made our business successful all these years.”

So, who’s pushing the CI rope uphill? Why isn’t everyone helping to pull it? Simply put, “They don’t know what they don’t know.” Consequently, all that CI training, multiple show-and-tell CI events, and countless measurements of CI deployment don’t seem to work. We must begin asking, “What don’t they know that they need to know?”

Some people in a plant will embrace captured data as a first step toward continuous improvement, while ‘informed naysayers’ will resist it.

Initiatives versus evidence

About eight years ago, leadership at a certain plant began deploying machine-data collection devices so everyone could see how critical equipment was performing. It was a great engineering project, one that was intended to set the foundation for numerous CI initiatives targeting specific business-improvement needs. The project spanned a good four years and, eventually, several data-collection tools and associated displays were deployed.

The displays communicated, in scoreboard style, how the machines were running and when they were down or in a changeover mode. Most important, though, was the fact that they all spelled out the reasons for unplanned downtime. A plus was that these displays also showed planned production rates versus actual rates, and flashed the information for all to see. (One area manager even had engineering program the displays to show breaks and lunch and the time remaining, which seemed like Big Brother informing workers when they could take a break or go to lunch and how much time remained until the machines needed to be up-and-running again. Some saw that as a positive side benefit of the downtime displays.)

This initiative was labeled a success. Not much else came of the project, however.

On the other hand, what became of all that data residing inside the display-unit memory systems? The plant’s engineering team realized the capabilities of the displays went well beyond what one could see. For the most part, the rest of the plant staff and management didn’t know what they didn’t know about the captured data. While runtime/downtime status was automatically logged—and operators sometimes logged the downtime reasons—there was no evidence of this information ever being looked at let alone put to use.

Mining data for all to see

Were these CI-led equipment-downtime data-collection displays worth salvaging? Digging into just one of the critical machines, a constraint in the production flow proved quite revealing. “But, what can nearly 8,000 data entries from the past two months possibly tell us? Most downtime reasons are labeled ‘None’ anyway.” (They don’t know what they don’t know.)

But what if we were to take all that data, sorted out the “None” reasons for downtime, and tried to see what they were telling us?

The evidence pointed to a great many different downtime reasons over the two-month period. The operators really were capturing downtime reasons. A cursory analysis revealed the most-frequent reasons to the least-frequent reasons for a machine being down. (They don’t know what they don’t know.)

What is the value of knowing the downtime frequency for any reason if you don’t have the duration of downtime events? The downtime frequency without duration is what I affectionately call the “pain-in-the-butt factor.” All we know is how many times this thing happens. And the more it happens, the bigger the pain.

For machine-downtime data to be meaningful to the business, we need to understand not only the reason and frequency, but also the duration of the downtime. That’s when the true business impact of chronic downtime can be determined and specific countermeasures put in place to minimize, if not eliminate, the downtime cause.

Naysayers revealed

Confronting plant personnel with a treasure trove of captured data from machine-downtime display units can divide them into two camps: some will embrace the data as a first step in the CI journey; others will dispute the data’s validity and continue doing things the same way they’ve always been done. Let’s call the second group “informed naysayers.” They quickly remark: “We’ve tried to use those things in the past, and look where it got us. We shouldn’t trust the data because those operators are probably putting the wrong downtime reasons into the system.” (They don’t know what they don’t know.)

Continuous-improvement initiatives—regardless of their intent—must focus on meaningful business cases and compelling opportunities for improvement, and be built upon evidence rather than opinions from the comfort zone. There will be times in any CI journey when someone, i.e., from upper management or the plant floor, becomes vocal opposition. (They don’t know what they don’t know.)

Make sure that you use actual equipment data to define your CI activities and show significant improvement as measured by the information being collected, analyzed, and acted upon by people closest to the machines. Help the naysayer crowd at your site learn more about what they don’t know as a part of their culture-changing paradigm shift. MT

Bob Williamson, CMRP, CPMM, and member of the Institute of Asset Management, is in his fourth decade of focusing on the “people side” of world-class maintenance and reliability in plants and facilities across North America. Contact him at


10:03 pm
December 20, 2016
Print Friendly

Leadership is Part of Asset Management

Managing is about doing things right; leading is about doing the right things.

Managing is about doing things right; leading is about doing the right things.

By Bob Williamson, Contributing Editor

Leadership and commitment from all managerial levels is essential for successfully establishing, operating, and improving asset management within the organization.” (ISO 55000, 2.4.2). This statement sets the stage for leading, rather than managing, the asset-management journey. What does that mean?

Author Stephen Covey described the difference in these terms: “Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall.”

My take is that managing is about doing things right; leading is about doing the right things. In this month’s “Uptime” column, I noted that leadership skills are required to set a new direction, inspire and motivate people to achieve new results toward a new vision, and engage them as they create new work processes. Where does leadership specifically fit in ISO 55001? Let me explain.

The Standard requires a comprehensive, organization-wide system that spans the life-cycle phases of an asset. Fundamentally, this means much more than an organization having a single departmental unit or function that focuses on the asset-management system. Every part of an organization that has anything to do with assets that produce value will play a role in the management of those assets. For most organizations, this is new strategic alignment. It also calls for leadership: “Top management shall demonstrate leadership and commitment with respect to the asset management system …” (ISO55001, 5.1 Leadership and commitment).

While top management typically focuses on “big picture” items, looking toward the future and inspiring and motivating people to achieve new results isn’t necessarily engrained in traditional management behavior. Thus, organizations face a paradigm shift as they conform to the standard. The definition of “management” is the catalyst.

Let’s recap what we know so far: Asset management is not maintenance management. True life-cycle asset management demands a major organizational culture change—something else that requires leadership.

Keep in mind that while top management may play a key role in leading people to achieve new goals, with regard to successful asset management, there’s a practical need for leaders at other critical organizational levels. Their new roles must be defined as part of an emerging asset-management system. Here are some tips for grooming leaders:

Top management must understand and demonstrate functional knowledge of asset management and the systems required to achieve the organization’s goals. Managers must also learn to lead their organization into the future of asset management.

Some managers within an organization may be ideal asset-management leaders; others struggle. As Jim Collins advised in his book Good to Great, “Get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats.”

Successful asset management depends on leaders who have personal values that align with the organization’s vision and policy regarding these efforts and a responsibility to achieve the organization’s goals.

Note that organizational alignment, or line of sight, toward common asset-management goals is essential. In the end, the journey toward life-cycle asset management, whether it conforms with ISO 55001 or not, demands leadership habits cascading from the top of an organization down through every unit that affects asset performance and reliability.  MT

Bob Williamson, CMRP, CPMM, and a member of the Institute of Asset Management, is in his fourth decade of focusing on the “people side” of world-class reliability and maintenance. Contact him at


9:50 pm
December 20, 2016
Print Friendly

Uptime: Growing Future Leaders


By Bob Williamson, Contributing Editor

Leadership is not management. Although these terms often are used interchangeably, they reflect two entirely different, but necessary, behaviors in successful businesses.

Take, for example, the fact that organizations striving to establish proven reliability-improvement best practices often struggle—and not because of an inability to manage. Rather, it’s because of their limited ability to lead people to adopt new practices and tools. Consider the following points:

Management. As small businesses grow from a handful of people to departments and cost centers they shift from entrepreneurial teamwork to an organization that requires a management hierarchy. Chaos would soon reign and business would fail without management structures.

Management is about organizing, planning, defining jobs, hiring, preparing and monitoring budgets, setting policy, and defining procedures, all aimed at running an efficient and effective business. Managers tend to be very directing of others in their organizations—to the point they can delegate
with confidence.

Leadership. Well-managed businesses can, no doubt, achieve staggering results. Still, as businesses come under significant fire from new competition, market changes, or other threats, management skills can come up short.

In such cases, leadership skills are required to set a new direction, inspire and motivate people to achieve new results toward a new vision, and to engage them as they create new work processes. Leaders tend to shift their styles beyond management to support and coach those in their organizations. They also tend to adapt their behaviors to the needs of the individuals or groups they are leading.

Lessons learned

In the 1980s, when I worked with a team to instill new leadership behaviors in a large, multi-national construction and maintenance business, we quickly learned that old management and supervision habits were hard to break. Many of our superintendents, supervisors, general foremen, and foremen on the jobs had learned their own leadership styles early in their careers. It was clear that some had exceptional role models, while others . . .well, let’s just say it was their way or the highway.

Learning from other leaders.  One of the most important things we learned was how influential leaders were to the up-and-coming leaders. Leaders modeled the way—good, bad, or indifferent. Quite often the first supervisor of a potential leader is the most influential. I touched on this in last month’s Uptime column regarding the use of mentors, sponsors, and first coaches (see “Vision, Passion and Talent Management.”).

Suggestion: Choose a new leader’s first coach, i.e., role model, wisely. Make sure a new leader spends time with a skilled and knowledgeable mentor to help diffuse undesirable methods and instill the desired ones. Assign a higher-level sponsor to the new leader to help nurture a vision for the future of the business and for the new leader.

Setting leadership expectations. We also discovered that many of our managers and supervisors weren’t cut out to be leaders in the first place. Sure, they may have been highly skilled in their craft, but that often worked against their leadership effectiveness. We discovered that when these skilled people were promoted, we often lost a craftsperson and gained a terrible leader.

Referring again to last month’s Uptime column, I discussed the importance of establishing a clear definition of “who” you need in terms of technical and soft skills to be successful on the job and in the company’s culture. It’s important to select potential leaders with the blend of technical abilities and interpersonal traits.

Suggestion: Select for success. Look for future leaders who have a “right fit” for the job role and elicit desirable types of behaviors when working with others. Specific assessment instruments and carefully defined role-play exercises may be helpful here.

Creating individual leadership-development plans. We discovered that many of our leaders learned how to lead on the job through trial and error. That type of on-the-job training led to a huge disparity of styles in what was to have been common leadership methods. Their idea of a leadership-development plan was a weekly debrief with a supervisor and a discussion of the good, bad, and ugly for the week.

An individual leadership-development plan should be based on a common set of leadership expectations tailored to the unique needs of the new leader and the specific job role he or she expects to be filling.

Suggestion: Start with a solid definition of the skills needed to be successful in future leadership roles, i.e., technical skills, behavioral (or interpersonal) skills. Having clear definitions of the knowledge requirements also helps flesh out the job-performance requirements for your leadership-development plans. Think of these as job-based duties and tasks—clear, observable, and measurable.

Promoting ‘off the street’ or from within. Where your future leaders come from will have an impact on the workplace. In our case, we found that most of our front-line leaders (foremen and supervisors) and middle leaders (general foremen and superintendents) were promoted from within the company. Those brought in from outside had a triple challenge: Learn the job, the work processes (how work gets done), and the company policies. Since the front-line and mid-level leaders were the communication link to the company and the work schedule, they often grasped at straws for the right answer. This was obvious to their work groups.

Suggestion: Look for future leaders within your business and your company. They already have an invaluable jump-start over others off the street.

Providing formal education and experiential learning. Bringing new leaders up to speed requires a blend of formal leadership education and “shop floor” experiential learning. For maximum effectiveness, these two types of methods should reinforce each other.

We were fortunate, in the 1980s, to have had the staff and the talents to develop our own internal leadership-education programs. They included day-long workshops, team-taught by our facilitators/instructors, with a combination of practical theory and role plays.

Suggestion: Work with a local community college or university to develop a leadership education program that aligns with your organization’s leadership expectations and development plans.

Leadership and technical skills

Managers and leaders must know what they are talking about and what they are responsible for accomplishing in their organizations. Leaders, though, have an extra need for credibility to be trusted as they move people toward new goals.

In that regard, leaders have two options: building their own level of equipment and process-reliability expertise and/or building a committed team of knowledgeable people. Both approaches can be highly effective. That said, regardless of his or her approach to gaining credibility, a new leader must lead—not manage the path and the organization change to improved equipment and process reliability.

Manager or leader?

As one CEO told me in my early days as a manager, “You manage assets, projects, timelines, and budgets, but you lead people to accomplish the goals.” Solid management and effective leadership are both needed as an organization embarks on a new, or renewed, quest to improve performance.

Consider some of today’s top sports-team coaches: They are inspiring leaders. Assistant coaches are managers. MT

Bob Williamson, CMRP, CPMM and member of the Institute of Asset Management, is in his fourth decade of focusing on the “people side” of world-class maintenance and reliability in plants and facilities across North America. Contact him at


7:01 pm
November 15, 2016
Print Friendly

Vision, Passion, And Talent Management

bobmugnewBy Bob Williamson, Contributing Editor

Learning how to perform a maintenance task, whether a repair or a preventive-maintenance inspection, requires training, proper tools, spare parts, and general knowledge relating to safety. But, that’s not all: Aptitude is also required. It’s the natural ability to understand functional relationships and accomplish the tasks at hand. In the case of maintenance, that means mechanical, electrical, or electronic aptitude.

Yet, to qualify as a competent maintenance technician these days, training and aptitude are not enough. As my Oct. 2016 “Uptime” column noted, technology innovation and modernization of the Fourth Industrial Revolution have reached into nearly every aspect of equipment and facilities operations and maintenance—at a remarkable pace. Couple the escalation of technology with a widespread shortage of technical skills in the workforce pool, along with a shortage of maintenance-and repair-education providers, and we have a serious problem.

To put a different spin on the situation, as industrialist Henry J. Kaiser once said, “Problems are only opportunities in work clothes.” Simply worrying about our skills shortage, the assimilation of rapidly advancing technologies, and demands for high-performing, reliable equipment won’t make these threats go away. Instead, we need to boldly confront them in a positive, proactive manner. That boils down to talent and how we manage it.

Hiring, developing, and retaining the right people should be the top priority of any business that depends on physical assets.

Hiring, developing, and retaining the right people should be the top priority of any business that depends on physical assets.

Food for thought

While attending Dematic’s Materials Handling & Logistics Conference in Park City, UT, two presentations stood out for me: One was a discussion about achieving your personal best and the other was about talent management. What, on the surface, might have seemed like two very different topics, became hard-wired together in my mind.

Although it sounds like an individual discipline, achieving your personal best is about aptitude, interest, willingness, and an associated passion to succeed under the guidance of talented, dedicated coaches and mentors. That was the premise for the presentation by Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympic medalist of all time, who candidly discussed his award-winning journey. As I look over my copious notes from his interview session, I continue to be struck by two things that he highlighted: vision to succeed (to win) and passion for the sport.

When he was seven years old, Phelps dreamed that he would win an Olympic gold medal. At 15 years of age, he described how he wanted to do with Olympic-level swimming what Michael Jordan had done with basketball. And, at age 31, he has done just that. What began as a love for swimming, and some very skilled and motivating coaches along the way, still required a compelling vision for what he wanted to achieve. That’s where passion comes in. What may have seemed to be about wanting to win, win, and win some more was really this Olympian’s passion for the sport, and how it could be used for a bigger good.

This brings me to the presentation on “Supply Chain Talent Management” led by Mike Burnett of the Global Supply Chain Institute (GSCI) at the Univ. of Tennessee Haslam College of Business, in Knoxville. His topic is described in detail in a white paper entitled “Supply Chain Talent–Our Most Important Resource.” While space won’t allow a full recap of the subject, there were a number of timely—and essential—takeaways.

Best practices

Hiring, developing, and retaining the right people should be the top priority of any business that depends on physical assets (machinery, equipment, facilities, utilities), now more than ever. This process must also become a truly collaborative partnership between the front-line business leaders and the human-resources professionals.

The “GSCI Supply Chain Talent Management” white paper provides a framework that makes sense for reliable equipment, plant, and facility operation, well beyond its supply-chain focus. The institute’s surveys and interviews of benchmark companies should help us create career pathways for our technicians and leaders. Here are some of the best practices the GSCI identified:

• Clear definition of the “who.” Describe the talent, the “who,” you need in terms of technical and soft skills to be successful on the job and in the company’s culture.
• Use of mentors, sponsors, and first coaches. Acquire the resources required to help everyone succeed.
• Individual skills-development plans. Start with a solid definition of the skills needed to be successful in the end-to-end supply chain, in supply chain disciplines, and in specific roles.
• Internships/co-ops. Provide opportunities to obtain experiential growth in job skills, learn from diverse thinking, and evaluate a work-culture fit.
• Top university partners. Find students who best fit the definition of the “who” and then place them in a role where they have the best chance for success.


Employee training is a must, and on-the-job-performance qualification is the practical outcome of efficient and effective training. But, let’s not blur the lines between talent management and training. They’re not the same. Yes, training is a vital element of a talent-management system. But talent management is the system that aligns the people side of the organization with the needs of the business.

The bottom line of the GSCI supply-chain talent discussion was summed up in their three recommendations.

• Create a clearly documented, talent development strategy. This is the first, and most important, step.
• Employ best-in-class talent-development programs. Include educational and experiential components with a mixture of internal and external experiences.
• View talent development as owned by the business and driven by ROI. Manage talent like you manage your supply chain (your business).

For our purposes

Now, back to my notes from Michael Phelps’ interview. To repeat, what struck me most about his story was the vision he had to succeed (to win) and his passion for the sport. We need to leverage those things for our own purposes.

As we look ahead to developing talented people to succeed at installing, maintaining, and repairing equipment and facilities, we must find ways to excite our in-school youth. For example, some have keen interests in sports because of what they see on TV, at sporting events, and what their friends are doing. Some get excited about computers and software and writing code. Some pursue teaching because of the role models in their schools and classes. Some want very much to preserve our planet, or to pursue agricultural interests. Some have a passion for mastering welding for their own use, but later find out that they can earn big bucks as certified welders.

Our challenge is to find ways to instill in them a vision to succeed and a passion for their futures. Sure, the focus on STEM education is resurfacing. But that’s not enough. We need more, younger-aged students learning about the rewarding careers they can have as equipment and systems technicians in manufacturing, utilities, process industries, and building and facilities management.

There are plenty of ways to do this. Look for opportunities to invite students, teachers, school administrators, and board members into your facilities. Institute and/or support plant tours, career days, bring-a-child-to-work days, co-op experiences, and summer internships. Over time, the payoff could be significant. After all, what if Michael Phelps had never seen a real swimming pool, learned to swim, or not had a motivational mentor who recognized his aptitude and talent? MT


• “Supply Chain Talent Management” white paper, April 2015, Global Supply Chain Institute, Haslam College of Business (

• Michael Phelps Foundation (

Bob Williamson, CMRP, CPMM and member of the Institute of Asset Management, is in his fourth decade of focusing on the “people side” of world-class maintenance and reliability in plants and facilities across North America. Contact him at


6:57 pm
October 11, 2016
Print Friendly

Uptime: Beware the Fourth Industrial Revolution

bobmugnewBy Bob Williamson, Contributing Editor

As a presenter at a recent material-handling conference, I took the opportunity to attend sessions on topics of maintenance, workforce development, and automated handling and sorting systems. Intriguing discussions on the “Fourth Industrial Revolution,” a theme of recent World Economic Forum events, were a highlight for me. Technological advancements associated with this era are already entering our plants. Their larger impact on businesses and our socio-economic systems, however, could be overwhelming. Are we ready?

Industrial Revolutions 101

First things first: What were the previous Industrial Revolutions all about?

Most of us learned about the First Industrial Revolution in world-history and social-studies classes. The productivity of craftsmen, tradesmen, and artisans was transformed by steam, water power, and mechanization of traditional work that led to cotton-spinning machinery and railroads. Beginning in the late 1750s, it ramped up through the 1870s.

The Second Industrial Revolution was characterized by manufacturing and the division of labor, which included the introduction of electric power, interchangeable parts and, eventually, mass production with assembly lines. It spanned the 1890s through about 1970.

Many readers cut their world-of-work teeth during the Third Industrial Revolution, which began the transition from pneumatic logic to electrical controls, to microprocessor-control strategies. The digital age was upon us with information technology (IT), computer mainframes transitioning to personal computers, automated-manufacturing systems, industrial robotics, and the Internet. This timeline runs from the 1970s through today or, as some are forecasting, through 2020.

The work processes and enabling mechanisms and technologies of the world’s first three Industrial Revolutions grew at accelerated rates: 120 years to 80 years to 50 years respectively. If we are to learn from that pattern of growth and explosion of the Internet of Things (IoT)/Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), we should fasten our seat belts. The rates of change and emergence and adoption of advanced technologies are increasing exponentially.

What does this have to do with readers of Maintenance Technology? Plenty. We’re on the cusp of the most significant changes ever in modern industry. They will have a far-reaching impact on how business is done and how society interacts.

Creating false expectations

Hearing high-level engineering and technical experts discuss the Fourth Industrial Revolution, I became enamored with the possibilities. The speakers frequently referred to totally automated material-handling systems where everything is autonomous. The only human involvement is overall arrangement, control, and interlinking system components. Amazing!

If I were a chief financial officer, chief information officer, or chief operating officer, though, what would I have heard? “Automated machinery and facilities can, and will, replace people.” Wow! No more worries about overtime, healthcare, human error, grievances, vacation, cost-of-living issues, a  $15 minimum wage, and the list goes on.

Everyone—literally everyone—I hear waxing eloquently about the future of automated systems and facilities, though, seems to have forgotten about maintenance. That’s not unusual. Many people tend to think of maintenance as fixing things that people damage. From their perspective, if we remove the erratic and ever variable human element, all is well. Right? Wrong!

Technical skills must prevail

Automated machines and systems must be fabricated, assembled, and commissioned by people. Once these precision and technologically advanced machines enter the workplace, they must be programmed and integrated by yet another group of people. At that point, such machines should basically be ready to operate autonomously with technology that has been proven to work efficiently, and effectively. Are they really?

This is where some of the technological promises of autonomous equipment and systems fall apart. Those modern marvels still require maintenance. Sure, many now have, and will continue to expand their condition-monitoring/self-diagnostic capabilities. But, can they fully maintain themselves? Probably not.

In fact, maintenance of highly automated systems just became more complex because of automation’s sensors, transmitters, transducers, control loops, logic controllers, Wi-Fi networks, software, signal cables, connectors, circuit boards, and many other components that make the base system, machine, vehicle, or conveyor function without the aid of a hands-on human.

Managing the base machine

I’ve said for decades that automation by itself does nothing. Automation (whatever it is) must connect to a base system or machine. These can be configured in many different ways, including as automated guided vehicles (AGVs), conveyors, sorting systems, forked vehicles, pallet movers, tuggers, deck vehicles, and self-driving vehicles (cars, trucks, trains, and airport people movers).

Let’s focus on forked AGVs. This is basically a forklift truck that has been fully automated. The components of a forked AGV still require routine (periodic) maintenance, and an occasional repair, including, among other things, its:

  • mast system, rollers, sliders, chains, guards, hoses
  • hydraulic-lift cylinder(s), tilt cylinders, hoses, control valves, pump, fluid filters, fluids
  • forks, carriage
  • drivetrain wheels, tires, drive axle, transmission, steering
  • electric-motor connections, wiring, brushes, armature condition, filters
  • battery system terminals, electrolyte, status indicator, and the actual battery
  • electrical contactors, connections, lugs
  • lubrication of chains, rollers, motor, fork carriage, pivot points, wheel spindle bearings
  • electrical-system wiring, connectors, lights, annunciators, warning devices.

What’s missing from the forked AGV maintenance list that’s included on one for a traditional forklift? Not much: the operator’s seat, seat belt, steering wheel, protective cage/roll bars, brakes, and gear shifter. In the end, the reliability of the forked AGV depends on the reliability of the base systems and components, the automation system(s), and the interface between those two complex systems and components.

The teachable moment

Higher levels of automation complexity will introduce countless more opportunities for failure. The requirements for inherent (built-in) reliability, reliable work processes, and human talent will also grow exponentially.

The investment in human capital will become increasingly more important than the investment in capital assets in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Without investments in skills and knowledge to operate and maintain high-tech systems, the money spent on new automation will fail to achieve the desired businesses goals.

Key takeaway

The “Professional Equipment Technician” of the very near future will be required to master equipment/system maintenance fundamentals, interpret on-board diagnostics, and make necessary repairs to electro-mechanical systems. The good news is that all of this is achievable without a four-year college degree.

Businesses must accelerate their internal and external talent-management systems. Community colleges and technical schools must begin tooling up for transforming occupations. Beyond STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) skills, our elementary, middle, and high schools must begin introducing careers for modern industrial/manufacturing and facilities maintenance that will continue to command high wages for high skills.  MT

Bob Williamson, CMRP, CPMM and member of the Institute of Asset Management, is in his fourth decade of focusing on the “people side” of world-class maintenance and reliability in plants and facilities across North America. Contact him at