Are you doing your part against the Maintenance Crisis?

When the next bridge falls, plant burns or pipeline leaks, are you going to be able say that you tried to warn everyone you know about the onslaught of pending maintenance problems facing this country?

By Joel Leonard

When the next bridge falls, plant burns or pipeline leaks, are you going to be able say that you tried to warn everyone you know about the onslaught of pending maintenance problems facing this country? That you’ve spread the word to other professionals about the benefits of reliability? Or that you’ve contributed at conferences, visited schools, talked with executives, raised the standard of excellence of reliability and maintenance at your company, or perhaps mentored an apprentice?

Hopefully, the answer is ‘yes’ to all of those, but at least, please, do something, because the stakes are high. People’s lives and livelihoods are at risk.

While speaking at a recent TPM course, consultant Robert Williamson, CMRP, CPMM, said, “So many companies’ top executives are apathetic to the needs and challenges in reliability and maintenance.” While I agree with that,what’s worse is to witness those who see the problem and don’t do anything about it.

At the 2007 SMRP conference in Louisville, Chuck Kooistra, vice president. General Physics Corp., asked his session’s attendees to write down what they planned to do to solve the problem. Many of the reliability engineers from the largest corporations in the country echoed that severe skill shortages are restricting their ability to grow and sustain a competitive advantage. Major businesses can’t implement the latest automation systems because of the skills gap. So many of the 1,000-plus attendees complained that their top management’s only focus is on the short-term bottom line and isn’t interested in investing in long-term cost saving initiatives like apprenticeships, reliability programs and other maintenance development efforts.

What are some of the root causes of these problems? Society doesn’t know any better. Television saturates viewers with so much celebrity coverage that we’re forgetting to upgrade the drivers of critical support structures of our economy.

As the late John Gardner, former secretary of Health Education and Welfare, once said, “The society that scorns excellence in plumbing, because plumbing is a humble activity, and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy, because philosophy is an exalted activity, will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy – neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.”

Our society needs to know that plumbing is no longer involves just bending and connecting pipes. Plumbing systems are now managed by PLC controllers and sensors, lubricated with high-tech solvents and integrated with electrical and electronic systems (like the automated flush toilets used in public restrooms).

We wonder why maintenance is an afterthought in our top leadership’s minds. What did their MBA programs teach them about maintenance? They only know the costs of maintenance, not the value.No MBA program in the country treats reliability and maintenance as a competitive advantage. How many organizations promote top leadership from the ranks of maintenance?

It’s a pity that maintenance techs have to educate business leaders on how to effectively lead their business for long-term sustainability. How can we fix that problem? Here are a few suggestions:

Later this year, SMRP will host an executive conference to educate top leadership of major corporations on the cost savings and efficiency benefits of reliability and maintenance programs. More of these interactions are definitely needed if change is to occur.

To produce future enlightened leaders, SMRP, AFE, IFMA, BOMA and other professional organizations’ top leadership should lobby the boards of Harvard, Wharton and other MBA programs to include the contribution of our function in their coursework. Perhaps these leaders could provide guest lecture MBA programs so our future leadership won’t be so ignorant of our needs and will further support our development.

I also recently attended Converge South, a blogger conference, to learn effective blogging techniques. Wow! So many smart people blogging profusely about unimportant things while ignoring our economy or fighting social causes. Many wanted to learn how to share videos that emulate MTV’s “Jackass.”

Many were surprised to learn about the severity of the maintenance crisis when they asked me why I was there. However, I was pleasantly shocked to see Maintenance Supervisor John Welch in the crowd ( I also met some media producers to learn more about how to launch Skill TV. If we’re ever to fix the maintenance crisis we’re going to need armies of maintenance evangelists to educate the masses how to advance our businesses. I hope that you join us and share your efforts.

In the words of St. Francis of Assisi, “Start by doing what’s necessary, then what’s possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”

E-mail Contributing Editor Joel Leonard  at


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