Some of the characteristics that made us a strongly competitive and productive nation are in serious need of repair. Moreover, what is going largely unnoticed is that the maintenance skills shortage— which, very recently, was just a forecast of a perfect storm—has come down on us with a vengeance. Are you ready?
Operations & Maintenance
I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve been able to benchmark M&R improvement processes within and outside Cargill for the past decade. These visits have included trips all over the world. In a recent trip to one of our factories in Pennsylvania, I was introduced to a family of cultural change resistors that I’d like to share with you.
Over the years, our quest for lower production costs through technology has drastically changed the role the operator in our mills. Once an operator spent the majority of his day “on the floor.” This provided a hands-on knowledge of how equipment worked and what are the signs of it starting to fail. In today’s world, most operators are running the mill via computer-controlled systems.
From my experience, it is more common than not to find that the working relationship between operations and maintenance is one of adversity instead of a relationship of close and productive cooperation. Operations often sees itself as the customer of maintenance, and, consequently, maintenance is viewed as a service provider. In such a relationship, it should be obvious that operations is responsible for the cost of the maintenance work it requests and gets delivered. However, in a bad relationship, this is not the case.
A mentor can assume many different roles including teacher, motivator, advisor, coach, door-opener. A good mentor has some traits that are conducive to their role. They are supportive, patient, secure in their position and achievers. They tend to be accepting of others, even their shortcomings. Mentors require the ability to listen and possess questioning skills and a passion for their work and industry. They provide constructive and positive feedback and are able to plan and make decisions.
Manufacturing Operations Management: How Processors can take a New Approach to Raw Material Price Inflation
Manufacturers in process industries are no strangers to raw material price volatility. Historically, price fluctuations of 15 to 20 percent have been common and threatened only the weakest companies. But when prices surge by 100 to 200 percent over the course of 12 to 24 months, the rules of the game change. And when those increases become systemic—not just cyclical—they threaten the viability of all processors– large and small. And that’s exactly where the industry finds itself today.
Over the years, I probably asked this of several hundred employees, and many of the answers related to the interaction of management within the plant. They wanted the magic fix to be management that worked together, shift changes that were transparent, maintenance to work with operations, supervisors to be knowledgeable about expectations, and to feel part of the team. In essence, they wanted to perform like the USS Lincoln.
For decades, maintenance professionals have advocated and used information management systems, planned maintenance activities, emphasized preventive maintenance and assessed equipment utilization to eliminate non-essential assets (reducing numbers of equipment). These professionals also have been aware of the need for operator and mechanic training and, to some extent, decentralizing asset responsibility. Accordingly, they have been striving to build operator-ownership of equipment through basic care.
One of the major European postal services decided in the late 1990s to make a change in their plant maintenance organization. In my own U.S. Postal Service, there had been talk for years of combining the operations and maintenance supervision and reducing the supervisory ranks. It is easy to say, but how do you do it? Be careful of what you wish for!