I was reading an article recently about the need to address the loss of know-how as aging skilled workers retire. As I thought about it some more, I soon realized this problem was not isolated to any one particular industry or the United States. In fact, Europe, Japan as well as other parts of the world are expecting a sizable decrease in know-how over the next few years. Although there seems to be several potential solutions at hand, each has its own pro’s and con’s. With this in mind, let us take a look at maintenance professionals and what can be done to minimize the impact of departing aged workers and aging assets.

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What is Know-how?

Know-how is part of a company’s intellectual assets. It is defined as such because it is sum of all knowledge known by employees which may give employers a competitive advantage in the marketplace. For maintenance management professionals this knowledge may include specific knowledge of equipment/machine/asset:

  • Repair history
  • Reliability history, issues
  • Quirks and adjustments
  • Efficiency variables
  • Vendor knowledge
  • Manufacturer knowledge
  • Contracts
  • Resource locations
  • Workflow
  • Anything the maintenance engineers knows that contributes to asset performance as well as the bottom line of the company.

It would be nice if all this information could be absorbed by eating a little green wafer but it is more realistic that the information can be transferred via a little green computer wafer.

How Can You Keep Know-how?

The article referred to earlier was titled Transferring Knowledge as Our Skilled Workforce Retires. This article suggest that the equivalent of a asset checklist, tips and steps be collected for assets and then become part of a database for easy distribution through operator maintenance. The information needed would be collected through preventive maintenance, work orders or as part of standard operating procedures. The principle is excellent but I would like to add a few additional points for consideration on how to pass on know-how using an EAM/CMMS system.

  • Have consistent data collection procedures: Data collection should be part of every CMMS system. Unfortunately, this is not the case as too many systems are only being used to schedule work. In addition, if data is being collected it often lacks the detail necessary for analysis. For example, a work order may describe the problem as “The chiller is broken” or the solution as “It is fixed” when the work orders should have described detail such as “someone heard grinding noises” or “saw a leak” and then recorded the solutions as, “tightened bolts with 3/4 inch wrench” or “replaced valve” etc.
  • Make sure to set up assets correctly in the beginning. If assets are not set up correctly in the beginning, then data analysis becomes very difficult. Initial database set up should include at very minimum location, vendor information, contract data, date of purchase and of course fields for scheduling preventive maintenance, inspections and recording results.
  • Training programs must be in place. These include systems training, mentor training and company training. A company should never assume their employees are willing to part with or share their knowledge willingly. This is known as job security for employees. Training is not only essential but critical.
  • Integrate handheld technologies to increase adoption rates. Most  engineers are very adept with this type of tool regardless of age.
  • Prepare data as referenced as the article above suggests, but load data for retrieval on mobile handheld devices.

Start Collecting History Now

It is never too late to begin data collection. Keeping control of know-how is just one benefit of a properly implemented EAM/CMMS system and if the average age of your maintenance professional is over 50 then you should probably start soon. But if maintaining know-how isn’t a large enough concern to sell the decision makers then be sure to mention the additional benefits of implementing an EAM. These benefits include but are not limited to:

  • Fewer overtime hours as a result of scheduling proactive maintenance – value = $$
  • Increased time between capital purchases due to useful lifecycle increases – value $$$
  • Avoiding a major disaster because the one person who could have identified the problem ahead of time has retired – value = PRICELESS

Tools and How to Collect Asset Data

The best tool for collecting asset detail is an Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) system. An EAM is designed to help manage assets from the planning stage to an assets retirement/replacement. One of the most powerful features of an EAM is the ability to schedule and record work orders on all maintenance activities as well as recording the results. Maintenance activities are inclusive of inspections, preventive maintenance and repair work. For an EAM to work properly, the proper asset detail must be captured during implementation in order to attribute work to a particular asset or piece of equipment.

Asset data collection begins with a detailed inventory of all assets. This detail includes description, location, purchase date, cost, vendor information, contract details, serial number as well as intended use. The greater amount of detail captured the better. Assistance with the organization of the detail is normally provided by the implementation team of the vendor. Best of Breed EAM systems are not hard coded to allow for customization of the desired tracking details.

Tying It All Together

A properly implemented EAM system can be used by maintenance management for the lifetime of a facility. Over time, the maintenance history recorded becomes an invaluable library that can be analyzed and even integrated into training programs. It is important to note that not all knowledge can be transferred. Some knowledge is gained through the use of instinct and common sense. Instinct cannot be taught but can be developed with experience. Tell us how your company is addressing the expected knowledge base drop.

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