Electrical Testing
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Technology Needs a Base

To gain a competitive advantage, bolster your technology upgrades with employee training.

To gain a competitive advantage (or just stay out from behind the eight ball), most companies invest in technology. That’s a good thing, but not if you stop there. Let’s look at an example that illustrates this.

In the 1990s, many businesses adopted computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS) that run on Windows computers. The basic paradigm was the paper-based work order system. Instead of having to manage paper sheets, paper folders, filing cabinet drawers, and bits of paper scattered about, using a CMMS was electronic and well-organized. That alone meant big efficiency gains and fewer errors. Of course, such a system could offer “at your fingertips” functionality not feasible with paper-based systems.

Many companies bought these systems, but “saved money” by not sending anybody to training. Consequently, the CMMS just became an add-on to the paper system. Many companies failed to take advantage of maybe 90 percent of the maintenance management power their investment should have returned.

In many plants, the maintenance function had grown organically. The maintenance department wasn’t run by people trained in maintenance management. So the understanding of basic concepts such as how to prioritize work or what the difference is between a work order and a work request were totally absent.

When you automate a dysfunctional process, you just make mistakes faster. When you embrace technology only partially because you want to “save money” by skipping the training in how to use it, you waste your technology purchase.

Consider something like an infrared camera. It’s an amazing tool that, if used properly, will save the typical medium-sized plant tens of thousands of dollars of downtime a year. But the trick is the “used properly” part.

The camera doesn’t know what to look for any more than a screwdriver will find a screw just because you point it in the right direction. Nor does the camera understand how to change its settings based on the conditions of the environment versus the problem you want to detect. The camera is neither a trained electrician nor a trained thermographer.

Buy a fancy camera, and maybe you’ve got bragging rights. Buy a camera that meets your particular needs and ensure you’ve got a trained thermographer using it, and you’ve got a powerful means of revealing problems before they go boom.

You don’t save money by forgoing training, you save money by having technology in skilled hands. This concept is hard for many managers to grasp, so let’s do some math.

Manager Marvin is very budget-conscious. He bought an inexpensive thermographic camera, and ticked off the “we’ve got technology” box in his mind. His total investment was about $900. With this camera, Marvin’s people were able to find some problems that saved the plant a couple thousand dollars the first year. They also missed a deteriorating breaker that cost $5,000 downtime and three cable issues that cost more than $12,000. But hey, Marvin did save on all that training cost.

Guru Gary is outcome-conscious. His concern isn’t so much about saving money as it is on getting the highest return on the maintenance investment. Gary sent two electricians through Level I thermography training. When they came back, they seemed to know exactly which camera would best meet the needs Gary had discussed with them. That’s the one Gary bought. Then he sent them back for Level II training.

Gary’s total investment was about $10,000. Compared with Marvin, he looks pretty bad. Or does he?

For the first six months, the two newly trained thermographers went out on thermography work together. The idea there is they’d gain experience while helping each other remember their training.

One problem Gary had with measuring success is he didn’t get any repair bills for the failures they prevented. Marvin was “luckier” there, because he failed to prevent problems and did get repair bills.

But Gary did track the issues and compile repair estimates for those. And he was able to identify specific savings that were realized through the “Connection improvement program” that involved thermography to identify bad connections.

At the end of the first six months, the savings were about $42,000. Gary now faced the question of whether to invest in a second camera. Time in the field had shown that upgrading when buying the second camera was desirable, so Gary was looking at a $3,500 model.

So now he was looking at greatly exceeding that $42,000 savings (in repair costs and lost revenue) by getting that second camera, or saving the company $3,500 by not getting that second camera. Which choice do you think he made? Which choice would you make? Which choices have you made lately?

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