No longer solely occupied with fixing broken assets, the maintenance manager will need to be able to use technology to take their organisation's operations to the next level
Maintenance management is a concept that was borne out of the bid by early manufacturers to guarantee the survival of their businesses in a competitive market. With the shift from handmade to machine-made goods, these business owners knew that their machines required care from time to time and the solution back in the day was simple enough - use it till it breaks, then fix it.
That model, which we now call “reactive maintenance”, came with several crippling challenges especially the problem of unplanned downtime. Things needed to change and they gradually did. Thus, the more sophisticated methods of maintenance management as we know them today are the result of years of business owners coming to recognise maintenance as not just a bunch of engineers repairing stuff, but as an integral contributor to the success of the entire organisation.
What are maintenance managers doing today?
Maintenance management has changed over the years and technology is the leading driver of this change. We expect that these changes will continue as technology maintains its impact on both the processes and the machines.
Unlike in decades past where maintenance managers spent the bulk of their workday receiving complaints, managing a horde of technicians to physically inspect assets and manually assigning tasks, today’s managers can let specialised software, such as a Computerised Maintenance Management System (CMMS) handle those administrative and time-consuming tasks.
In addition, with the continued shift from reactive to preventive maintenance, with just a few clicks, a CMMS can generate maintenance schedules with detailed tasks and instructions.
With this added automation, maintenance managers spend less time overseeing maintenance operations and have more time to focus on what is truly important - performance metrics.
New technology enables the evolution of maintenance strategies
Maintenance managers are already getting more comfortable using digital tools to get the job done. Thus, proactive data-driven maintenance management trends, and all it entails, is the future of forecasting, managing, and monitoring maintenance activities.
The unfolding advancements in software, artificial intelligence, machine learning, sensors, and analytics provide formidable tools for any organisation to explore new ways of improving their maintenance operations.
Whereas maintenance used to be about tinkering with machines after they have failed and trying to get them back to work as quickly as possible, the future appears to be more of humans taking a step back. Sensors replacing manual inspections and warning you about needed maintenance work. This is the basics of condition-based monitoring and predictive maintenance.
However, it doesn’t end there. Prescriptive maintenance is taking things a step further and appears to be the future. It not only makes predictions about maintenance but proceeds to act on the recommendations. Machines will communicate more with themselves and then give your manager and technicians a few options they can take along with the consequence for each option.
The key to making all this work is machine data analysis and monitoring of performance metrics. With the increased use of the Internet of Things (IoT) and condition monitoring technology, could we get to a point in the future where downtime becomes a phrase that belongs in the past? Maybe. We cannot tell for sure just yet.
Will the role of a maintenance manager change a lot in the next few years?
We do know that since this technology is already helping us reduce downtime and deliver better functionality in the built environment, the maintenance managers of the future will be investing more time sifting through the data generated by these machines than managing maintenance technicians.
As the machines themselves become smarter, the work orders are going to schedule themselves in a way and maintenance managers will just oversee if everything is going according to plan.
Definitely, if you intend positioning your business to compete in the evolving market, the kind of maintenance managers you will be looking to hire will need additional skills to fulfil the roles that will be required of them.
These managers would be required to understand the technology and analyse the data using the appropriate software. Again, maintenance managers will have to constantly keep an eye out for even more changes in technology and be versatile enough to understand and recommend improvements to their employers.
The focus will be less of “can you repair or supervise the repair of this machine?” but more of “can you understand what this machine is saying and use it to improve our operations?”
When it is all said and done, it is hard to deny that the future of the maintenance industry looks exciting!