Race Car Mentality: Proactive Maintenance


When we do equipment reliability work, there is a mentality we can run up against – a culture that values firefighting over installing fire detectors and checking extinguishers. I should be clear – people that can “fight equipment fires” or excel at fixing emergency problems are invaluable, and it’s not a skill I possess. However, it is probably not the best strategy to rely on it, if we are trying to give ourselves an edge based on a relatively smaller operating budget.

A different way to look at it is to consider our process line as a race car. The maintenance crew spends a lot of time understanding which components fail when (usage based? time-based?), have the right spares on hand, execute pit stops (shutdowns) with precision, get feedback from the driver (operator) – all because they know they are critical to winning the race.

What if we treated proactive maintenance like a pit crew, instead of performing fire extinguisher maintenance?

It is not one individual that can make this shift on their own, but culture change has to start somewhere – why not shift our perspective and see if makes a small difference?

There are many articles and further reading out there (NASCAR presented at a conference I attended), if you are interested in taking the analogy further.

How do you view proactive equipment maintenance?

Beyond Basic Theory: Develop Yourself

Training is one of my top three passions. It’s a main part of professional development, even though 70% of learning is experiential. A lot of that can be in conjunction with classroom studies, reinforced in the field.

A reliability engineer uses the same principles they learned in school, applied to reliability problems. And just like other engineering focuses, continued development is important. As a new engineer starting out, it seems like the principles of reliability are straightforward.  But there are ways to get better, build on bodies of knowledge, become specialized.

If the equipment reliability is your thing, there are many professional organizations that have certification programs. With all professional development it is most powerful when applied in the field and produces results. This is where you learn the intricacies of applying the theory and gives you a pragmatism you won’t get otherwise. Learn when to hold your ground because the principles need to applied in a certain way, and when to give ground to get the end result.

Too many training programs focus on building technical skills at the expense of the development of individual style. I don’t think there’s one style is ideal and that’s another post, but learning the syle that works for you is just as important as the technical skills. Underneath all the tasks you can learn (presentation skills, time management, etc.) reflecting on your emotional intelligence gives you an opportunity to see what you are good at, and how to make you a better engineer.

To improve professionally via training: keep developing your technical skills using courses and application of theory; and consider personal style as part of your toolbox.

If you are a specialist, what equipment reliability raining helped you develop your expertise?  How did you determine how your personal style helped you?