Few understand the underlying principles of industrial maintenance
During the last presidential election, training was identified as the most important tool to transcend America to the future economy. Many employees are being trained, but few are getting the education needed to understand the fundamentals of industrial maintenance. Many understand how equipment works, but too often don’t understand why. Following are are some examples of training gone awry.
Go-get-’em-Tiger on-the-job training (OJT): Many employers still operate under the delusion that there are qualified workers in the market and perceive it as easier to hire talent than to develop their own. The chief cause of failure and unhappiness is trading what we need most for what we want at the moment.
For example, a maintenance manager asked a new, untrained technician to clean the production line during a scheduled PM. The technician was excited, took off with a pressure washer and did his duty.
After a few hours, he came back to the manager and was eager to show how well he cleaned. He took the manager over to an electrical cabinet on the line, and to the manager’s amazement, the inside of the electrical cabinet was sparkling clean. The technician had pressure-washed the internals, destroying all the fuses, electronics and electrical components.
Follow-old-Joe-around training: This is where a new employee shadows a veteran to pick up techniques to do the job. The veteran may be a good performer, but that doesn’t mean his teaching and communication skills are sufficient. Chances are the veteran has gaps in his knowledge.This is the best way to pass current defective maintenance techniques on to future personnel. However, learning from the mistakes of others is very good because you can't live long enough to make them all yourself.
Ad-hoc training: Many companies don’t have a clear vision of their training needs and respond to the lowest-priced faxed, mailed or vendor training offer available. Employees get no clear direction, no clear expectations about job responsibilities, and no clear career path. But, at least the employees are getting some formal training.
Communication is critical between maintenance and the supply department. The need for correct parts descriptions is well illustrated by some mistakes engineers submitted for this article. In one case, an urgent need for oil absorbent (kitty litter) resulted in a request to rush a 112 pound. bag. Unfortunately, the unit was misunderstood, and there was silent embarrassment when 112 bags arrived on several pallets by airfreight. We had it lying around the place for years, as it was too expensive to ship it back
In another facility, an instrument fitter ordered a four-inch adjustable wrench, thinking that the length of the tool was its specification. There was much mirth when an expensive, custom built spanner arrived, capable of taking nuts off a loco wheel for anyone who could lift it.
Stories like these affect how others view the value of maintenance and lead to short-sighted cost-cutting strategies. For example a paper mill completed an infrared survey of a large roof in 1993. The survey identified minor damage that would require $6,600 to remove wet insulation and repair the roof. The plant decided to wait since the damage was only minor. Still having leaks, they ordered another infrared survey in 1996. All previously identified areas with wet insulation were now larger and the cost for repairs had increased to $36,000 (550%) in three years.
At another plant, despite the maintenance departments passionate objections, an ambitious accountant prohibited purchasing spare parts that cost more than $1,000 for on-hand inventory. Shortly after this policy was made, the company’s major production line was shut down for three months to wait for a $1,200 component to arrive from a German manufacturer. That “cost savings” resulted in more than $900,000 in lost revenue.
Clearly, companies need to develop maintenance skills and knowledge:
- View training not as a cost but as an investment.
- Instill a learning culture. Move away from longevity-based compensation and towards paying according to skills and results.
- Create a clear, documented progression path for your workforce.
- Develop formalized mentorship programs and succession development to prepare for the evacuation of boomer workers.
Contact Joel Leonard at firstname.lastname@example.org.