When George Connaughton was the sixth chairman of the Society for Maintenance & Reliability Professionals (www.smrp.org) in 1999-2000, he was president and general manager of Augusta Service in Augusta, Georgia. Now retired, Connaughton shared his thoughts on the state of maintenance and reliability from his home in Florida.
PS: What are the big changes you've seen in maintenance and reliability from when you were SMRP chair to now?
GC: There’s much more emphasis on the importance of equipment reliability and best-in-class maintenance practices. Everybody always wanted lower maintenance costs, but over the years it appears folks are increasingly starting to understand that lower maintenance costs are the result of improved reliability.
PS: What is the one accomplishment under your leadership that you're most proud of?
GC: During my tenure, we transitioned from an in-house SMRP headquarters staff operation to one operated by a professional organization management firm. We also began to bring the CMRP testing program on-line. I remember participating in the beta testing for this exam and sitting for the first "official" exam.
PS: How did you go about developing the first CMRP exam and what did you expect the exam to accomplish?
GC: We formed a committee to develop the questions. They polled the membership asking for suggested questions, but the committee compiled the final list of questions. They worked with a firm that specialized in test development, Ramsay, to have the test validated to make sure that the questions were worded unambiguously and that the test results would be a fair representation of the knowledge base we felt was appropriate for such a test. We wanted a test that was not just book learning, but rather would reflect real industry knowledge and experience. We then needed people to take the beta test so we could have an adequate sample size for the validation. In an effort to drum up enthusiasm for folks to take the beta test, the committee gave out T-shirts and buttons with "I am certifiable!" written on them to everyone who took the test. I remember wearing the shirt and button to the executive board meeting after I took the test in an effort to get others to take the test.
PS: How did taking the test help you personally?
GC: Since I was president of my company, it wasn't going to help me get a promotion, but it did give me additional insight regarding what skill sets were important for a reliability professional.
PS: Who in the SMRP organization had the biggest influence on you and your career?
GC: This is very difficult to answer. Augusta Service Company, while owned as a joint venture by two large international chemical companies, was a small company. Neither of our parent companies had yet implemented any maintenance and reliability programs at any of their sites, so we received little direction or support — actually none — to improve our maintenance and reliability programs. As a result, I relied on my associates at SMRP for information and help on improving our maintenance and reliability processes. Some of the names that come to mind include Al Weber from Eastman Kodak, Gino Palarchio at ArcelorMittal Dofasco, and Larry Snell at Shell Oil, but there are many others. SMRP really was a catalyst that helped my company to develop a solid maintenance and reliability program.
PS: Where is the maintenance and reliability profession headed, and where would you like to see it go?
GC: While I'm no longer directly involved in maintenance and reliability, from what I read it certainly appears that the emphasis on improving maintenance and reliability work practices continues to increase. I certainly believe that's a positive development.
PS: What's your take on the state of manufacturing in general, and what are your thoughts on how the global manufacturing scenario will shake out over the next few years?
GC: Since I'm now retired, I'm somewhat removed from the state of global manufacturing, except for what I read. I think it's increasingly more competitive from a cost standpoint, and companies in high-wage areas such as the United States need to compete on fronts other than wages. I think that means increased investment in equipment for automated processes, which also means increased demand to improve reliability of equipment and the realization that reliability is the responsibility of everyone — engineering, maintenance, and operations. As the labor cost advantage of emerging market countries decreases over future years, companies that can leverage off this reduced wage differential with improved reliability should do well.