Elevate Asset Performance Management by Supporting STEM

Op_Ex-10.jpgSeveral recent events I have attended have inspired me to take up the topic of this post: Why the Asset Performance Management (APM) community needs to take up a healthy relationship with academia at all levels. Science, Technology, Engineering & Math (STEM) education as the initiative is called, is becoming increasingly important to business; not just in the US but globally. Click here to speak to Dan

The increasing dependence on technology in all aspects of our lives is going to necessitate a better-educated workforce with a greater understanding of technology.

As I noted in an earlier blog, APM professionals have an image problem. We are often not viewed as important assets in today’s technological world. Maintenance people are viewed as semiskilled workers who fix broken things and are a cost center to be managed and minimized. In most businesses, maintenance is not seen as a competitive differentiator. One of the reasons for this is, as equipment becomes increasingly complex, a skilled labor shortage is forcing companies to seek outside support. To fix this industry needs to start now to develop those skills, and supporting STEM is a key component of that.

STEM Applies Across the Entire Education Lifecycle

STEM is not just a college level pursuit. For universities to graduate scientists and engineers, they need suitably equipped high school graduates. In turn, this implies primary education must provide the necessary STEM skills so students can get what they need from high school. At a recent personal event, the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) National Convention, I had the opportunity to speak with representatives of the Greenpower initiative.

Greenpower is an educational trust that has its goal as the cultivation of engineering talent. It provides a program that gets students involved in electric vehicle design, construction, and competition. I first was exposed to Greenpower at the Siemens Analyst event last fall as Siemens has partnered with Greenpower to provide the schools with SolidEdge to aid in vehicle design in particular classes. At the SCCA Convention, it was announced that SCCA, which is the largest amateur motorsports sanctioning body in the US, is partnering with Greenpower to provide mentors to schools that engage in Greenpower programs. In further discussions with Greenpower representatives, I learned about the ultimate end-game of some of the Greenpower projects; a race for vehicles that expertise in maintenance and reliability has become a much-needed skill for many of the teams. If you ever wanted to be part of a pit crew or fantasized about being a reliability engineer for an F1 team mentoring a Greenpower project could be the answer to your dreams. Of course, this is an example of a long-term investment in STEM that may take years to pay off, but it is where the future generations of reliability engineers and maintenance technicians begin.

Academia Partnering Can Provide More Immediate APM Payback

As part of their 10th Annual EAM Summit, Oracle hosted a tour of Stanford University and their Land, Building and Real Estate Support activity (read maintenance group) and the Stanford Energy Systems Innovations Central Energy Facility (SESI). Highlights focused on where the plant engineering and facilities team are reaping immediate payback by supporting STEM education at the university level. The SESI facility is an energy recovery system has yielded tremendous cost and carbon savings. Cost saving was accomplished by using a hot and cold water loop heat pumping solution to replace an older combined-cycle steam plant, which was used to provide building heating and purchased power for refrigeration. By partnering with the engineering school, the project developed its supervisory control and condition-based maintenance solution that looks at over 1200 variables and simultaneously optimizes performance in real-time. The solution is so effective that Stanford has been able to license it to a noted building systems supplier.

The second example though is something that is smaller in scale and typical of what many maintenance activities with proximity to a university that has an engineering program might pursue. In this case, the MRO store's activity was looking for a way to better get repair parts to technicians spread out in the field maintaining the facilities on the campus. To avoid having techs wasting time running back to the central stores facility, they partnered with the robotics program to develop a robot based on a Segway platform that is a parts caddy. The robot is given a destination and loaded with the parts the remote tech has requested via a mobile device and dispatched. The value-add that the robotics program has provided is in the navigation algorithms. This robot can self-navigate around obstacles such as temporary path closures due to construction or if it encounters a group of students or others that might be congregating and prevent an obstacle. The tech is given an unlock code via a text message, and when the robot arrives, they retrieve their parts and send the robot on to its next destination or it returns to the storeroom.

The maintenance department expects the “jackrabbit," as they have named this robot, to save hundreds of hours of travel time and improve technician productivity once it goes live later this year. Any facility that has a maintenance department should consider working with the engineering and science departments at both high schools and universities to solve problems they might be having. By tapping into the student population, they are not only supporting STEM they might just develop a solution that they could not have found otherwise.

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