An evolutionary challenge faces the maintenance function
It involves a mix of people and technology concerns, each one feeding off the other
What differentiates this year’s Plant Engineering maintenance study, an annual survey sponsored by Advanced Technology Services, Inc. (ATS), from previous editions of the study? It is a bald-faced recognition of the evolutionary challenge today facing the maintenance function.
As with most challenges today it involves a mix of people and technology concerns, each one feeding off the other.
First comes the skills gap, wherein those being trained in the diverse knowledges needed to ensure reliability in industrial environments are not of sufficient number to replace those being lost through retirement and other attrition types.
Second, while computerization in the industrial workplace may have begun in the 1970s, its impact has been on-going and pervasive. While computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS) and enterprise asset management systems continue to be introduced into factories and plants, the technology base has expanded to include mobility, smart sensors, IIoT, robotics and even machine learning and artificial intelligence.
At ATS, an industrial maintenance services provider, this ongoing evolution has led to the introduction of a different kind of solution to meet market demand for highly skilled maintenance technicians.
Looking long term
“Manufacturers are realizing what’s needed is a long-term commitment to maintenance excellence,” said Jim Freaner, senior director, ATS. “Highly qualified individuals are required for the troubleshooting of complex systems, with a mix of electrical and mechanical knowledge, as well as computer skills.”
No longer can the maintenance function be thought of merely as those whose primary tasks involve swapping out a gear box or motor.
“This complexity means maintenance personnel may be involved in PLC and CNC programming or in troubleshooting robotics. It’s the combination of highly technical skills with being enough of a jack-of-all-trades to be an effective troubleshooter that makes all the difference,” Freaner said.
For this reason, ATS offers a technical workforce solution that can over the long-term ensure the appropriately trained personnel are on-site, keeping factories up and running. This offering is in addition to its comprehensive maintenance solution and supplemental personnel services.
Highlights of the 2020 Plant Engineering industrial maintenance study include the following:
Respondents have worked in plant- or engineering-related positions for an average of 23 years.
Respondents are located throughout the U.S., and especially in the south Atlantic, east north central and Pacific regions, and across a wide range of discrete manufacturing and process production industries.
41% of respondents say predictive maintenance using analytical tools are part of the strategies used in their plant.
Respondents indicate that on average 23% of the plant operations team are also part of the maintenance department.
Respondents indicate that on average 20% of their plant’s maintenance operations are outsourced; “lack of skills among current staff” and “too many specialized skills to be practical” are the no. 2 and no. 3 most cited reasons for the increase in outsourcing.
50% of respondents indicate they rely on a CMMS technology platform to monitor and manage their maintenance activities.
41% of respondents say the key challenge to improving maintenance is lack of resources or staff.
38% of respondents indicate they are making some use of handheld/mobile devices for plant maintenance.
Hiring, onboarding and retaining people is the primary challenge to their current maintenance program, according to 48% of respondents.
29% of respondents say their managements are planning to implement predictive maintenance programs in the future.
48% of respondents say their companies are planning to or are currently using advanced technologies to capture machine data.
The thing about evolutions is they often eventually result in revolutionary change, like the kind we’ve seen in manufacturing environments in the last 30 years, and likely in the next 30 years as well.