Maintenance Mindset: The trades come to TikTok

Maintenance Mindset: The trades come to TikTok

June 19, 2024
This week, the PS team investigates sustainable record manufacturing, how AI is driving power grid reliability, and other industry topics you may have missed.

Welcome to Maintenance Mindset, our editors’ takes on things going on in the worlds of manufacturing and asset management that deserve some extra attention. This will appear regularly in the Member’s Only section of the site.

GenZ trade workers turn to TikTok to profile their work, career opportunities

A lot of ink has been spilled in the business press about the manufacturing skills gap in the United States, especially since the 2021 release of the infamous Deloitte study that put a number on the problem (i.e., 2.1 million unfilled jobs by 2030).

However, this past month, a new story has been gaining momentum: the rise in popularity of the trades with GenZ workers. The face of the story is Lexis Czumak-Abreu, a 27-year-old electrician who earned a pre-med degree from a four-year college, but decided to make a change into trade work for the variety it provided her.

When interviewed by Business Insider, she explained: "unlike in an office job where you go to the same building daily, I work somewhere different every day. I experience different things and see different people every day.”

However, she is also standing out as a social media influencer, driving interest in the trades through the videos of her work that she posts on TikTok and YouTube as Lex The Electrician, where she currently has more than 1.2 million followers combined. Czumak-Abreu edits her videos over lunch breaks and in the evenings, and at the moment is earning more from her social media activity than from her day job. She also was quoted in a recent Wall Street Journal article that profiled GenZ workers who are entering the trades.

Others in GenZ are noticing the career opportunities offered by the trades. According to Reid Litman of Ogilvie, the number of U.S. students enrolled in vocational-focused colleges increased 16% YoY in 2023, and half a million TikTok posts bore the hashtag #bluecollar in the first four months of 2024, a 64% increase over a year earlier.

So, the U.S. might still feel the pinch of a technical skills gap, but it looks like the secret is out among GenZ workers on this career path. You just have to meet them on their platforms of choice.

– Thomas Wilk

The role of AI in driving power grid reliability

In support of U.S. climate change initiatives and an equitable clean energy economy by 2050, President Biden signed Executive Order 14110 in October 2023 to focus government resources on the safe, secure and trustworthy development and use of artificial intelligence (AI), specifically to improve the country’s power grid system.

In April 2024, the U.S. Department of Energy published its report, “AI for Energy: Opportunities for a Modern Grid and Clean Energy Economy,” about the potential for AI to improve planning, permitting, investment and operations for electric grid infrastructure. The department believes that decarbonization of the electric grid will unlock opportunities to accelerate a transition to clean energy for other sectors.

In terms of electric grid operations, asset reliability is key, as well as efficiency, to meeting sustainability goals. Across the country tens of thousands of power generators deliver electricity to more than 600,000 circuit miles of transmission lines, 70,000 substations, 5.5 million miles of distribution lines, and 180 million power poles, according to the report. The system evolved piecemeal over a century, and while the grid is generally reliable today, the infrastructure is getting older and overburdened.

That long list of equipment and facilities serving the power grid also represents loads of maintenance, especially on our aging energy infrastructure. In addition, the balance between power and demand is a delicate one, and electric system power operators also must manage variable power generation from solar and wind, relying heavily on accurate weather data. This is where AI can close the gap on weather prediction models, and AI at the grid edge can process raw data and make decisions locally.

According to the report, most electrical generation plants in the U.S. maintain equipment using a time-based approach. “While the proportion of total operating costs differ significantly between the variety of plants, each type of plant can experience moderate to significant cost reductions if maintenance strategies shifted toward a predictive or risk-informed method. Using AI and ML techniques, plants can utilize historical maintenance data and OEM equipment specifications to tailor their maintenance strategy to conform to component condition in contrast to calendar-based strategies,” the report says.

The total electric generation capacity in the power sector was approximately 1,150 gigawatts (GW) at the start of this year. Approximately 700 GW of that capacity was from fossil fuel generation, with less than 450 GW of capacity from clean energy (wind, nuclear, solar, hydropower, biopower, geothermal and storage). The report cites estimates that achieving 100% clean power by 2035 will require between 3,000-3,500 GW of total generation capacity, to meet increasing electrification and power demand. AI itself comes with power demands and could lead to load growth on the grid as well.

The AI-enhanced predictive maintenance model is certainly one that could be replicated across other industry and manufacturing facilities, but will still require a quick and formidable transition. Even when the electric grid can produce that power, clean or otherwise, power distribution depends on the reliability of equipment, a lot of equipment. The Department of Energy thinks AI may be the answer to scaling predictive maintenance for widespread systems, but we have a ways to go.

– Anna Townshend

Like a Good Neighbor, sustainable record manufacturing is there

I’ve been a fan of vinyl records since I was a teenager frequenting garage sales, thrift shops, and niche record stores across Illinois looking for hidden gems. So it’s no surprise that I was overjoyed by the vinyl boom of the 2010s. I never, however, stopped to consider the environmental impact this new manufacturing  market might create. According to Jamie Hailstone for Forbes, “vinyl records contain around 135g of PVC material with a carbon footprint of 0.5kg of CO2. Based on that calculation, sales of 4.1m records would produce 1,900 tonnes of CO2, which does not take transport and packaging into account.”

Luckily, there are eco-friendly companies like Good Neighbor to provide the musical experience I crave without causing as much damage to the planet. Billboard recently covered Good Neighbor’s journey with an article titled “There’s a New Record Manufacturer in Town — And It’s Entirely Sustainable.” Author Lyndsey Havens spoke with the team behind the success of Good Neighbor, which includes Tim Anderson, Reyna Bryan, Scotty Coats, and Jonny O’Hara.

According to the company’s website, their records are non-toxic and 100% recyclable, efficiently produced, and made without any toxic PVC. The patented alternative record is produced using injection molding instead of a hydraulic press, which requires energy to heat up and cool down. According to the company, the injection molding process of polyethylene terephthalate (PET plastic) not only decreases energy use but also speeds up the manufacturing process, allowing records to be produced three times faster. Additionally, the company has eliminated the paper center labels, opting instead for labels that are directly printed onto the plastic. This allows for greater customization and eliminates the need for high-heat baking to get the paper to stick to the vinyl. The best part is that despite these technical and ecological innovations, the Good Neighbor record sounds the same as a traditional 180 gram vinyl record.

In a quote from the article, Reyna Bryan said, “In my business of transforming supply chains, any opportunity to reduce carbon production or eliminate chemicals of concern from the process is a major win. Good Neighbor achieves both.”

– Alexis Gajewski

About the Author

Thomas Wilk | editor in chief

Thomas Wilk joined Plant Services as editor in chief in 2014. Previously, Wilk was content strategist / mobile media manager at Panduit. Prior to Panduit, Tom was lead editor for Battelle Memorial Institute's Environmental Restoration team, and taught business and technical writing at Ohio State University for eight years. Tom holds a BA from the University of Illinois and an MA from Ohio State University

About the Author

Anna Townshend | managing editor

Anna Townshend has been a journalist and editor for almost 20 years. She joined Control Design and Plant Services as managing editor in June 2020. Previously, for more than 10 years, she was the editor of Marina Dock Age and International Dredging Review. In addition to writing and editing thousands of articles in her career, she has been an active speaker on industry panels and presentations, as well as host for the Tool Belt and Control Intelligence podcasts. Email her at [email protected].

About the Author

Alexis Gajewski | Senior Content Strategist

Alexis Gajewski has over 15 years of experience in the maintenance, reliability, operations, and manufacturing space. She joined Plant Services in 2008 and works to bring readers the news, insight, and information they need to make the right decisions for their plants. Alexis also authors “The Lighter Side of Manufacturing,” a blog that highlights the fun and innovative advances in the industrial sector. 

Sponsored Recommendations

Arc Flash Prevention: What You Need to Know

March 28, 2024
Download to learn: how an arc flash forms and common causes, safety recommendations to help prevent arc flash exposure (including the use of lockout tagout and energy isolating...

Reduce engineering time by 50%

March 28, 2024
Learn how smart value chain applications are made possible by moving from manually-intensive CAD-based drafting packages to modern CAE software.

Filter Monitoring with Rittal's Blue e Air Conditioner

March 28, 2024
Steve Sullivan, Training Supervisor for Rittal North America, provides an overview of the filter monitoring capabilities of the Blue e line of industrial air conditioners.

Limitations of MERV Ratings for Dust Collector Filters

Feb. 23, 2024
It can be complicated and confusing to select the safest and most efficient dust collector filters for your facility. For the HVAC industry, MERV ratings are king. But MERV ratings...