Maintenance meant continuous growth, change

A life in manufacturing means adapting to changes and evolving your mindset to fit the times to grow your skillset as well as the company's.

By Dave Reiber, Reliabilityweb March 20, 2017

I started with GM in 1985 at the truck plant in Flint, Mich. I was working as an electrician in the Saginaw area, and GM was hiring electricians. I didn’t think that I wanted to lock myself into one place for one employer, things were very slow in the construction business. At the same time, GM was selling every truck that they made before they were assembled. They hired more than 100 electricians in the surrounding plants within three years after I started my career there.

I decided to aspire to greater things and explore the best way to expand learning and how I could make a bigger impact on the masses. I went from being an electrician, troubleshooting breakdowns to a global manager of GM’s maintenance business processes and condition monitoring tools, such as vibration, infrared, and ultrasound.

A big part of the strength of any asset condition management team is leadership support. In 1996, after some negotiations, and leadership blessing, I was lucky enough to take over the Maximo deployment team and the predictive maintenance teams. There was a lot of ownership to be developed, and so much opportunity to get some quick wins and increase throughput as well as quality gains. I got a couple of promotions and was now the North America lead for the Maximo system and we started down the road of sharing processes, and data integrity across the corporation.

It would have been easy to keep those gains in the United States, but we needed to share the wins with the rest of the corporation globally. That’s when the big challenges started. We started in the U.S. by sharing with the other assembly sites, then we branched out to the powertrain sites, foundries, and the engineering centers.

After some time, we decided that these gains and common business processes, had to get common and go global. I remember the real challenge was when I had to decide that we would never be completely common, but rather as common as possible. At the time, we were running at least 17 separate maintenance software systems, including some one-offs that were created in Access and Excel. Some of them worked quite well.

That success became a problem when we told the global team that we were about bring everyone to a common database, and that we were about to establish a common business process. The culture change that needed to happen, and it took about 2½ years. We appointed regional leads from all points of the globe, and set up voting and weighting metrics to establish which problem to take on first.

The road was long with many heavy discussions, but in that time we established a global common process to support all maintenance activities from project and engineering work to emergency maintenance. Complete with flow charts, swim lanes, and RASICs (Responsible, Approving, Supporting, Informed, Consulted) to demonstrate responsibilities, accountability and leadership support.

There were several years of tough times. GM went through a severe downturn in sales, and a bankruptcy. Despite the challenges, we fought on to complete the common process project.

When I left General Motors in 2015, the Global Manufacturing System, including the maintenance process, was well established. There is a global team assigned to make it work, by sharing lessons learned and common reporting of data. I am now working in the reliability field for Reliabilityweb, conducting training classes, reviewing books and articles, and sharing my experience through many conferences and symposiums. I am thankful for a fruitful career in manufacturing.

A member of Plant Engineering’s Editorial Advisory Board, Dave Reiber’s career at GM included global maintenance and reliability opportunities, and certification as a leader and instructor on the topic of reliability best practices.