Asset Management

Reliability personnel's growing role

Christine LaFave Grace is joined by Ryan Chan, founder and CEO of Upkeep, a provider of CMMS and EAM tools as well as centers to support predictive maintenance.


Amanda Del Buono: Welcome back to Manufacturing Tomorrow’s Workforce, a podcast from Putman Media. I’m Amanda Del Buono, and today Christine LaFave Grace is joined by Ryan Chan, founder and CEO of Upkeep, a provider of CMMS and EAM tools as well as centers to support predictive maintenance. They’ll discuss Plant Service’s recent Workforce Survey results, the growing importance of maintenance personnel and the need to better sell these jobs to the potential workforce.

Here's their interview.

Christine LaFave Grace: Maintenance roles are changing. Maintenance roles are evolving. You’ve got to keep up or you and your organization are going to get left behind. It’s a common theme in conversations about the impact that digitalization is having on the manufacturing workforce. So, what does that look like in practice? And how can individuals in maintenance roles, as well as maintenance teams on a larger scale, work to future-proof themselves? What specific skill-sets, technical skills as well as bigger-picture, problem-solving skills will be most in need? And how can plants better cultivate these?

To get perspective on these questions, I’m speaking today with Ryan Chan, founder and CEO of Upkeep, a provider of CMMS and EAM tools as well as centers to support predictive maintenance. Ryan started his career working at a water filtration plant, decided things could be run more efficiently, went back to school to learn code, and essentially started Upkeep in his mom’s garage.

Ryan, thanks so much for joining me today. 

Ryan Chan: Thanks so much, Christine. I’m looking forward to our conversation.

CLG: Yeah, let’s dive right in. One of the top findings of Plant Services magazine’s recently released 2019 Workforce Survey was that workers believe their organizations can be doing a better job at creating and promoting career development opportunities. This actually was, in fact, the No. 1 thing that survey respondents said that they thought their company could be doing better to attract talent. Within maintenance departments, how have you seen career paths evolve and what opportunities or roles do you see now that either didn’t exist or maybe weren’t at the forefront five or 10 years ago?

RC: Absolutely. That’s a great question, Christine. We were just chatting about this, which was that you mentioned 21% of our listeners today call themselves reliability engineers. When I think about what’s changed over the last five to 10 years, I feel like that’s changed quite significantly. Five to 10 yeas ago, I wouldn’t say that 21% of people would call themselves reliability engineers. I would say that most people called themselves maintenance or maintenance supervisors or facility managers. And so, I think that there’s this awesome shift going on where we’re not considering ourselves so much as maintenance firefighters, but we’re considering ourselves and this entire industry now reliability experts and reliability engineers. I think that’s such an important shift in the industry that’s going on, because one of the things that I’m very passionate about is up-leveling the entire perception of this space and this field, and I think that one way that we do that is what we call ourselves. What is our main role? Are we just maintaining status quo? Or are we trying to improve the overall process and plant to try to drive better business decisions and to try to improve the entire business. That is what I’m excited about.

CLG: How well do you think that manufacturing organizations are embracing that and really getting the word out even to audiences, whether it’s high school students or others who maybe haven’t considered a career in manufacturing, that this emphasis is not just that you’re the person that’s going in and fixing stuff that’s broken, that you’re the person that’s preventing it from breaking in the first place. How well do you see that story being told?

RC: Not well enough, Christine. Not well enough. I think that so many people outside of our industry view this role and this department as someone that just goes out and firefights, someone that gets called when something breaks. But what they don’t realize is how important this role is. I was just talking to one of our customers, who was saying that the reliability department, the maintenance department, is so critical because what they are trying to prevent is not just a breakdown within their facilities, but a breakdown in their own products that they ship to consumers. What they said is they have another one of their sister companies almost go in to bankruptcy because of a huge recall because they didn’t properly test the products that they shipped out. And that is the role of a reliability engineer and that’s the impact that a reliability engineer can have on an entire business. To me that’s just like, that is a make or break, and I think people don’t realize how important maintenance and reliability is to a business overall succeeding or potentially going into bankruptcy because of that.

So, when we talk about are companies doing enough to spread the word of reliability and maintenance and up-level the entire profession, I don’t think that people are talking about it enough. I think that people view maintenance as someone, again, who gets called when something breaks down, but we often forget about the folks that do all of this amazing work that never get called because nothing ever bad happens. So, one of the goals of the entire company for us is shifting the perception of people who are preventing failures. We want to shine a light on them and showcase the work they do that’s so important. We don’t only want to shine the light on someone that goes out and fixes something after it breaks. We want to shine the light on the folks that have prevented catastrophic failures that never occurred.

CLG: Yeah, exactly. There are certainly parallels within a number of industries there. The people who prevent problems from erupting in the first place. When we talk about shifting roles and shifting titles and shifting away from the firefighting approach, what are some of the skill sets that are most needed to facilitate that?

RC: Absolutely. I think out there in the field, you always start going out and fixing equipment, getting your hands dirty, rolling your sleeves up, but the next part after that is taking a step back and being more analytical and setting strategy. And so, many people call this a reliability engineer, but it starts with going out into the field and understanding the equipment. After you’ve done that, you can take a step back and you can say, ‘hey, I want to use all of the data that I have and that I’ve seen out in the physical world, and I can start setting strategy. What is the goal of my department? What are the KPIs that we want to track and measure?’ And that’s the next step. Right? Taking data that we have out in the field, setting goals/KPIs, and starting to take action on the ways that we can improve.

What we always say to our customers or prospects or people in this industry is if you want to take that next step up, it’s really about being more analytical in nature, setting some goals/KPIs, and start running toward those. Whether it’s mean time to failure, uptime, downtime, OEE, it doesn’t really matter at least to us, it matters to you and your business what those KPIs are, but once you can start measuring, the impact that your business department has on the entire organization, that’s when you can start saying ‘I’m a true, valued thought-partner to the business.’

CLG: Yeah, you’re the value add. All this being said, what are some of the top workforce needs then today for maintenance departments? Where are there disconnects between needed skills and the talents that manufacturers are finding and recruiting?

RC: I think we need more analytical minds. What I’ll say as well is maybe it’s not so much of a disconnect between the needed skills and the available talent, I think the available talent has the ability to do this, they have the ability to think analytically, to think strategically on the business, but I often see it’s the business not giving them the opportunity and the business not giving them the time and the breathing room to be able to do this. And so, when we talk about taking a step back, being more analytical is all about trying to understand what got us there in the first place. We want to keep our equipment up and running, how can we do this on a more strategic level? And I think every single person who’s doing it today has this wealth of knowledge. They have the understanding of what goes on out in the plant. They are the ones who have the most knowledge. Not so much data scientists that come in and looks at graphs and charts for days and days in the office. It’s about the people that understand the equipment, what makes the business turn, what makes the business fail or succeed. You guys are the people that can make this impact and I always, always say and push that take the time to learn that. Take the time to step back and think about how we can drive the business in a more analytical, strategic way.

CLG: That is really interesting from a couple of perspectives, too. Number one, when we talk about people that have that institutional knowledge, who have been in the plant, who have been working on the ground for a decade or more, who are interested in advancing their career further and expanding their skill sets, who have expressed interest in engaging on that level and haven’t been given the opportunity because the organization hasn’t taken that step back to look at things. And the power of taking that step back to continue to engage them, number one. And Number 2, when we talk about or when we look at the survey results for millennials, how interested they are in being part of a collaborative culture and having the opportunity to work together on solving problems. How much value they see in that. It seems like a great opportunity in fostering this collaborative, big-picture analytical approach to engage people throughout their careers in pursuit of a really meaningful goal.

RC: Absolutely. And what I’ll also say there is that if this is the way that the business has been running, there’s a very high likelihood that it’s never going to change. The business is never going to change. So, it’s on us to take that first step, to take that first leap and say ‘I believe that this is important. I’m willing to invest the time. I’m willing to invest my own learnings into helping this business improve. This is what I believe is true. This is what I believe can have a big impact on the business.’ If the business hasn’t prioritized that, then there’s probably very little motivation to change. So, again, what I always say is we all have that opportunity to take that first step forward.

CLG: What does that first step look like then? From a strategic perspective, if you’re seeing an opportunity to do something better, as you did in your career, what are some of the ways that you can take that first step?

RC: It depends on where you guys are. For us, we have what we call the maintenance maturity model. If you guys don’t have anything, the first place to start is with data. Do we data that we can look at? Do we have data that we can report on? If you don’t, then the first step forward is being able to capture this data in a digital format. If we do say that we have data that we can report on, the next step is about setting some reports, KPIs, standards and goals for the team. That’s basically step No. 2, that’s the first step if you do already have a digital system in place. If you have goals, KPIs and reports that you can report off, now it’s about starting to take some action. If we notice that we have X amount of downtime every single month, what are we going to do to start changing that, to start effecting that? And then the fourth step, if you guys have taken action, we’ve started to see some sort of success, then I see this as a full lifecycle loop. The fourth step is always about improving and going back to the very fundamental and the very foundation, which is looking at data again, creating new goals/KPIs for the team, taking some new actions and constantly improving.

CLG: That’s excellent. Well, thank you very much for that perspective, Ryan. That’s great, actionable ideas on how to move forward. I want to thank Ryan Chan of Upkeep for his time in joining me today. For Manufacturing Tomorrow’s Workforce, I’m Christine LaFave Grace. Thanks, and have a great rest of your day.

RC: Thanks so much.

AD: That was Christine’s discussion with Ryan Chan, founder and CEO of Upkeep. To read the results of Plant Services’ Workforce Survey, visit Check back in two weeks for the next installment of Manufacturing Tomorrow’s Workforce. Thanks and have a great day.

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