Preventive Maintenance / Change Management / Changing Workforce / Workforce Development

Don't fear innovation (your newest maintenance pros don't)

Embrace and drive innovation at your plant by laying a strong process foundation first.

By Thomas Wilk, editor in chief

Luke Clark is a reliability professional at Allied Reliability who specializes in enterprise asset management, IoT, and e-commerce software. He has participated in training, configuration, integration, and operation of multiple platforms and helps clients implement best business practices, including RCM, 5S, Kaizen, and lean manufacturing. Clark recently spoke with Plant Services chief editor Thomas Wilk about trends revealed in Plant Services' 2018 PdM survey and offered his perspective on how today’s workers might inspire the next generation of MRO professionals.

PS: Based on what you’ve seen, what would you say are one or two things that teams can do right now to help lay a strong preventive maintenance foundation?

LC: I think it all starts with the basics. You’re not going to succeed with new technology unless you have a process in place behind it. Planning and scheduling is really where I would look, along with supply chain. If you don’t have that organization, if you don’t have the calendars in place to do your simple daily maintenance, then you’re not going to be able to utilize data in the first place.

Then you build up to a point where you can use other sensors and collect data on the asset’s condition and then act on it. Because once you see, “Oh, hey, this asset is about to fail,” you’re going to need to have the right parts, have the right resources, and be able to get a person to go out there to finish the job. You’re not going to succeed with new technologies, new sensors unless you really have the process behind it. You’ve got to make sure you have the basics in place before you can use the fun toys.

PS: One of the things we’re seeing is that there’s a greater willingness these days for plants to partner with third parties and share condition monitoring data that they previously might not have shared. What are you seeing in that regard?

LC: We’re seeing it a lot more as well. Our society and technology are going that direction as well, because more and more, we share online through forums and blogs and clouds. We’re actually starting to see some companies play ball with each other a little bit. There’s still some hesitation as far as sharing specific information – there’s still a little bit of that competition – but they definitely are working together more and more often. We’ve even been able to do some site visits with one client to another. (They recognize that) it’s beneficial, especially when they’re using similar equipment across industries.

PS: The manufacturing industry has a lot of workers near retirement, with another batch slowly but surely replacing them. What trends are you seeing based on this generational change?

LC: I think what’s interesting with this field is that, all at once, we’re having to replace very experienced workers with very fresh employees. Ten years ago, this industry was dominated by people who’ve been in the business for 20, 30, 40 years. Now we’re starting to have to replace them with either someone who’s never done anything maintenance(-related), maybe fresh out of college, or someone who has very little experience.

The generation that’s grown up with technology wants to do something new, especially when you’ve got kids coming fresh out of college – they want to jump on the new technologies and be the new innovators. You can actually, I think, take that energy and push it into this industry and say, “There’s a lot of great new initiatives going on, so let’s make maintenance something big and really improve on it and help our processes.”

To give some perspective, I’m an industrial manager by trade from school, so I was already automatically kind of drawn to a manufacturing-type setting. With the younger generation, if we’re talking about kids who are in high school, junior high right now, they’ve had mobile products in their hands their whole lives, so we should focus on the fact that this is where we’re moving in this industry. It is tricky, because it’s difficult to get high schoolers or junior high students into a manufacturing facility. 

What we need to have is more visibility at the college level, where we really can start opening eyes, and say, “Here’s an alternative or a career that’s very interesting (and) fulfilling, and you can do some real good out of it.” I think that’s what we need to aim at – that this is a growing business and we can really make something out of what manufacturing is now.