Reliability Isn’t Just About Your Machines, Develop Your Other Assets - the People

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With all the various maintenance training opportunities and our limited budgets, how do we insure it is a worthy investment of our time and money? The following information was developed as a result of research to formulate a training strategy for plants of various sizes within a business unit. Some of the plants consisted of as few as two maintenance craftspeople or as many as forty-five. Each shared different challenges, but the same goal. It became apparent very quickly that there was no silver bullet or a cookie cutter approach that addressed all the issues within each facility. The budget, time, management commitment, employee interest, morale and other factors dictate each facility’s needs. The following is the process used as well as the options considered during my research and the experiences that were gained during implementation. The basic take away points are:

  • Ideas for determination of training weaknesses,
  • Sources of training including full, low and no cost training, implementation, and
  • Sustaining the training process.

Accept it, we have training weaknesses…

How much training do you provide per year per maintenance employee? Most of us can say not enough quite easily, but just for the sake of reference, a world-class facility is said to do more than 40 hours of training per employee (maintenance and operations) per year. It has been estimated that one should spend one thousand two hundred dollars per maintenance supervisor per year for training and development. The Department of Education funded a survey with the Bureau of Census to understand how training impacts productivity. In this study, they discovered that increasing one’s educational level by 10% increases productivity by 8.6%. This was the largest productivity improvement of any of the motivators considered.

One piece of training programs that is very important and often forgotten is refresher training. Training that is not refreshed at least biannually is forgotten and ineffective. According to a recent study, 70 percent of all equipment failures are self-induced. This could include equipment that is damaged by neglect and abuse or improper operation and maintenance. Industry expert Keith Mobley stated in Plant Services Magazine that 17 percent of all reliability problems can be attributed to improper maintenance. Improper maintenance stems from a few critical areas. The major players in the game tend to be lack of understanding of the effects of production changes, lack of expectations from supervision, lack of proper tools and standard processes and lastly, lack of training in developed processes, procedures and core skills. By implementing a basic training program it is possible to address the lack of training and see substantial improvements in maintenance cost and downtime, which as we all know adds the money to the bottom line.

Hunt our weaknesses down

Once you admit that you have a problem, the next step is to really identify what areas it is affecting. This is crucial for identifying the skills that are less than adequate, justifying the expenses of a training program and building a business case. As part of this needs analysis you need to look for data that is repeatable and collected consistently. One should not be overly concerned with the accuracy of the data because realistically most of us are not world class and will spend more time concentrating on the trends than the individual points. A CMMS system is obviously an excellent source of data but it should not be the only source. Working cohesively with the other departments to get purchasing, quality, and operational reports works exceptionally well in order to provide you with indications of problems that warrant extra investigation. It also begins to build connections with the other parts of the organization by showing that you share a common goal, common problems, and common data to identify solutions. This will build buy in and support for when you need it later. Once you get the data, don’t concentrate too much on the exact numbers, look for the trends and repeat offenders. What failures affect your critical or bottleneck equipment? Once you have identified the failures that account for most downtime or overall cost then identify root causes. Some of these root causes will point back to skill deficiencies. These become your business case for training and development, a must in a world of accountants and budget cuts. I suspect that if your facilities are like mine you will find root causes that can be directly related to the following training issues: bearing installation, shaft alignment, bolt looseness, belt installation, part misapplication and lubrication. These have historically shown up in root cause investigations and will be addressed in the next sections.

The next part of the training plan of attack is to begin to define each of the jobs and positions within your maintenance organization by performing a job task analysis. There are multiple ways to complete this step. The most economical seems to be a team format with the people it affects as part of the team. The team of subject matter experts will build the list or pick the task from a task database and try to determine frequency and difficulty as well as how crucial the task is to the reliability of the equipment. Another possibility is to observe a craftsman noting every task completed day after day, asking questions, and building a task list from these observations and conversations. This can be a very expensive way of collecting the data and is not recommended. These processes help to identify all the facets of the job as well as building more buy in for the whole training process. People enjoy talking about what they do and we, as supervisors, do not always know all the intricacies of the job they perform. As all of the skills for each position become more defined, we can then begin to understand who needs what on our developmental training matrix.

The next step in the process is to assess the skills of the crafts; this can be done with job performance appraisals if direct, consistent, unbiased information is available. Most of the time, however, this information is not the most effective or accurate way to populate the training matrix. Two other options to accomplishing this task are the written and computer based test. These tests can be developed in house for your specific equipment, providing the most accurate measure of applicable skills at a much higher cost, or these can be purchased through various training and testing vendors. Once you complete and score the test and populate the training matrix with the skill level of each employee in each area that applies to them then you can also store this in your CMMS work order scheduling system to facilitate maintenance supervisors and planners assigning work orders. The planners or supervisors can then pair technicians on jobs so that you get a highly skilled person with one of your developing technicians. This will of course build depth in your maintenance organization.

Now let’s get some training….

I have divided the training courses offered into three major categories by cost for ease of discussion. The first section is all the “not free but better than the alternatives” training sessions. These included certifications, vocational schools, and other full price training opportunities.

Vocational schools offer many programs for the millwright in your plant; however it is very hard to generalize the learning experience that can be gained from them. Before embarking into a training program with your local community college it is worthwhile to visit the campus and instructors, and review the curriculum. Many will appreciate your input into their program, especially if you may be hiring or have already hired their graduates. The downfall of this area of training plan is that most community colleges have little to offer your more advanced employees other than the possibility of occasional refresher courses in the basics.

The next type of training is the certifications such as Vibration Institute, Technical Associates for your vibration analyst, Noria for your oil specialists and various universities for your lead mechanics and electricians, maintenance supervisors and managers. These tend to be more expensive but they provide some very good information and opinions and tend to rejuvenate the participants with new ideas. The vibration analysts in your plant typically need to attend at least one certification type session per year that deals strictly with their trade because this area and its technology tends to move very quickly and one can get stale in short order. The other types of training do not change as quickly and provide for more time between sessions without losing the edge, however you should never exceed more than two years in any core area of your training plan if you expect to remain competitive. University programs, online courses, and certificates for reliability engineers and managers are available from Clemson University and the University of Alabama. The University of Tennessee as well as others have full bachelors degrees and beyond in reliability engineering for those so inclined.

Motion Institute and SKF offer training in many of the common areas of concern on your maintenance skill matrix. They will complete this onsite as well as at their respective facilities. The training they offer is fairly well balanced in theory and mechanics as well as troubleshooting. I have used them for bearing installation/handling training, and bearing failure analysis with great success. Henkel Locktite is also working on training centered on eliminating root causes in your facility. As you know there are many consulting firms such as Life Cycle Engineering and Marshall Institute that can also assist with your training efforts. The last full price training offering does not always fit into this category. It can vary in cost depending on when and how it is handled. This is training that is provided by your equipment vendors through the initial commissioning or as part of a troubleshooting effort. This is training that affects the largest percentage of your total plant population because it should include training sections for operator, maintenance crafts, reliability engineers and technicians that interface with the particular pieces of equipment. When new equipment is installed it is common to offer training to the operators and crafts on general operation. However, many neglect to get training for the maintenance and troubleshooting of the equipment. This is as important as basic operating instructions in your long-term quest for reliability. The knowledge that is gained by the crafts will facilitate troubleshooting and improve mean time to repair. Once you get a good foundation from the equipment vendor don’t forget to plan on refreshers down the road for new employees or to reinforce proper procedures as time removes them from your existing employees memory.

The next two sections will cover the people who provide the bulk of the refresher training I used as well as some ways to leverage the cost from the full price section across your staff. This is the “Reduced cost but still good” section.

If the full price offsite classes can be set up onsite they become quite economical. The key becomes having a large number of people from your organization to attend at one time leveraging the cost across the group. However, we all do not have a large group of technicians we can have out of the action for training at the same time unless they put management in to do the work. So, in these cases many of the training companies are allowing one plant to host the training and open it up to other plants in the division or company to leverage the cost. I recently saw one plant in an industrial park host training and open it up to other companies in the area to distribute the cost. This provided for not only a good training session at a reasonable price but also provides good networking time for all those involved. Another variation on distributed cost training is the “train the trainer” model where one respected unofficial leader who will work with all the reliability offenders is trained to teach the correct maintenance practices within your organization. This can work with very good results as long as the proper person is chosen to steward it. One thing to remember here is that the trainer still must be refreshed yearly lest that person starts to teach bad habits and your results will start to fail. Another one of the more common, lower cost solutions is the CD-ROM, web based, and video with workbooks type training that is offered. I have only seen mediocre results with this option due to a lack of excitement once the new wears off. When this is structured as part of the compensation plan then it does tend to get more attention but it never enjoys the enthusiasm associated with the other types of training.

The last portion of the training section is centered on the “Free or almost free training”. Ah the holy training grail we have been looking for, right? Well not always…this option can be very useful for refresher courses on anything from belt installation to lubrication practices. The only drawback is that you must really pay attention to the material that the vendor wants to present to avoid too much sales propaganda. I have used many different vendors for this type of training and I have only had one that turned out to be there for a sales pitch. Using the rules to follow I caught this before wasting the craft’s time in the session. The key to my success with the vendors training includes the following:

  1. Try to have the vendor bring in their technical people and not just the sales guy.
  2. Make it clear that the maintenance staff is not the purchasing department and a whole lot of sales hype will be futile.
  3. Ask the vendor if he has done sessions like this before.
  4. Review agenda ahead of time and suggest topics of interest to your grouptour of the plant prior to the presentation so that he can speak to the types of equipment that you have and the problems you face.
  5. Make sure you talk with the presenter ahead of time to make sure he has a certain level of charisma and presentation skills or bring pillows for the sleeping technicians
  6. If you are worried about a vendor then have them do two sessions the same day and you and a few others attend the first session before committing a larger portion of the maintenance group to the second one. I have only had to do this once  and it turned out to be ok in the end.

I have used the following organizations for refresher training:

  • Henkel Locktite for refreshers on the Locktite products and reliability as a whole
  • ExxonMobil Lubrication and Kluber Lubrication for oil and grease usage and lubrication storage and handling practices
  • GE Supply/Littelfuse and Bussmann for electrical safety and fuse application
  • Motion Industries/Gates Company for belt installation and tensioning
  • CSI for simple predictive maintenance skills for technicians
  • Allen Bradley for basic PLC and more advanced AB specific equipment
  • Trane Company for various chiller and utility training through training fairs

I also have some experience with other smaller regional vendors such as nut and bolt vendors for proper fastener application and torque, etc. It can work to satisfy many of the training needs especially refreshers that are required to keep us competitive as long as you put in the work up front.

Now we have some training, how do we spread it like the flu bug in a preschool?

Once you identify your weaknesses and get the training started you have to make sure that the knowledge that is gained through the training is transferred within the organization and applied to do the work. The first part of the process is training and coaching your “leaders.” These may be the supervisors, but more times than not they are your unofficial leaders, the ones that the maintenance group looks to for answers and example. If the newer maintenance technicians or apprentices see “Good Ole Joe” banging on that new 6232 ball bearing with a hammer and a chisel to get it on the shaft then nine times out of ten they will then assume that that behavior is acceptable and they will do the same from then on. This cycle has to stop to take maintenance from the reactive world to a proactive one where you don’t get those breakdown calls in the middle of the night. Another option is to start a mentor/apprentice program for your newer technicians where they can learn from the ones that do things right. Just make sure you reward your mentors and let them know what they are doing for the company, for you, and for themselves.

Now that we have spread it, how do we keep it going longer than a week?

This section is possibly the hardest to complete. It requires our dedication to the level of safety programs we have initiated in recent years. It has to become part of our daily schedule. It has to be supported by management. One option is to have different technicians give a brief five-minute maintenance topic during the morning toolbox meeting that they have researched on their own. It could be something as simple as the differences between grade eight and grade five bolts, or how to properly use the bearing heater. This keeps our expectations in the forefront. Another option is to leave maintenance related tip or topic from the web on the break room tables. It is amazing what we will read while eating lunch.

If you have good public speakers in your group have them recap their training for the group during the monthly safety meeting, if they do not like to speak have them just pass around a copy of their notes or the manual. There are many other ways to keep quality maintenance in the forefront, and many of them we can borrow from our safety programs that are successfully in place within our facilities. The key here is that you have to make good maintenance practices a lifestyle and celebrate the successes you acquire through their application.

In conclusion…

We must identify our weakness, use them to build a business case and a plan of attack, we must
not forget to work with our partners both maintenance, production and engineering to get their
buy in and celebrate our victories together to retain their support. Maximize your training budget
by leveraging class cost across groups and using free and low cost training with the proper prework.
Training is one of the most important building blocks of overall equipment reliability, and
reliability delivers availability and ultimately money to our bottom line.


1) Moore Ron, Making Common Sense Common Practice, published by Gulf Publishing
Company 1999
2) Wireman, Terry, World Class Maintenance Management, published by Gulf Publishing
Company 1990
3) Mobley, R. Keith, Maintenance Engineering, published by 2003

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