Gap in priorities
From the comments in “Industry on edge” (January InTech), it appears most of those quoted from operating organizations were either technical professionals or technical managers. It would be interesting to learn if executive and financial managers in the same operating companies with project approval and spending authority share the priorities. Based on recent discussions, there seems to be a wide gap in priorities between technical professionals and financial executives. Advanced technology and practice with significant benefits are often considered solely as unaffordable added cost by a financial executive consumed by bottom line performance.
Predictive Maintenance is a good example. As a participant in this field since before the term was coined (I believe I was working with the individual who, in the 1970s, originated the name), I have seen enough articles and papers to fell a small forest and participated in countless dedicated conferences. All are filled with major, irrefutable results gained from Predictive Maintenance programs in every industry and operating environment imaginable. Despite all the experience and documentation, the harsh truth is that with rare exceptions, Predictive Maintenance has never gained real support at an executive level. Many, if not most executives believe that fixing things (fast and cheap) when they fail is the least expensive way to manage a manufacturing (used in the broadest sense) operation. What technologists may think they contribute is often lost within an executive mindset that views maintenance as strictly a cost that can be reduced by command. Unfortunately, equipment decides how much maintenance is necessary and does not follow management edicts.
From a great deal of promise in the 1970s and 1980s, Predictive Maintenance never has, and probably never will attain the status as a business imperative similar to process automation and ERP. Mention maintenance in virtually any context, predictive or otherwise, to executives within all but the very best companies and interest diminishes immediately. Most think of a plumber or auto mechanic called when something breaks; a non core cost to be minimized rather than a business imperative to be optimized. Predictive Maintenance programs that drive crucial operating decisions are often considered added cost to what is already an unpleasant element of manufacturing and are the first to be downsized or eliminated when times get tough.
Recent discussions with two chief executives inquiring about opportunities in the Predictive Maintenance market and an effective strategy for selling Predictive Maintenance technology and services were quite illuminating. Neither could understand why a technology with such large potential benefit was so underutilized. One related how a major operating corporation recently terminated all their reliability engineers as a cost reduction measure because the economic downturn resulted in overcapacity where executives no longer considered reliability or predictive maintenance important. Countless similar stories have been related over the years, many of which resulted in huge additional costs due to a major failure that likely would have been identified in time to minimize damage, hazard to personnel, and lost production, had the predictive program not been eliminated as a “cost saving” measure.
Looking back over 40 years, it is clear to me that the idea of Predictive Maintenance has failed. Despite ARC assurances to the contrary, I believe the Predictive Maintenance field is at best static, and probably more likely in decline. So how do technologists who believe in Predictive Maintenance right the ship?
In my opinion, we must shift our thinking from technology for technology’s sake to improving our organizations financial performance. Instead of a stand alone practice, Predictive Maintenance should be thought of as a vital necessity within a larger Asset Management or Operational Excellence program (both terms gaining acceptance and credibility at the executive level). Peter Martin has an excellent slide (that I have borrowed) showing the relationship of Asset and Process Optimization and how the two are both imperative for Production or Operational Effectiveness.
The concept of Predictive Maintenance as an essential element within Asset Management (The reverse is not true: Asset Management can not be a subset of Predictive Maintenance.), and Operational Effectiveness should provide great incentive for the unconvinced to adopt this vital technology. Statistics in the article seem to reinforce the opportunity. Merging Predictive Maintenance into Asset Management, with duplicates removed, would probably result in Asset Management leading expectations for implementation over the next five years. Since we are a profession of lemmings, publishing that conclusion with a few definitions would provide powerful ammunition for practitioners attempting to sell optimizing technology, programs, and practices to financial executives.
The real issue is not that technologists dream of all these wonderful advances but rather until they can demonstrate business value and real interest at the executive level all is for naught. The future of manufacturing in North America hangs in the balance.
John S. Mitchell
San Juan Capistrano, California
Senior Member ISA