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Maintaining Know-How PUBLIC ACCESS

Once they Learn All the Techniques, Plant Engineers are Set to Retire.

[+] Author Notes

P. Dale Johnson is a consultant in plant operations and the author of Principles of Controlled Maintenance Management (Fairmont Press, Lilburn, Ga. To get a free copy 0f Johnson 's curriculum, write to him at Maintenance Management Consulting, 1925 Greenleaf Ave., No. 22, Anaheim, CA 92801.

Mechanical Engineering 126(05), 42 (May 01, 2004) (1 page) doi:10.1115/1.2004-MAY-5

Abstract

This article discusses that plant engineers are set to retire once they learn all the techniques. It seems that most organizations today are promoting the latest engineering and maintenance technologies. A problem that has existed for many years is that engineering students are taught a lot of theory, but little or none of the practicalities of maintenance and repair of equipment. The fault lies with top management of companies. For too many decades, top managements have considered maintenance to be strictly a cost center and a necessary evil that they hope will go away. When newly graduated engineers accept positions in the engineering and maintenance departments of industrial plants, they start learning the practical side of engineering and maintenance. Their employers then spend tens of thousands of dollars and a few years training them before inexperienced engineers can become profitable to their companies. The basics of plant and facility engineering and maintenance apply to all industries. All companies, for the benefit of their bottom lines, should urge colleges to implement a plant and facility engineering curriculum.

Article

It seems that most organizations today are promoting the latest engineering and maintenance technologies. Technology advancement is necessary, but what about the basics?

A problem that has existed for many years is that engineering students are taught a lot of theory, but little or none of the practicalities of maintenance and repair of equipment. The fault lies with top management of companies. For too many decades, top managements have considered maintenance to be strictly a cost center and a necessary evil that they hope will go away.

A friend of mine was the plant engineer in a paperboard manufacturing plant. He had received engineering and maintenance training in college. The management wanted to increase the plant's output and had decided to purchase a new and faster machine. My friend asked them to wait while he determined what he could do. He found a machine that was obsolete and was going to be scrapped. He bought it for the price of the scrap metal, designed modifications to the machine, and performed the modifications with his maintenance personnel.

The output was twice the original design output and met the plant management's productivity target. He saved the company more than $400,000. This is just one example of why plant engineering and maintenance should be considered a profit center, not a cost center.

When newly graduated engineers accept positions in the engineering and maintenance departments of industrial plants, they start learning the practical side of engineering and maintenance. Their employers then spend tens of thousands of dollars and a few years training them before inexperienced engineers can become profitable to their companies.

Many plant engineers today have learned the basics of maintenance by working their way up through the ranks for 20 years or more, and have been promoted to their current positions. These people then start learning the latest technologies, after they have mastered the basics.

By the time they have learned the technologies, they are often ready for retirement. Who will replace them and their vast amount of knowledge?

It was because of this situation in industry that I developed a four-year college curriculum in plant and facility engineering. Some of the courses in the curriculum are machine shop practices, engineering graphics, properties of materials, electrical circuits, chemistry, boilers, electronics, heat transfer, electrical machinery, HVAC, electrical control systems, manufacturing processes, construction practices, maintenance management, and pollution control. A course in oral communication is included because the plant engineer must communicate well and clearly with the maintenance and production personnel and with plant management.

Maintenance Should Be Considered A Profit, Not A Cost, Center.

The maintenance management course teaches the future plant engineers how to develop and implement a maintenance management system that is customized to the needs of the plant. It also teaches the future plant engineers how to balance and schedule the maintenance workload so more can be done with less.

A very important portion of the course is cost accounting. The student learns how to account the cost, labor and materials, for each item of equipment and each facility, and how to develop realistic maintenance budgets.

It is recommended that the student should spend the first summer in a co-op work program in mechanical maintenance. He will learn to get his hands dirty, why machines fail, and how to repair them. The more important lesson will be to learn the thinking of the hourly personnel, which is usually much different from the thinking of management.

The second summer should be spent in electrical and electronic systems maintenance. The third summer should be in a plant engineering office to learn practical administration and management.

A graduate of the curriculum is not a specialist, but is well- rounded in the requirements of plant engineering and maintenance.

The basics of plant and facility engineering and maintenance apply to all industries. All companies, for the benefit of their bottom lines, should urge colleges to implement a plant and facility engineering curriculum.

Copyright © 2004 by ASME
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