Europe faces same manufacturing crisis as U.S.

Dec. 19, 2006
Joel Leonard discovers that European manufacturing is facing many of the same maintenance crisis issues as U.S. manufacturers. Read about his overseas adventure.

I recently returned from keynoting and chairing the Process Industry Maintenance (PIM) Conference in Antwerp, Belgium. Attendees and speakers were from the aerospace, petrochemical, pharmaceutical, nuclear and other asset-intensive industries as well as a variety of countries including Belgium, Croatia, England, France, Finland, Wales, Scotland, Sweden, Saudia Arabia and the United States.

It was my first trip to Europe and I quickly discovered that we aren’t worlds apart. I was pleased to meet a few European maintenance evangelists working feverishly to upgrade maintenance to retain and attract more businesses to their countries.

We have a lot in common with our European counterparts. They have an uphill climb to achieve respect and resources to advance their function. Equipment and infrastructure continues to age, requiring more maintenance. In Europe, for buildings and infrastructure, age may be quantified not just in years or decades, but in centuries.

Europeans are frightened at the prospect of losing their jobs to China and are investing in more automation equipment to compete. This equipment requires a higher level of skilled workers to set up, manage and maintain. Their management is held accountable for quarterly stock rates and thus they defer maintenance to chronic levels. They also are irritated at the additional accounting requirements on publicly held companies imposed by Sarbanes-Oxley laws.

Most surprisingly, Europe doesn’t have a steady supply of skilled labor. They, too, are facing record levels of retirement and replacing the migration of skilled labor to other countries.

They are constrained by vacation laws, compensation structure and high taxes. Meanwhile, parents no longer advise their children to pursue these increasingly important career paths. While Europeans share in experiencing the Maintenance Crisis, they also work to correct it.

Since we were to discuss ways to improve business performance, I thought some financial officers might attend PIM. But just like in the U.S., only maintenance professionals showed up. Financial officers could have learned some valuable lessons from speakers like Paul Brown of Bassol, Manchester, England. Brown worked his way from a maintenance apprentice to management. He explained how to get the most out of home-grown talent.

Holland wants to create a MaintenanceValley. Europe has a Federation of Maintenance Societies ( and is standardizing terminology and best practices amongst 21 member countries. The Belgian Maintenance Society (BEMAS, led by Executive Director Wim Vancauwenberghe, hosts conferences, maintenance management of the year awards and other activities.

Jan Casteel, of UMICORE Balen & Overpelt, a nominee for the Belgium Maintenance Professional of the Year, spoke on how he elevated maintenance while cutting operational costs. He also complained that he has been looking to fill a maintenance management position for more than a year. The position pays more than 70,000 Euros per year and includes a company car.

Keith Mottershead (Great last name for a maintenance manager, huh?) of Rolls Royce Aerospace played a video on how they purposely explode a 50-million Euro turbine jet engine for safety validation and also explained how they implemented Total Equipment Maintenance to upgrade maintenance processes and minimize expenses. Alex Curry of British Petroleum implemented a four-year project to improve business performance while cutting expenses by 30%. Matt Atkinson of the Royal Mail Service shared how they mobilized Caledonia University in Scotland to begin to upgrade current talent and replenish retiring boomer leadership.

Technifutura is a quasi-private/government technical school in southern Belgium that not only trains current industry professionals and apprentices in hands-on maintenance practices but also teaches Belgian and French high school technical instructors maintenance processes. Technifutura sees the Maintenance Crisis challenges and works to expand to address it and leverage maintenance as a competitive business advantage. They’re implementing numerous creative methods to attract more youth to the industry. For example, they teach students how to build airplanes. While building their planes, they learn many of the basics companies require of maintenance technicians. Luc Carlier, Technifutura’s charismatic leader, loved the “Maintenance Crisis Song” and is thinking about doing a French version.

Many attendees remarked that they planned on playing my commercial spoof, “Deferred MaintenAxe,” to their management and several said that they loved the Maintenance Crisis songs. Rolls Royce Aerospace has adopted the song as its maintenance department anthem and another company wants to record a version using pipes and tools as instruments. This bit of fun and kinship helped us recharge our batteries.

I hope that more Americans attend next year's PIM Conference and plan on attending EuroMaint 2008 in Belgium. By collaborating, we all can get stronger and smarter in the fight against the international Maintenance Crisis. For more information on my trip, check out

Contact Joel Leonard at [email protected].

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