Maintenance Technology May 2017 - 48

FINAL THOUGHT

Back to Basics
For a Better Future

Dr. Klaus M. Blache
Univ. of Tennessee
Reliability &
Maintainability
Center

48 |

D

uring a trip to Europe, several years ago,
I visited the German Museum of Science
and Technology in Munich (the largest
museum of this type in the world). While
there, I marveled, as many do, at the machinery
and equipment that people have designed and built
without the help of modern technology. Consider
the many windmills that used to be so prevalent
across the European landscape
According to Low-Tech Magazine (Barcelona,
lowtechmagazine.com), at their peak, the total
number of wind-powered mills in Europe was
200,000. The Netherlands alone is reported to have
had 9,000 of them by 1850. Based on a capacity of
about 50-hp each, that calculates out as roughly
450,000 hp to mill grain, pump water, and support
other industrial uses.
The craftsmen of those early, engineered wonders
were driven to do great work, mostly because
their livelihoods depended on it. Today is not that
different. For example, as stated in a Feb. 2015 Los
Angeles Times (latimes.com) article, The Boston
Consulting Group (Boston, bcg.com) predicted that
investment in industrial robots would grow 10% a
year in the world's 25-biggest export nations through
2025, up from what, at the time, was said to be 2% to
3% annual growth.
Those numbers reflect just one of many such
projections that popular news outlets seem to
continuously share. Regardless of automation's actual
rate of growth in industry, for purposes of reliability
and maintenance (R&M), the reality is that our
skilled trades need more technical knowledge to
understand wireless controls, computer interfaces,
machine learning with predictive technologies, big
data, and digital connectivity.
A lot can be accomplished right now. It starts with
getting better at doing the basics well with proven
best practices. Much of this falls into the category of
precision maintenance.
My 2016 study comparing the savings resulting
from precision-maintenance training with those
from general-maintenance training showed that
the benefits of applied precision maintenance were
greater by a factor of four. Precision-maintenance
training teaches trades and plant-floor engineers
essential manufacturing skills. Examples of such

MAINTENANCE TECHNOLOGY

Maintenance best practices will continue to
be key to manufacturing competitiveness.

skills include asset care and operation and machine
assembly and installation, plus hands-on knowledge
of precision alignment, pumps and pumping
systems, gearboxes, and root-cause failure analysis.

The payback
You recognize a skilled craftsman when you see
one at work. It's evident in how he or she takes care
of every detail, checks and rechecks the work, and
shows pride in doing something right the first time,
every time. Sadly, for reasons such as time pressure,
lack of training, and organizational culture, among
others, there's been a decline in craftsmanship over
the years. I am, though, of the opinion that most
personnel, if given the opportunity and an enabled
work environment, want to do the best job possible.
At the same time, the generally accepted number for
human error in maintenance issues is greater than
50%. A thorough comprehension and application of
precision maintenance can reduce that percentage.
Of course, we first have to find adequate numbers
of qualified technical workers. That's a challenge.
According to the Georgetown Univ. Center on
Education and the Workforce (Washington, cew.
georgtown.edu), by 2020, the United States will be
short 5-million workers with the necessary technical
certificates and credentials to succeed in highgrowth, high-demand industries.
In 1991, the National Research Council (NRC,
Washington, nationalacademies.org/nrc/) investigated U.S. manufacturing competitiveness. The
subsequent report stated, "...the most cost-effective
increase in U.S. manufacturing capacity may well be
achievable through improved maintenance practices
for existing equipment."
Fast-forward 26 years: I believe this NRC statement holds true in 2017, and will continue to hold
true in industries of the future. MT

Based in Knoxville, Klaus M. Blache is director of
the Reliability & Maintainability Center at the
Univ. of Tennessee, and a research professor in the
College of Engineering. Contact him at
kblache@utk.edu.
MAY 2017


http://www.lowtechmagazine.com http://www.latimes.com http://www.bcg.com http://cew.georgetown.edu http://www.nationalacademies.org/nrc/

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