Remote condition monitoring can alleviate worker shortages

Core maintenance KPIs are tied to increased work completion, reduced backlogs and improved mean-time-to-repair.

By John Bernet April 11, 2022
Courtesy: Fluke

The COVID-19 pandemic created numerous challenges and accentuated others. The most talked-about, vis-à-vis maintenance, is the skilled labor shortage. Whether due to increased opportunities in the job market overall, wage stagnation, burnout, or for other reasons, many employers are struggling to fill open positions.

The problem is so big that we’ve started calling it “the Great Resignation.” What is it, and how do organizations overcome business hurdles in a so-called worker’s economy?

Why is there a worker shortage?

As a result of the pandemic, the worker shortage shows itself first in low-wage jobs, such as within fast food or for manual labor workers. In addition, Suzane Greeman of Greeman Asset Management Solutions says “talent flight” occurs when supervisors create a toxic work environment. Some of the key concerns include:

  • Lack of empathy or authenticity
  • Tendency to over-reach and micro-manage
  • Poor leadership skills
  • Poor management skills
  • Unethical or unfair pay
  • Role misfits.

Often these issues are made worse by the pandemic. Employees are burned out for various reasons. Laborers are more apt to think of their health and wellness. It’s a complex crisis that impacts most of the world. However, there are still ways to bridge employee shortages using Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) technology.

[subhead]Overcome maintenance worker shortages

Managers in industrial spaces have also been seeing the impacts of the labor gap. Those in jobs like maintenance and reliability are particularly hard hit. And with fewer employees, it’s harder to keep up with preventive maintenance, let alone make progress on your journey toward predictive maintenance.

How do maintenance managers mitigate worker shortages? Two words: connected reliability.

What is connected reliability?

Connected reliability is the principle that communication between all systems, assets, and people should be easy and effective. By collecting comprehensive data on asset health, runtimes, and performance to the cloud, workers can leverage findings to improve production and efficiency.

Data does nothing on its own. People must analyze it and act from the findings. Connected reliability provides the depth and breadth of data needed for high-demand decisions.

Skilled tradespeople were already in demand before the COVID-19 pandemic. The gap has only worsened, as knowledge is walking out the doors. IIoT allows those who remain to draw on tribal knowledge left behind on CMMS software.

Workers can leverage existing data in new ways. Remote condition monitoring lets workers remotely track assets prior to a failure. In other words, IIoT technology helps unburden workers.

Maintenance KPIs improve programs

There are also plenty of maintenance key performance indicators (KPIs) that can help determine and track the efficiency of performance, whether asset or employee. Maintenance KPIs can help:

  • Decreasing costs
  • Eliminate failures
  • Reduce downtime
  • Increase work identification
  • Create work plans
  • Enable flexible work scheduling
  • Maximizing work execution.

Many core maintenance KPIs are tied to increasing work completion, reducing backlogs, and tracking mean-time-to-repair. After analyzing these three core areas, you’ll find that the above seven issues start to be alleviated.

Reducing backlogs

Backlog accumulation often goes hand in hand with worker shortages. The longer work goes uncompleted on backlogs, the more often costly failures or safety issues occur. The goal is to control backlog during normal operations, let alone pandemic emergencies.

Properly planning work prioritization with the skills of current employees will slowly but surely reduce backlogs. Tracking backlog completion rates provides visibility into worker capacity and leads to the Mean Time to Repair metric. Even with worker shortage issues, backlogs can be eliminated.

Mean time To repair (MTTR) is a metric for how long an asset is out of production, or the average time to repair from failure. Long repair times significantly impact a business’s bottom line, translating into missed orders or objectives.

MTTR Calculation is as follows: Sum of Downtime Periods ÷ Number of Downtime Periods = MTTR

Managers can determine minimum staffing, inventory, and repair/replace requirements by tracking MTTR. It represents how well an organization can respond to equipment problems with repairs. While MTTR may not solve worker gaps, it will help you find its impact on your organization.

Remote condition monitoring lets workers remotely track assets prior to failure. Motor shown is connected to Fluke’s 3562 screening vibration sensor system. Courtesy: Fluke

Remote condition monitoring lets workers remotely track assets prior to failure. Motor shown is connected to Fluke’s 3562 screening vibration sensor system. Courtesy: Fluke

Increasing work completion rates

It’s a no-brainer to track work completion rates in maintenance. It’s harder to do in practice. By tracking backlog completion and MTTR metrics, organizations can track work completion rates.

Connected reliability can help by freeing workers from routine measurement-taking rounds. Deploying condition monitoring technologies is better than simple rounds alone. For example, wireless vibration sensors can detect early failure warnings with more than enough time to plan and schedule maintenance. Thermal cameras can detect leaks, insulation gaps, electrical buildup, and other failure-causing issues.

Organizations can send technicians to work on jobs, not measurements, when combining these practices with continuous remote condition monitoring devices.


John Bernet
Author Bio: As a mechanical application and product specialist at Fluke Corp., John Bernet works with customers from all industries successfully implement their reliability programs. He has more than 30 years of combined experience in the maintenance and operation of commercial machinery and as a nuclear power plant electrician in the U.S. Navy. He holds a Category II Vibration Analyst certification and is a Certified Maintenance Reliability Professional (CMRP). John served in the U.S. Navy as an electrician and has more than 20 years diagnosing machine faults.