How to transform your maintenance culture: 4 fine lines from Reliable Asset World/Ultrasound World 2017

Build buy-in among workers across roles and generations by always demonstrating the "why" of what you're doing

By Christine LaFave Grace, managing editor

For all of the monitoring and inspection technologies flooding the industrial marketplace and promising to help manufacturers' maintenance departments work smarter, not harder, maintenance teams still contend with a difficult reality, Reliability Solutions' Tom Carr says.

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"Maintenance is perceived as a necessary evil," Carr said Thursday at UE Systems' fourth annual Reliable Asset World Conference in Clearwater Beach, FL. He earned nods of agreement from those in attendance at his session on removing variability in maintenance processes, and his comment echoed those made by other presenters about the need to transform perceptions of maintenance from a cost center to a money maker.

"The only way we can change our perception is to change our process," said Carr, CMRP, CMRT, and an instructor with Reliability Solutions. What does that involve? Busting up ineffective maintenance practices and taking a more-thoughtful, standardized approach to maintenance, according to Carr and other presenters at RAW and the co-located, 14th annual Ultrasound World show.

"Humans make all the difference," Carr said. New monitoring and asset management technologies won't help plants meet their maintenance goals and shift to a more proactive maintenance culture, presenters said, without:

  • an understanding by technicians of the fundamentals of their work,
  • buy-in from craftspersons about how the tools will help them do their job better (and not steal their job in the process), and
  • a willingness to shift resources to change how and when maintenance work gets done.

To that end, here are four fine lines on transforming your maintenance culture from this week's Reliable Asset World and Ultrasound World conferences.

1. "Maintenance is scientific; it's not artistry." –Joe Anderson, senior reliability manager, The Schwan Food Co.

There are no style points to award in maintenance – it's an objective field, Anderson pointed out, and there are effective and ineffective ways of doing a job. But Anderson and other presenters noted that plants run into pushback when they try to demand change from technicians who've honed their approach to their job – regardless of how effective or ineffective that approach is – for 30 years.

So if you're a maintenance or reliability manager looking to effect changes you’re your maintenance team members, you need to demonstrate (and not just talk conceptually about) why what you're charging them to implement is more effective than what they're doing and using today.

This will promote buy-in for the technologies and/or practices being implemented, in turn helping move the needle on larger maintenance and reliability initiatives and ultimately, ideally, having a positive impact on the company's bottom line. "We gotta become part of that moneymaking process," Reliability Solutions' Carr said.

2. "These things can't be one person's implementation." – Shon Isenhour, partner, Eruditio. Changes won't be sustainable if there's only one champion for them, Isenhour noted. And a single enthusiastic leader isn't necessarily as important in promoting change throughout the department or organization as the first few devoted followers are.

3. "Aside from communication, training is the biggest pillar of a PdM program to me." – Brett Dyess, CMRP, Nissan North America. Training is critical to the success of any predictive maintenance initiative, Dyess said – which is a challenge given that many organizations have slashed their training budgets. Shon Isenhour, in a presentation before Dyess's on Wednesday, noted another common Catch-22 of maintenance training: You want to train your team on predictive maintenance tools and best practices, but no one can commit to attending the training because the plant's in reactive, firefighting mode.

But there are ways to work around these constraints, said Dyess, a PdM supervisor at Nissan North America's plant in Canton, MS. Take advantage of the training that many OEMs will provide for free, Dyess urged. The companies that made the tools a plant is implementing often will provide on-site training in how to maximize the tools' use. Community college partnerships, too, can be invaluable in providing an affordable, long-term, and local solution for helping develop workers' skill sets.

Practical education doesn't always have to be so formal, though, Dyess said. At the Canton plant, Dyess asks his team members to seek out 2–3 hours of training per week – and he gives them ownership over the training format that they seek. "I don't care if you watch a YouTube video," Dyess says. "If they're actually using that time, you should see their skill level improve." Weekly meetings of PdM technologists as a group as well as one-on-one meetings promote accountability on putting practices learned into action.

4. "To get different results, you have to expect different results." – Tom Carr, Reliability Solutions. The process of creating and sustaining change in a maintenance culture has four pillars, according to Carr: educate, engage, empower, and expect. Team members can live up or down to expectations, so providing them with the training and tools that will help them do their jobs more effectively is only part of the puzzle: Raising expectations for success is necessary, too.

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