What's on the minds of maintenance and reliability leaders? Here's my take, based on conversations I had with a ton of people at the recent Society for Maintenance & Reliability Professionals conference in Cleveland and Reliable Plant's "Lean Tools for Maintenance and Reliability" conference in Chicago.

Lean maintenance: A much larger percentage of maintenance managers say their departments are utilizing lean manufacturing/Toyota Production System concepts to achieve greater organizational efficiencies and are actively involved with cross-departmental lean projects whose underlying goals are to increase the reliability of key plant-floor assets. Credit that to the maturation and mainstreaming of lean in America. Or, credit that to the fact that more companies realize that their past lean efforts were suboptimized as a result of excluding or back-burnering maintenance from the continuous improvement process. Either way, in many plants, lean terms such as kaizen, five-whys and poke-yoke are becoming as much a part of the maintenance lexicon as repair, rebuild and overhaul. (Speaking of lean, check out Page 38 for a review of the Lean Tools event.)

Going green: A rising percentage of M&R leaders have been given the directive to have maintenance department activities conform and comply with corporate sustainability (a.k.a. green) goals. Reduce, recycle and reuse is just the start. Managers have been asked, for example, to: make the switch to environmentally friendly chemicals, solvents, degreasers and cleaning solutions; utilize floor coatings and paints whose formulations have low/no volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and hazardous air pollutants (HAPs); and, replace plant lighting from conventional high-pressure sodium, metal halide and mercury vapor bulbs to T8 fluorescents to improve energy efficiency.

Baby Boomers and skills shortages: A significant number of M&R leaders expressed concern over looming retirements of Baby Boom-generation workers. One maintenance manager stated that the average age of his crew was 57.5 years old; five others cited average-age stats between 52 and 55. While many acknowledged that they had problems, few had solutions in place for attracting - let alone hiring, developing and retaining - people to take the place of retiring or soon-to-be-retiring skilled workers. A couple of managers seemed hopeful that a magical genie would be arriving soon to make the problem go away. Fellas, he isn't coming.

Touting the value you provide: Many maintenance leaders still seem perplexed on how to get their "customers" in production and their bosses at the plant and corporate levels to see the value that their organizations bring. From my perspective, the problem generally stems from a few facts:

1) Maintenance folks are pretty humble. They normally do not seek the spotlight. They are uncomfortable (or have no clue in terms of) promoting and marketing themselves.

2) Maintenance folks fail to quantify their value in terms that get the attention of management. Drew Troyer thumps this to no end in his Exponent columns in Reliable Plant. An increase in mean time between repairs is nice, but money is what talks. Some organizations royally succeed in touting their value. They create plant newsletters and write articles for the company intranet site that explain important maintenance projects and quantify them in terms that are meaningful to the reader. Or, they contact me and state their case for why their organization should be featured in an RP cover story. If you don't market yourself, who will?

What's on your mind? Drop me a line at parnold@noria.com and let me know.