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    Industry in Motion

    Maintenance Engineering Report 2023

    Customers share maintenance challenges following launch of Industry in Motion report

    With the growing challenges facing maintenance engineers in today’s tumultuous climate, taking the pulse of the profession and getting under the skin of the issues most effecting maintenance engineers across a multitude of sectors is a valuable exercise to undertake. With that in mind, we partnered with the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) to conduct a survey among its members. More than 1,200 of them responded and almost 700 of those were from the UK and Ireland. We compiled a report from the findings of the UK and Ireland responses to shine a light on some of the key issues that arose. 

    The resulting ‘Industry in Motion’ 2023 Maintenance Engineering Report covers five key areas: monitoring maintenance engineering, skills, the true cost of breakdowns, raising performance through stakeholder collaboration, and harnessing technology to improve efficiency. Some great insights were drawn from the survey results, and we thought it would be good to get some feedback and input from some of our customers to see how they related to these findings, and whether they mirrored their experiences. These customers joined us in roundtable discussions following our report launch, and were from organisations operating in sectors including utilities, construction, transport, automotive, manufacturing and food manufacturing. 

    Can the true cost of downtime really be determined?

    Our Industry in Motion report highlighted that nearly 20 hours are spent each week on unscheduled maintenance, compared with around 18 hours spent each week on scheduled maintenance, with downtime averaging at a cost of £5,121.81 to a business. It’s clear that maintenance engineers certainly have their work cut out!  

    Many of the customer representatives weren’t surprised by the figures, but also felt it was difficult to quantify the true cost of downtime. They felt that, in their organisations, it probably wasn’t monitored or measured closely enough – across all cost areas – to generate a definitive figure. With the knock on effect spanning cost of the components, time spent on repair or solution and impact on production as a result of the downtime, it’s no mean feat to deliver a figure. Taking into account the varying business sectors, this also creates differentiators that muddy the waters further. For instance, the cost of an hour of downtime to an automotive manufacturer may differ greatly from that of a utilities company or a food manufacturer.  

    Business criticality was also a factor in the acceptance of downtime cost, and maintenance maturity level, our customer group felt. They asserted that downtime in some sectors was more acceptable than for others, and that a business in the utilities or aerospace industries – where downtime is significantly expensive, compliance high and maintenance critical – maintenance maturity will be much higher than for other sectors. 

    “We’re just doing our job” – are maintenance engineers too modest?

    So we’ve established that the job of the maintenance engineer is one that doesn’t give them too much rest! They move from one issue to another, solving and moving on. There can be a real cycle of firefighting, so it’s not surprising they don’t have time to celebrate the individual wins, let alone demonstrate value or the return on investment, or even make a case for further investment in maintenance. Our customers felt it was hard to get management to see maintenance as an investment not a cost. 

    The consensus among our customer group was that maintenance engineers are a modest bunch, getting on with the task in hand which, sometimes, can be thankless. Many would relish the opportunity to prevent the issues rather than be the heroes that fix them. In fact, it was felt that the true heroes are the ones who prevent issues. However, in many cases, time, resource and lack of understanding among all stakeholders can be barriers to the preventative approach. “In order to redress this balance, engineers need a seat at the decision-making table,” said one of our customer representatives, “as they have the knowledge and data to offer”. Culture change is crucial when it comes to attitudes to maintenance, and it seemed that our customer group was made up of advocates for preventative and predictive maintenance. It’s certainly a food for thought topic and one we could have extended discussion on, if time allowed.  

    The maintenance maturity picture isn’t a clear one

    Our report highlighted that 68 per cent of maintenance engineers have more than one maintenance strategy in place, and for our customer representatives, knowledge of the various strategies were high, but differed in priority based on industry sector. One cited his understanding of the sliding scale as starting at one end with regressive, where an ageing asset is being fixed to work until it drops, moving to reactive maintenance that addresses issues as they happen. Then he listed planned, based on data which could be some condition monitoring tactics like vibration sensors or thermal imaging, and then ‘world-class’, where there is the opportunity to influence the OEM design. Across his career working in industries from packaging, to food, to metal production, it varied significantly and was also dependent on profit margins. Those with bigger profit margins on their products are more likely, in his experience, to have a lower maturity level as downtime isn’t seen as a real issue when profits are easier to make. 

    As well as the type of business or industry, approaches can vary within organisations with multi-site operations. Smaller versus larger sites, acquired businesses with inherent cultures, size of budget and individual engineer attitudes were contributory factors to maintenance levels. It was agreed, while it’s important to have a mandate on maintenance that comes from the top, it’s also a ‘people thing’ and requires the right mindset to be driving it on the ground. Buy-in must occur at all levels, from top down. 

    Overall, many felt they were sitting somewhere between reactive and planned, but sometimes, organisations can rest on their laurels after success and perhaps let routine maintenance procedures like cleaning or oiling slip. Our customers felt giving maintenance teams ownership, and refreshing maintenance plans rather than seeing it as a one-off activity is key. 

    Who wants to do this dirty job?” Is perception hindering engineering as a career path?

    The issue of an ageing skilled workforce and a large age gap to the next engineers coming through was highlighted in our report. However, millennials made up more than half of our respondent pool, so the opportunity to attract new talent and make engineering a desired career path certainly isn’t lost. And as this group is reaching key decision-making positions, this will potentially only aid the attraction. But what did our customers think? 

    Engineering can conjure images of greasy oil rags – so is this a put-off for new talent and attracting young people into the profession? Some of our customers felt that this was still a valid issue and it isn’t an industry screaming glamour.  

    As the issue of skills shortages and gaps not being one that can be addressed or solved overnight, what kinds of approaches did our customers think might help? Outsourcing is one area that can really help an organisation overcome such issues, and our report found that more than 60 per cent of respondents are outsourcing some form of maintenance requirement, with a gap in skills being the top two reasons. This was backed up by one of our customer representatives whose organisation had chosen to outsource elements to overcome skills gaps. 

    Data – can it be trusted?

    Digital transformation is a key area in maintenance engineering, yet only 16 per cent of respondents to our survey stated they use Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), and fewer than one in five respondents said their company is planning a digital transformation in the next 12 months. Our belief is these figures stem more from the fact that terms like IIoT and digital transformation aren’t ones operational maintenance people use, as deployment of condition monitoring, which uses IIoT, was cited by more than half of the respondents. These included using technologies like vibration measurement and current monitoring, to better understand asset health and achieve better prediction of failures.  

    Among our customer group, a myriad of solutions were being used to analyse data captured and, in some cases, conflicting solutions or a mix of systems were more of a hindrance than a help. With data sitting in silos and not necessarily synched, can the data even be trusted? “You wouldn't get on a plane with a false dashboard,” said one, and this sentiment of data distrust was echoed. 

    Many felt that the data to inform decisions wasn’t always good and the data gathering processes used out in field were not adequate. Finding the right technology solutions in a crowded market with no real universal approach, and trying to integrate this with existing systems, is a minefield our customers all felt they were struggling to navigate. Some felt they were losing out on the efficiency gains the solutions are supposed to deliver, because of a lack of a cohesive approach across departments – each with different roles, responsibilities and priorities.   

    The Industry in Motion report provided some great industry insight which we hope will provide our customers, and indeed anyone working in maintenance engineering across all sectors, with some useful information and guidance on how to move forward in their maintenance strategies. Working with trusted partners like RS will help their efforts. A collaborative approach can really address the pain points maintenance engineers are facing in these challenging times.  

    Download the report to find out more.



    Maintenance Engineering Report 2023