Tim Goshert, the worldwide reliability and maintenance manager at Cargill, recently penned a column for our Reliable Plant blog site (http://blogs.reliableplant.com) on how elements of predictive maintenance continue to get no respect. He refers to it as a sort of Rodney Dangerfield syndrome.
In my editorial for Machinery Lubrication magazine, I'm going to take Tim's train of thought one step further. I purport that even with all of the strides that have been made over the last decade or two, maintenance and reliability (the people, the career, the image) still in many ways suffers from a lack of respect. It's not fair. It's not right. And, we shouldn't have to take it anymore.
We've come a long way, but several examples over the past few months really brought home that we have to go much further in order to educate our bosses, our companies and the world about the value that we bring.
A buddy of mine who works as a maintenance manager at a decent-sized plant in the Midwest lamented to me that his budget got cut and his crew was reduced by 25 percent because, as his boss put it, "we aren't having the breakdowns and emergencies that we used to."
Another friend who works as a reliability engineer told me that he couldn't accept an offer to speak at a trade conference located 90 miles away because his company "didn't want to pay for two nights in a hotel" - a total expense of $300 - and (here's the kicker) it felt that "there's nothing new in maintenance and reliability anyway."
I received an e-mail from an administrative assistant at a well-known welding products firm (2008 sales of $2.5 billion) stating that "effective immediately, per our human resources department, our company no longer allows our personnel to receive magazine subscriptions" and that the subscriptions that its plant-floor managers personally signed up for should be cancelled. I called one of the subscribers, a production manager, to see if he knew about the new policy. His response? "They did WHAT?!"
A 12,000-circulation newspaper and its corresponding Web site provided coverage of a technical skills competition for trade school students and those involved in apprenticeship programs. In its article, the paper referred to the competition's top award winner, Liam Belk, not as a budding young mechanic or technician, but as (I'm dead serious) a "trainee grease monkey."
And, finally, a friend of my high school son graduated this spring. This young man is exceptionally bright - an honors student who speaks two languages fluently. He's a real problem-solver ... and he has chosen a career in power plant maintenance. He's fascinated with motors, pumps and electronics. He bypassed the traditional four-year college route and instead will start attending classes at the area technical college. I've heard townies on a couple of occasions say, "That's a shame."
Why don't they get it?
Why don't they get that correct, effective and well-done maintenance eliminates breakdowns and emergencies? That's a no-brainer!
Why don't they get that a small investment in attending an industry conference brings back a ten-fold or greater return as the result of sharing and gleaning new ideas, innovative strategies and cutting-edge solutions?
Why don't they get that maintenance and reliability isn't your daddy's maintenance and reliability, and that it's a field that is constantly advancing in technology and philosophy?
Why don't they get that trade magazines (the good ones, at least) provide M&R leaders with information to improve plant practices and tactically and strategically impact the business' bottom line?
Why don't they get past the old stereotypes of mechanics, lubrication technicians and other skilled workers as "grease monkeys" and of maintenance as a dead-end career option?
Rodney said it best: "No respect, I tell ya."
Changing that thinking is our responsibility - you, me, your colleagues and co-workers, my colleagues and co-workers.
We (you and I) need to step up our efforts in terms of quantifying and communicating what people in the maintenance and reliability business bring to the table.
We need to focus our mission on the "they", taken from the question "Why don't they get it?" "They" may be one person or one department. Or, it could be a larger entity. Identify and then act.
We need to show and explain and educate and lead people by the hand. Get them to personally see that the maintenance department is a solutions center and not a money pit. Get them to see that effective machinery lubrication and oil analysis leads to more runtime, fewer breakdowns/emergencies/defects and less overall costs. And on and on and on and on.
We need to get over our inherent humility and get out of our comfort zone. Tell and show people the good that you bring. Put the spotlight on the achievements and the benefits and the possibilities.
It's time for us to stand up. Stand up for what you provide. Stand up for what you think is right and necessary for the plant. Stand up for what you need to do your job to the fullest. Stand up for your brothers and sisters. Stand up for maintenance and reliability. Stand up!