Changing Workforce / Leadership Skills / Career Development

Women at the forefront of reliability

Sheila Kennedy explores how technology is transforming asset management, from women leading reliability efforts at some of the country's top industrial organizations.

By Sheila Kennedy, contributing editor

Anyone who has attended an industrial conference has surely noticed the dearth of female attendees and presenters. Fortunately, if this microcosm of the workforce is any indication, women's representation is slowly but steadily growing within the industrial sphere. Even better, more women are taking leadership roles and sharing their expertise as public speakers, published writers, and pioneers in their respective fields.

Plant Services invited some of these leaders to highlight key trends and technologies disrupting their industrial sectors.

Information, automation, and assimilation

Real-time information is a game-changer for maintenance and operations. “The most important trend I see is capturing live data from the plant floor and using it to create maintenance schedules that are based on actual tool life, run time, battery life, etc., from each plant’s own production instead of from supplier recommendations," says Lisa Sobkow, executive director of manufacturing execution systems at RedViking Engineering. "This increases uptime and extends tool and machine life.”

She adds: “For operations, we’re setting up plant floor process control boards, pagers, and mobile app notifications to facilitate moment-by-moment information on production counts, machine states, and fault codes.”

At Dow Corning Corp., process automation is a focus, states Sharla DeFrain, project manager for Global Capital Engineering at the company. “Automation solutions can directly address operational issues, help to identify and prevent process and equipment failures, and ensure that safety features and concepts are built into process operations,” she notes.

“Process control and automation systems enable operational improvements on multiple fronts, including plant productivity, product quality, and process safety,” explains DeFrain. “These systems are often underutilized tools that can deliver significant value to the business. The challenge is to identify how their capabilities can be used to meet your business and operational needs.”

For Paula Hollywood, senior analyst at ARC Advisory Group, it is the industrial internet of things (IIoT) and its power to generate and process vast amounts of data rapidly, widely, efficiently, and effectively that captures imagination. “The industrial world is experiencing a seismic transformation from product-centric business models to service-centric models enabled by IIoT technologies – cloud, big data, mobile, and analytics,” says Hollywood.

“For OEMs, service-centric models represent opportunities for differentiation based on proactive field services, deeper customer relationships, and increased service-related revenues," she says. "For owner/operators, the transformation presents the opportunity to outsource asset ownership, operation and maintenance to OEMs, allowing them to better control costs and increase focus on core competencies.”\

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Predictive and precision maintenance

For the Jacobs reliability team, tasked with supporting a space launch operations contract, it’s all about getting back to the basics. “We began testing oil to determine if it was a system requirement and if it was in good condition, resulting in a switch from our time-based maintenance plan to condition-based,” says Lorna Hall, reliability-centered maintenance engineer at Jacobs.

In just a year, the switch reduced failures in oil sampling by more than 40%, Hall says. "Over three years," she adds, "we identified a savings of over 20,000 gallons of oil that would have been changed under the previous plan. This simple change led to a consolidated, single location for oil storage and dispensing, leading to additional environmental benefits and savings.”

Nissan Motor Co. is realizing economic value from more-precise lubrication practices. Recognizing that overgreasing and undergreasing are problematic and costly practices that can shorten an asset’s life, Nissan is taking steps to avoid these issues, says Mary Jo Cherney, manager of total productive maintenance and global maintenance reliability at the company.

“At Nissan Smyrna Manufacturing, we use all different types of predictive technologies, however, I would say that using ultrasonic grease guns can save much money because it enables proper lubrication for the equipment,” explains Cherney.

Unique needs of distant frontiers

In the manufacturing of aerospace technology, the quest for process and performance optimization is unending. Naturally, the industry gravitates toward those new technologies that are robust enough for space environments. “Just to name a few game-changing technology trends in the aerospace industry, there is 3D/additive manufacturing, miniaturization of sensors and devices, big data analytics, laser alignment and laser communication, freeform optics, green power technologies, and model-based systems engineering,” says Aprille Ericsson, aerospace engineer and former program manager for small business innovative research at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

“Some of these capabilities, like 3D printing, have helped to revolutionize and empower some of the other technologies – for example, miniaturized devices that afford small spacecraft platforms known as CubeSats to deliver impactful science data,” she adds.

In places like the Arctic, Antarctica, Alaska, Greenland and Mt. Everest, asset and facility management is a distinctively challenging task requiring unique talents and technologies. Polar Field Services founder and President Jill Ferris has made a name for herself mastering this type of work, so much so that the U.S. Geological Survey named a glacier in Antarctica after her maiden name – the Vereyken Glacier.

“We push the envelope in our use of technology to support scientific field research in some of the most remote and extreme locations on the planet,” says Ferris. “An example of this is training a mountaineer to use and interpret ground-penetrating radar to detect hidden crevasses along a 700-mile traverse on the Greenland ice cap.” Key to the company’s success, she says, is the combined use of scheduling software and a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) to manage their expedition design and consultation, frontier logistics, and extreme climate operations business.