SMRP's 29th Annual Conference: Advance your skills to improve processes at your plant

Oct. 7, 2021
In this event preview podcast, Adrian Messer shares what attendees can expect from the four-day conference.

The Society for Maintenance & Reliability Professionals (SMRP) is a nonprofit professional society formed by practitioners to develop and promote excellence in maintenance, reliability, and physical asset management while creating leaders in the profession. With over 6,250 members worldwide, SMRP provides value for individual practitioners and professionals looking to expand their knowledge and skills and build more business connections with others.

The SMRP Annual Conference is a maintenance and reliability event that brings together more than 1,000 attendees from all over the world. The conference also provides professional development, networking and tour opportunities. Thomas Wilk recently spoke with Adrian Messer, leader of strategic accounts for UE Systems, about what to expect at this year's SMRP Conference in St. Louis.

PS: You and the UE Systems team have been pretty involved in the SMRP's board, and I know Chase Sasser is involved with the conference a lot. Could you tell us a little bit about your involvement with the board and the conference, and what we can expect this year?

AM: I've been involved with SMRP, I would say, for at least 10 years on various committees. The last several I've been involved on the conference committee, and I’m glad to serve as the chair of this year's annual conference. Our committee has been working and meeting regularly and making decisions to put on what we think is going to be a great event, and it's going to be another first for SMRP this year, where last year was the first-ever all virtual event, this year it's going to be the first-ever hybrid event, so we're excited about that.

We will be meeting face-to-face in St. Louis, and there will be a virtual component where there will be select sessions that will be live-streamed and recorded. So that's another benefit to having that virtual component, is those sessions will be recorded, and people can go back and look at those at a later time.

PS: I remember last year, there was a lot of feedback from people who were able to attend virtually. It sort of unlocked the door to SMRP’s Annual Conference for those who weren't able to travel, and it's great to hear that the SMRP committee has chosen to do that again this year and go virtual.

AM: We're excited about it, and one of the striking things about last year being all virtual was the number of international attendees that we had. It’s been a goal of SMRP to broaden our outreach, and having that virtual component allowed for that. So, I’m excited to see hopefully some of those first-time attenders from last year, hopefully, those will be back on for the virtual event this year.

PS: I took a quick look at the program, which is posted up on the SMRP Annual Conference site for anyone who wants to go take a look at what's going to happen. Can you tell us about the basic breakdown? Is there a workshop day, and will the exam be offered for the CMRP?

AM: Sure, just like previous conferences, there will be pre-conference and post-conference workshops, and all those are listed. I think they were just posted this week, under the agenda for the SMRP Annual Conference website. So you can take a look at those and it's certainly not too late to sign up for any that you'd be interested in.

The exams will not be offered this year. As of about two years ago, the CMRP and CMRT certification switched to an all-electronic format, and those are offered at Pearson VUE testing centers. There are literally thousands of them globally. If you just go to and click on “certification,” you'll then see a link for a testing center search where you can find the one that's closest to you.

PS: That's great to know, thanks Adrian. Let’s tackle some of the issues that are going to be in the program this year that are facing maintenance and reliability. I know it's been a really crazy and rough year and a half for most everybody. The bright side is that in a recent survey with Plant Services, our readers told us that many plants, if not most, are snapping back to normal operations after a year of either long overtime or shared production with things like PPE to help serve the national interest. What are some things that you're hearing in the field about what's happening in maintenance and reliability?

AM: Yes, I'm seeing a lot of that as well, and fortunately, for me for my day job, I have been able to get out and still do some traveling and visit some plants and factories during the last year and a half, and I've seen exactly what you just described. As a matter of fact, I was in a plant just this week, and as an incentive to not only keep people but also to keep people working, they were offering their production operators double time. I've seen a lot of that.

I've seen a lot of extending shifts, so maybe going from 8 hours to 10 hours or 10 hours to 12 hours. And then also extending the workweek going from five days to six days, even in some cases seven days. I think the problem now is just finding workers in general, and finding workers that are willing to come in and work those types of hours. But yes, certainly things are ramping back up, and now the struggle is having the right staff and those numbers to meet production requirements.

PS: We're hearing that too, especially anywhere from hiring new employees to just finding warm bodies to get the work done. We've seen an emphasis on operator-based care, to the degree that care can align with maintenance reliability best practices. The other two challenges we've heard about are supply chain and cybersecurity: supply chain as a rollover of the effect that COVID has had, and also cybersecurity where those criminals are getting bolder. Are you hearing about those two issues as well?

AM: Yeah, somewhat, and as a sneak peek for the closing panel, the last couple of years, we've had a lot of positive feedback from our closing session, where we've done panel discussions. This year's panel discussion is going to focus primarily on IIoT initiatives, and I can only imagine that eventually, that discussion will get turned to cybersecurity and some of the things that we've seen happen over the last, well, specifically, last few months in kind of a bad way with a couple of companies that have made news with certain breaches. But yeah, certainly that's going to be of interest, and I can imagine with that closing panel, that discussion will eventually turn to that.

Listen to the entire interview

PS: It's always good in panels like that to understand that you're not alone when it comes to, especially cybersecurity challenges. It's something which people either can't talk about very much due to legal requirements, or simply don't want to admit to. It seems like it's the rare plant though, that hasn't been targeted in some way, or had to experience some kind of attack or response plan.

AM: Yes, that's exactly right, and that's what we saw with the two incidents, in particular, that made major news earlier this year. I think that's something that's on everybody's minds right now, especially with all the different initiatives that are out there with focus on sensors and bringing assets online; it's got to be a topic of discussion, and it's got to be an area that's got to be addressed.

PS: Let me switch to the exhibit hall, since you brought up sensors and new technologies. What are some of the new technologies that you're seeing move into this space that people can experience if they go into the live event? Will it be sort of a virtual booth to step into?

AM: There's not going to be a virtual expo hall component like there was last year, but there will be those live stream sessions that the attendees will have access to, not only during the live event, but also recorded, that they can go back and watch at a later date in case they have a meeting that comes up or their schedule is not as flexible.

As far as the expo hall though we've got 60-plus exhibitors, which we're very pleased with. I think over the last few days we've had a couple drop off, but in place we've had a couple come back to us and want to exhibit, so I think people are getting a little more comfortable with their travel and are able to see, "Okay, yeah, this event is going to move forward. So sure, we'd like to be a part of that." Some of those new exhibitors are people in that IIoT and sensor space, so we're really excited about that. The SMRP conference will never be solely a technology or software conference, but with more and more of those types of industries and initiatives coming into the marketplace, we're very excited to have that as a component of this year's conference.

PS: If I could follow up on that for our last question about the conference: the keynote has traditionally been someone who's either an inspirational speaker often drawn from the armed forces telling us about their experience, where either they learned skills they could transfer into maintenance and reliability, or simply talked about the ways that effective maintenance was instrumental to keeping their machines operational. But I've seen the 2021 schedule in advance, it sounds like it's going to be a slightly different tack this year. Can you tell us about the keynote speaker?

AM: Sure, it’s a different kind of topic, and it’s along the lines of cybersecurity. We have Eric O'Neill, who is a bestselling author and former FBI counter-terrorism and counterintelligence operative. He can speak exactly to some of the things that he has seen and some of his experience and, I think, probably provide some great insight. In case that maybe people haven't been thinking about cybersecurity, hopefully, this will be a start of that, so we're super excited about having him as our keynote.

This is something that's kind of been in the works for a little while, and I think he'll deliver a very thought-provoking presentation and certainly very timely. So we're super excited about that, but it’s a little different, but certainly falls into those lines of some of these things that we've seen happen over the last several months.

PS: Yeah, I agree completely, it's so timely. And I know there's some confusion out there in plants as to sometimes whose responsibility it is to develop a cyber response plan, what responsibilities the maintenance function might specifically have, anywhere from patching to exploring secure technologies. It's great that the conference is going to cover this issue in-depth from the keynote to the closing panel.

AM: Yeah, it is, and hopefully, we'll see some things come full circle. And then of course, we're going to have our Emerging Technology track again this year. So I know some of those ideas and some of those challenges will get brought up in that track as well.

PS: Okay. And for everyone listening who's still using pen and paper, you're not alone. But get on this new technology track, because the future is here and is going to pull you along with it.

AM: Although the people who are using pen and paper, they may be the safest because there's nothing electronic there.

PS: It is so true. It's always funny, Adrian, when we ask in our survey, what technology people use to collect data, number one by still a little smidge is still pen and paper, closely followed by things like Excel sheets.

AM: Yeah. I still see a lot of people with the little notepads in their pocket, pens in their pocket. You know, there's still a lot of that around.

PS: Well, Adrian, it's been great talking with you about the conference. For anybody who wants to learn more about the conference or how to register, what's the best place for them to go to?

AM: Go to And then, if you're interested in the conference specifically, up at the top of, you'll see a link for events. And the first link that you'll see is the annual conference. And again, that'll take you to where you can find the agenda. You can find descriptions of the track sessions and the workshops, facility tours, as well as registration online. I certainly look forward to seeing you in St. Louis, and I think it's going to be a great event. It's going to be a great chance to hopefully see some people, see some faces that haven't been able to see in the last year and a half. So it's going to be exciting.

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