Interview: CMRP of the Year Nezar Alshammasi

We’ve only scratched the surface of reliability’s possibilities, says the maintenance services director at one of the world’s top oil companies.

Nezar Alshammasi, corporate maintenance services director at Saudi Aramco, was named by the Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals (SMRP) as one of two 2015 CMRPs of the Year. As head of the department responsible for maintenance performance at one of the world’s largest oil companies, Alshammasi works both to promote excellence within his own company and to promote CMRP credentialing, maintenance excellence, and what he calls a “learning culture” in the Arabian Gulf region. In an exclusive interview with Plant Services, he shared his perspective on differences in attitudes about reliability and industrial production in the Gulf vs. the U.S. and how these attitudes need to evolve.

PS: SMRP honored you as a CMRP of the year in its “veteran professional” category. How have you seen reliability engineering as a field evolve, and what do you hope is next?

NA: I think reliability engineering has grown to be a science. It’s no longer an academic pursuit but a business necessity and a science that can be applied in any facility or industry.

Where will the next advances be made? I think it’s (in) automation, failure prediction, deeper failure analysis, and more creative predictive tools – that’s the future. A lot of people think reliability engineering is a mature field, but I personally believe we have only scratched the surface of possibilities that this science will deliver.

PS: You’ve been credentialed as a CMRP for a while. Could you share your thoughts on the credentialing process and whether you have seen the CMRP exam itself evolve?

NA: Yes. In 2008–’09, we wanted to create a chapter of a society of CMRPs in the Arabian Gulf region because we didn’t have any at that time. But it turned out to be that we had to create our own independent society. So in 2010, (we created) the Gulf Society of Maintenance Professionals, GSMP, which just changed its name to the Gulf Society for Maintenance and Reliability, GSMR.

We created that society with the very clear objective of building a network for maintenance and reliability professionals and providing a platform for conferencing and meeting. Certification was also needed, (and) in our company, Saudi Aramco, we started the process even before then. Our CEO at the time, HE Mr. Khalid Al Faleh, currently the minister of energy, industry and mineral resources of Saudi Arabia, challenged us to instill a culture of certification in our maintenance and reliability engineers. We searched the market and selected CMRP. It’s the closest to our culture in the Gulf. Therefore, promoting the CMRP among other companies in the Gulf region was a target for us.

We signed the memorandum of understanding with SMRP to promote the exam, and when we were going through the process (of analyzing the exam), we discovered there had been a bit of difficulty with the nature of the questions. I and my colleague Jim Davis from GSMP were invited to be part of the review committee. I essentially became the ambassador for CMRP here in the region and pushed it in our company and among other companies in the region.

Being certified serves a number of purposes. For the certified professional, (it means) being at par with his international peers and colleagues through self-development by reading and reviewing the latest documentation and getting familiar with the latest tools. Another advantage of being certified is that members are thus better able to help their companies in this critical area.

PS: We’ve seen multinational companies like GE and Emerson trying to address markets beyond North America. Do you think that the past 10 years or so has improved the ability of professionals in your region to be ready to adopt the latest condition monitoring technologies?

NA: The short answer is yes. We’ve got condition monitoring in most firms and so many projects from so many companies, including ultrasound technology (and) a variety of condition monitoring applications. This is where a lot of companies are going toward – predictive failure analysis and machinery prognostics.

PS: What reliability challenges do you think company leaders need to confront more so or better than they are doing today?

NA: Basically increasing uptime of machinery in the facilities and really putting more focus on the whole of maintenance and reliability in their facilities. A lot of time, the chiefs, the CEOs, are more concerned about the finance part and the financial statements. But truly speaking, maintenance and reliability efficiency in any operating facility is a money generator, because the better they do, the more the uptime for the facility (and) the more money they make.

PS: Do you see some hesitancy among CEOs and other senior leaders to invest in initiatives that would support maintenance and reliability?

NA: Here in our company, Saudi Aramco has been always paying due attention to maintenance and reliability. But surprisingly, when I got to North America, I find a different response. I would not say maintenance is not valued, but it’s not given the highest attention.
As maintenance and reliability engineers, we have to create the case for the chief executives and show them the return on investment. Once these guys understand the return on investment, you get your projects approved immediately.

PS: A lot of the talk at events in North America centers on a shortage of skilled employees, whether that’s a perceived or real shortage.

NA: It is real.

PS: So is it real then in your region, too? And if so, what is your group doing to help bridge the gap?

NA: Yes, you are absolutely correct. We had quite a few people leave the industry, and then there was a gap in building the skills and the skilled people in maintenance and reliability for some time. And sometimes when you wanted to hire, you wouldn’t find the right skills available.

We started development programs for our engineers. So whatever they used to learn in the old days in five years or 10 years, we built an accelerated program for the young maintenance engineers to give them all the technical courses, all the maintenance tools, whatever is available, within an 8-week course. It was like a heavy dose of maintenance and reliability coursework. We knew that they wouldn’t grasp all of it, but at least they would have the references on where to go and what to do in the future. That’s what we do, and also we build competency maps for the maintenance engineers, reliability engineers and even turnaround and inspection engineers, to make sure that they have a well-developed road map for them to build their skill set.

Of course, hiring more engineers would help to bridge the gap in the near future. There was some time when a lot of those young boys and girls, they had no interest for engineering. Most of them were going for computer science, computer engineering, (fields) like finance, accounting, and others. There was not much interest in engineering for a long time. Now, we tend to see more students joining engineering.

PS: I just read a story on this topic that said that in the U.S., many children who are in the middle of their primary education simply aren’t aware of manufacturing as a career option. Is it the same in your region?

NA: In our case, here in the region, because we are really surrounded by the oil and gas industry, that makes it a bit easier than in your part (of the world). Here, you want to get to the oil and gas industry and you want to make it through the ranks, and one of the very basic things is you have to be an engineer. And then you select your engineering field of course, from petroleum to mechanical to electrical or chemical and what have you.

Most of our region’s economy is built around the oil and gas industry here. We are in a better shape than the rest of the world when it comes to running manufacturing, so the need for getting into these oil companies has built that notion of going into the engineering field. All the same, we owe it to the children, and to the country, to continue to work with schools and colleges, to ensure we have candidates for these jobs in the future.

PS: When it comes to reliability, what keeps you or your company up at night?

NA: In my job, I always want to make sure we are coming up with programs, disseminating them among all the users of all the departments from top to bottom. As a company, being a reliable supplier of energy to the world – Saudi Aramco is one of the largest in the world – being the largest supplier means a lot to our company. As they say, when Saudi Aramco sneezes, everybody gets a cold around the world.

That’s what worries us all the time, ensuring that we meet the expectations of the global market. But that’s why I’m passionate about what I do, because every day I’m working to keep this company a reliable supplier of energy to the world.