Career Development

Goal: Zero breakdowns

A conversation with 2014 CMRP of the Year award winner Mary Jo Cherney on the importance of balancing investments in workforce development, company culture, and new technologies to achieve reliability goals.

Mary Jo Cherney, manager for maintenance at Nissan Motor Co. in Smyrna, TN, was named SMRP’s CMRP of the Year last year in the Rising Leader category. A past winner of the GE Ecomagination Award, Cherney earned her CMRP certification in 2013. Cherney spoke with Plant Services in June about Nissan’s approach to reliability and her work toward achieving zero breakdowns.

PS: What is your current job title and job responsibilities?

MJC: I am the manager of Total Productive Maintenance and Global Maintenance Reliability.  We are responsible for making sure our equipment in the plant is reliable by using predictive technologies and lubrication management.

PS: How did your education and background prepare you for a career in maintenance and reliability? 

MJC: I received my MBA which shifted my focus to organizational continuous improvement. When I received my Lean Six Sigma Black belt, I shifted to more of the process improvement disciplines. I then joined a company where TPM was the main operating system, and I saw the benefits of TPM.  I have been a believer since then.

PS: Which aspects of your job have surprised you – are there any parts of the profession that your studies hadn’t mentioned or couldn’t have possibly prepared you for?

MJC: Contrary to popular belief, the “people” skills are the most important for continuous improvement. The people are used to the “old way” of doing things and it is difficult to change. You need to win them over with a contagious positive attitude.  College can’t prepare you for the day-to-day human interactions.

PS: What are some examples of the leadership and accomplishments you’ve exhibited that were instrumental in your being selected by SMRP as a 2014 Rising Leader?

MJC: I expanded our predictive maintenance program at the plant. My technologists have been given the opportunity to achieve various levels of certification which has made all the difference. I also have held my departments accountable for cost savings and avoidance. In a little over two years, the departments have saved the company over $16M. I have also started a new program in Autonomous Maintenance where we train production technicians in the predictive technologies and lower level maintenance activities. The production techs have taken ownership of their equipment and maintenance can work on higher level maintenance tasks.  

PS: Can you talk about one or two people who’ve been important in mentoring you and helping you to become more knowledgeable in your career?

MJC: Two instrumental people in my life of reliability have been Robert Dapere and Lyle Bufogle, both of ArcelorMittal Steel. Robert was the global leader in World Class Manufacturing (WCM) and has been my mentor for Total Productive Maintenance. He continues today to push me to new areas in reliability that I never imagined.  Lyle was a peer of mine and we implemented WCM in his department in Cleveland. He never faltered about his commitment to the program. His steadfastness lead the department to a bronze award last year. He gave me much leeway to implement the program and was a support to my people and his people during this change.

PS: Where should a young professional turn to find a mentor or guidance? Also, any tips specifically for young women who are interested in a career in this field?

MJC: Younger professionals need to seek out mentorship and guidance. It can come from many venues including outside of the organization. I am involved with SMRP, AMP, and benchmark with various organizations outside of my current company. Benchmarking is critical for growth of any reliability program. I say “yes” to every opportunity I get to learn something new through my company or peers, vendors, etc. 

For the young women who are interested in a career in reliability, you have to be strong.  It is a male dominated industry.  You must become an expert through education, certifications so you have credibility in your role.  Seek out the women in your organization who have years of experience and become their mentee.  It is very rewarding, but also, a very demanding job.  You must be ready for the ups and downs, the wins and losses.  If you fall down, pick yourself up and dust off—keep forging ahead.

PS: Where is the maintenance and reliability profession headed, and how will you, as a Rising Leader, help to influence the direction it takes?

MJC: With the global competition, the maintenance and reliability profession will be even more critical than it is today. Our products are getting more and more complex due to customer requirements. That means that our equipment is more complex, too. We must seek out and implement the newest technologies to reach our goals of zero breakdowns. 

I just had this conversation with my director. I need to continually be looking for the latest technology to improve the equipment reliability for our plant. I also need to be a conduit for my employees to learn, grow to become the very best reliability technologists that they can be.

PS: What specific predictive maintenance strategies and technologies do you employ at Nissan?

MJC: We use the following technologies: thermography, vibration, ultrasound, and motor circuit analysis. We also have our own lubrication analyst. We do all of our own testing of lubrication. And currently, plantwide, I have 45 MLP-1 certifications and then I have 2 MLP-2s. I have four Level 1 ultrasound certifications, and three of them are production technicians on the floor. So we've trained them to go ahead and take over their equipment and do ultrasound on their equipment, and then we analyze it. We have two Level 2 ultrasound techs. In vibration, we have a Level 2 analyst, and actually in two weeks he's sitting for his Level 3. Thermography, I have four Level 1s. Plantwide, we have three certified reliability leaders. That (the reliability leader exam) is the hardest exam I've ever taken. We have in my department two CMRPs, but Nissan North America total has 29 CMRPs. We have the most of any automotive company in the United States. I have one employee who's going to sit for the CMRT. My view is if you invest in your employees and give them training and knowledge and growth, they're going to be loyal to you, and they're going to stick with you. That's just always been my philosophy, and so that's why I invest a lot of money in training and education for my people.

PS: It's like that cartoon you see on LinkedIn sometimes – two company leaders are talking, and one asks the other, "What if we spend all this time and money training our people and they leave?" And the other replies, "What if we don't, and they stay?"

MJC: Exactly. And actually, the thought process here before I took over was, if we train them, they will leave. No they won't. It's showing you're investing in them.

PS: And it's a matter of, how are you supposed to compete as a company unless you develop your people?

MJC: That's exactly right. With the competition in the automotive industry, you've got to have top-level people.

PS: You mention changing customer requirements. How have you seen those evolve?

MJC: The cars and the SUVs that we manufacture are a lot more technology-involved. For instance, the backup cameras, navigation, lane guidance. And those are – well, the government's going to require backup cameras – but rather than add-ons, those are customer requirements now. Where before it was a nice-to-have, now it's a must-have. Or constant bettering of miles per gallon. How can we increase our miles to gallon on the car. And then high-level quality. And that's our focus constantly, building high-quality vehicles for our global customers. That's our quality statement and policy. My department's role in that is making sure that the equipment and the processes are where they need to be to build the high-quality vehicles.

PS: You mention also the importance of developing your company culture and how crucial that is continuous improvement, but it seems like so many companies struggle with it. What advice would you offer to companies about where to start in bringing about culture change?

MJC: I was reading this article recently, and there was an interesting analogy about how an egg transforms, and we focus more on the chicken and how miraculous that is, but really it's a slow change that evolves. So I was thinking about that and about change strategy – you can't force that down. What I do is I start with our plant floor people, our operators, our maintenance technicians, and talk to them and show them, "Hey, here's a new way of thinking," or "Hey, what issues are you having with your equipment? How can we improve that? What can you do to help us?" It's that type of thing. And pretty soon, change is going to happen, because you're starting to get them to think in continuous improvement processes. I've always believed in that, that I need to talk to the people on the floor. They're the most important people.

PS: What are some of your goals for the rest of the year and in the next 18 to 24 months?

MJC: My strategy right now is working on zero breakdowns. People feel that you can't have that, but actually you can. You just have to work constantly on those tasks that will bring you zero breakdowns. Our downtime in this plant is so expensive because we're at such a high production volume. We're actually targeted to produced over 650,000 vehicles this year, so our downtime per minute is so expensive, so we want to cut that by starting zero-breakdown strategies. We're using technology; we're using the predictive tools; we're trying to implement the newest technologies that we possibly can so that we can reach that.

PS: What kinds of technologies are you really excited about?

MJC: Yeah, I think a couple of things – wireless sensors for vibration and ultrasound, that type of thing, so that we don't have to interrupt the equipment and we can gather the data when machines are running constantly. Some companies have done that; we've not. I'd say we've got some remote sensing but not the wireless. So I think that's something that – we've just gotten prototypes that we're going to be using.