The assets maintained by the crew that reports to Ken Campbell, CPMM facilities manager, DeKalb County, Ill., are about as unindustrial as they get. He’s responsible for the courthouse, jail, parks and sundry other county facilities in a semi-rural chunk of the Midwest. But from leaking roofs to recalcitrant old boilers, high-tech security systems to sullen unionized tradespeople, the problems and challenges he faces are familiar to us all.Describing how he implemented the transformation from reactive to proactive maintenance that led to winning MPACT Learning Center’s Extreme Maintenance Makeover Award (more on page 17), Campbell told me that in his experience, “You keep after the little things and at a certain point, it has a life of its own and the big things are taken care of, too.”He pointed me to Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “The tipping point.” Gladwell says, “The best way to understand the dramatic transformation of unknown books into bestsellers, or the rise of teenage smoking, or the phenomena of word of mouth or any number of the other mysterious changes that mark everyday life is to think of them as epidemics. Ideas and products and messages and behaviors spread just like viruses do."Big things start in small places with just a few people – sometimes only one – who manage to convey the value of a practice or concept to a few others, who pass it on to a few others much like the flu. If the effect is isolated or the general population has great enough resistance, it remains local or dies out. But if enough people are affected (infected?) it starts to spread.I’m convinced that in U.S. manufacturing plants, professional asset management as a business strategy remains well below the tipping point. It’s flourishing in some companies, receding in others, and foreign to far too many. It still offers the potential for a significant competitive edge at plants that take it on and do it right.And it’s a global competitive edge. At the Asset Management 2005 conference in May, SKF’s Jan Brons pointed out that today’s best opportunities lie in enterprise asset management. Wages are 13% to 15% of typical costs, “not a big issue,” Brons said. Direct materials, at 27% to 30%, are “the same everywhere. The balance is effectiveness and efficiency: OEE, or how well you run the plant.” Plants typically run 10% to 20% below design availability, and that’s 10% to 15% below their optimized availability with today’s tools, he said, “U.S. plants are not investing, they face a skilled worker shortage, and they’re neglecting their foundation by not using a strategy for assets.”At the same conference, Meridium founder Bonz Hart asked, “How can things that make so much sense not get done?” He thinks the three major factors are human nature (“We like to respond to emergencies”), resistance to change (“We’ve always done it this way”) and low expectations (“It breaks, we fix it”).Sound familiar?Anyone who’s read this far probably has a good idea of what their facility must do to improve its OEE. Why wait for someone else to take your plant to the next level? Are expecting some corporate-wide program and directive to make you get serious about improving your asset strategy? If so, you’re typical, but you’re also part of the problem. Think viral. Get excited about your concept and vision. Expose it to your coworkers to get them thinking, and use their responses to help you refine it into a practical plan. Take your boss to lunch and infect him, then use his comments and objections to rework the plan until it’s irresistible.The epidemic is coming, and when it gets to your industry, you’ll be leading, following or pushed out of the way, and the choice is yours.If you need help (or think I’m unrealistic), drop me a line. We’ll get you an answer.