The uncertain future of maintenance
With nearly 27 percent of manufacturing workers planning to retire over the next ten years, loss of technical expertise and knowledge is a growing concern for facility managers. DARCY SIMONIS, vice president for ABB’s Food and Beverage segment reveals the future of maintenance in the food and beverage industry. Facility managers from all areas are bound to find valuable information within.
The food and beverage industry is one of the largest manufacturing employers in the world. So large is it that, according to a Deloitte report, Europe is struggling to find new talent. For the first time in the history of the EU15 (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom), there are more workers over 50 than there are under the age of 35. This is especially poignant as, according to a Society of Human Resource Management report, nearly 27 percent of manufacturing workers are planning to retire over the next ten years.
Losing such a large percentage of skilled workers is problematic for food and beverage maintenance teams. Maintenance technicians across the industry are highly specialised, with a great deal of technical knowledge and experience using a large array of bespoke machinery that has to operate at a near continuous pace. Stoppages in production can spiral unless they are dealt with effectively and expediently. With fine profit margins and high competition between manufacturers across the industry, not having enough highly skilled maintenance employees can be disastrous, especially considering how hard they are to find in the first place. According to Manpower Groups’ 2018 talent survey shows that skilled traders and technicians are in the top five hardest rolls to fill in the global economy.
Manufacturers and plant managers, therefore, need to understand that they must have a system in place to allow them to get the most from their shrinking workforce. The system must be able to reduce the workload that maintenance teams must carry out letting them concentrate on fixing and maintaining machinery.
Right place, right time
Effective organisation and prioritisation while working with smaller teams is paramount to success. Teams that are spread out too thinly don’t have the manpower to deal with complicated fixes, yet concentrating all your maintenance workforce in one place means they won’t be able to deal with issues in time. Achieving balance requires having a strong and in-depth overview of the complete maintenance system.
For example, maintenance teams should not lose precious time carrying out routines checks for processes that can easily be automated. While smart sensors have already reduced the workload for maintenance teams, having a system like ABB’s Manufacturing Operations Management (MOM) system can extract meaningful information from the captured data is also needed.
These systems allow plant managers to plan, create and execute equipment maintenance tasks using predictive system observations. Deploying maintenance teams in this fashion will help protect businesses and production, even if the organisation is low on manpower. Systems also allow for the creation of task execution checklists for technicians, which means no job gets missed.
Consider, for example, a manufacturing plant with three conveyor belt motors that need fixing. Two are in separate areas of the same plant and one is at a completely separate location. The system will be able to determine which conveyor is likely to breakdown first and have the most impact, letting the plant manager deploy an experienced technician to work on the critical motor.
Operation management systems can also provide detailed instruction checklists or maintenance manuals, which will help even the most experience maintenance worker be more efficient. This also helps trainee technicians get their skills up to scratch with a library of information available at their fingertips.
The next steps
Many up and coming technologies can be used to make sure that maintenance teams are being as effective as possible. Augmented Reality (AR) is a prime example of a new technology that will be useful at increasing worker effectiveness.
AR will enable detailed overlays that can live-stream instructions to the technician, meaning that they can receive detailed instructions as they progress in a task. Many AR systems also film what the user is seeing, meaning more experienced technicians will be able to view proceedings and give advice, while recordings will likely become a key part of future training structures and allow for constructive review sessions.
Virtual Reality (VR) also has great potential for training. Digital models of real-world machinery and entire plants will allow technicians to play around with deconstructing, fixing and reassembling machinery. Pairing these two technologies with the wealth of data and analysis provided by operation management systems will allow employees to understand their system effectively.
Large numbers of highly technical workers may soon be retiring from the workforce. However, in the current day, this does not necessarily mean that all their knowledge will be lost. By using operation management, AR and VR systems, much of the seemingly lost wisdom can now be saved and preserved for future use, making for a better outlook for the future of maintenance.