Plan for legacy systems in industrial plants

May 18, 2012
Mike Bacidore says capture knowledge of maintenance and reliability professionals before they retire.

It was a sad and inevitable day when America’s oldest teenager passed away in April. Dick Clark was 82 years old. Whether you’d spent Saturday mornings with him on American Bandstand or merely saw him once a year when the glass ball dropped in Times Square, he was an important thread in the fabric of American and international pop culture.

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He’d outlasted all of his contemporaries, but now he’s gone. Replacing him, at least on the New Year’s Eve broadcasts, was well in the works since he’d suffered his stroke back in 2004.

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Industrial plants all over the world run systems that have been around for decades, some still fully operational well beyond their expected useful lives. As maintenance practices continue to improve, legacy systems remain in place long after the depreciation of the original assets ended. Compressed air system are often still in place more than 40 years. Control systems and HVAC systems are vital contributors well past 20 years. And boilers or steam generators go well beyond the original 25 years of depreciation. In fact, a Georgia cotton mill boasted two Stirling boilers that lasted more than 100 years.

This means that MRO can extend assets’ useful lives dramatically, but it also means that these assets are now often outliving the maintenance and reliability personnel who understand how to keep them operational.

New recruits want to work on the latest technology because it’s more exciting and because it’s what they learned about in school.

With the average age of maintenance and reliability professionals standing at around 55, it won’t be long before a stable of engineers and technicians with 20 to 30 years of experience and expertise will walk out the doors of plants and take all of that knowledge with them. Many individuals are at that doorstep already. Some have even come back as consultants, just to allow organizations to continue running at optimal efficiency.

But rehiring retired workers is a stopgap solution, and it doesn’t help to capture that knowledge. That needs to be done before those important employees leave in the first place. That information needs to become part of the enterprise asset management (EAM) system or computerized maintenance management system (CMMS). As more plants move toward operator-based maintenance, it makes sense to capture and record that expertise, not only for young maintenance workers to access, but for operators who can avoid shutdowns and failures by leaning on the experience of veteran reliability professionals.

Let’s be honest. The typical plant isn’t going to replace a system until it has to be. Sure, every now and then, a plant will implement a new system for productivity gains or increased energy efficiency, but why replace a system that’s working?

Capture the expertise of your seasoned maintenance and reliability employees. That knowledge and experience is invaluable and can keep those systems operational well beyond their years.

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