With a quarter of a century of experience building reliability and maintenance programs for major food and pharmaceutical companies, Joe Anderson creates robust strategies that help manufacturers build programs and improve the life of key equipment and the productivity of operations.
By Michelle Segrest – Contributing Editor
Extending the life of crucial equipment assets like valves and pumps is critical when building an effective maintenance strategy for manufacturing facilities. According to expert maintenance and reliability consultant Joe Anderson, ranking the criticality of each asset is the first step.
“Having a robust strategy is critical,” said Anderson, a partner and Chief Operating Officer for the consulting firm Reliability X. “Whether you use the process of RCM (reliability centered maintenance) or FMEA (failure modes and effects analysis), ranking your assets based on criticality and defining strategies based on that information is the most important place to start.”
For example, manufacturers should use predictive maintenance technologies to monitor valves and pumps depending on the criticality rankings will help to keep production running and extend the life of each asset.
“Most plants have thousands of equipment assets,” Anderson explained. “To determine the criticality of each one, you must first develop a set of criteria based on whatever fits in your industry. For example, if it is manufacturing, you want to have established criteria based on the cost of downtime. You also need established criteria based on delivery to the customer, production, safety, quality, and in some cases the regulations or laws available that are based on risk. Establish the set of criteria then rank each individual asset based on its context. It takes a lot of time, but a robust strategy upfront mitigates failures in the future.”
Anderson has worked in maintenance and reliability in the food industry since he was 18 years old. His first job was with a beef-packing plant in Holcomb, Kansas. He worked with the wastewater and groundskeeping systems and, as a result, began to develop some expertise in lubrication. He eventually moved into refrigeration maintenance and worked closely with ammonia systems.
“As a green 18-year-old, you learn quickly that you do not really know anything,” he said. “So, I focused on really studying and trying to understand the system. I did that for a year, then transferred to floor maintenance.”
This is where he began to work closely developing people and discovered that this would be his lifelong passion.
“I love providing solutions to problems, and in this field, it is a daily thing,” Anderson said. “I started in maintenance and through growth and evolution, I realized that reliability is a major piece. It encompasses an entire organization whereas maintenance is one specific piece of that.”
Advance Skills Through Teaching, Training, and Leadership Development
Anderson has been considered a ‘fixer’ in the industry. Throughout his career, organizations have hired him to create, implement, and drive new programs designed to improve reliability. He has driven successful programs at major companies like Smuckers, Schwan and other Fortune 500 companies.
“I am more of a turnaround guy,” the 43-year-old father of two said. “Once I get a department in compliance, I hand it off and go.” This is why Anderson has committed his career to learning, coaching, and developing leaders.
“I want to be remembered as someone who cares about people,” Anderson said. “Becoming an effective leader is the ultimate story of my life. It is phenomenal to see someone I have coached reach their goals. I like it even more when it happens for them than when it happens for me. I knew they could do it, and when they finally see it within themselves, well, it is just the greatest feeling, especially when I see they have improved on the systems that we put in place together.”
Dealing with culture change can be an obstacle when developing new maintenance and reliability programs, he said.
“I try to get people to see that there is a whole other world of manufacturing besides the reactionary system,” Anderson explained. “I try to get quick wins to establish buy-in. This helps to get more people on your side. Training and investment in people can drive significant changes that are needed in order to see a turnaround. I spend a lot of time working with people, developing people, and trying to get them to execute on what I teach. This is what I do all day, every day.”
Establishing credibility is the first step in leadership developing, mentoring, and coaching, according to Anderson.
“Showing people that you care about them and their success is motivating to them,” he said. “I do not have to go and find what triggers them to do things. If they know I care about them and respect them, they are willing to do anything that is needed. That is my goal—to get everyone to understand that I do care for them and their success, and I want to see them do better. I try to help them remove the obstacles that they normally perceive. Sometimes the obstacles are just perception.”
Anderson’s style of leadership development did not happen accidentally. He learned about developing leaders from his mentor, consultant John Ambrose.
“There is a lack of investment in people today,” he said. “It is something that should not exist, but it does. John taught me that if you can learn to care about people and invest in them, you will be successful. All the leadership gurus will tell you that if you help enough people get what they want, you will get what you want.”
Maintenance and Reliability Philosophy
While every location is different, the ultimate goal is to get each organization to a proactive best-practice level, Anderson said. He accomplishes this by introducing assessment tools to understand where the gaps lie.
“The gaps affect the strategy moving forward,” he explained. “At some locations there is a basic skills gap, so we spend a lot of time helping them understand what a proactive approach looks like versus a reactive maintenance strategy. Other locations have a very technical staff, so we focus on other things.”
When driving change, Anderson has developed a unique philosophy.
“Many people will tell you to fix the planned maintenance program (PM) and then try to launch a predictive maintenance program (PdM),” he explained. “I believe that PdM drives culture change when people see the value. For example, I can improve a PM on a gearbox for a mixer, but that is not going to help me to detect the condition of its current state. The mixer may have a USD $40,000 gearbox with a four-month lead time. If it fails, I am down for four months. So, fixing the PMs is not going to do anything for me.
“Instead, if I perform an oil analysis to understand the condition of the equipment, it can be a very simple win. When you understand the condition, you reduce the risk. When people see that they start to understand.”
It takes time to develop effective best practices.
“When you are a turnaround guy, you cannot just walk in and implement a best practice,” Anderson explained. “You have to develop the people and get them executing at a certain level. An example is precision lubrication versus the old-school method of just ‘pump it till the grease comes out.’ If they do not understand precision lubrication, you cannot walk in and say this is a best practice. Maybe they do not have the equipment or the training. To me, a best practice is the state that get to—it is not necessarily something you act on every day.”
Thinking About Maintenance as a Profit Center
Switching your mindset from maintenance as an expense to maintenance as a profit center should be a goal for every organization, Anderson said.
“It is hard to believe, but 99.99% of manufacturing companies are not world class,” he said. “There are 230,000 manufacturing facilities in the United States that employ more than 100 people. If you put a group in a room and asked them to name a world-class company, people could identify maybe 20 or 30 of them. This is because maintenance managers in general are promoted, glorified mechanics. They do their job well and get promoted, just like I did… through the school of hard knocks. But they do not necessarily understand the business side or how to show value.”
Anderson said that if you ask the CEOs at most of these facilities about the impact of maintenance, they will say that it is a cost center.
“Technically, they are using ‘cost center’ as an accounting term,” he said. “But if this is your philosophy, to me you are missing out on lots of money and lots of opportunities. One thing I do is teach maintenance managers the business side. I help them to understand how what they do in their daily activities can affect the bottom line. I show them how to reduce risk and convert that to a dollar amount to capture the cost savings. This is something that they are probably generating anyway, but they are not getting credit for the work they are doing. On the flip side, I also teach upper-level executives and operations guys the value of maintenance.”
Anderson put his philosophy into practice when he went back to school to earn a business degree after 20 years of practical experience in the field.
“When I went back to school later in life, I decided to get a business degree rather than an engineering degree,” he said. “Years ago, when I left the beef-packing company, I went to work for a bakery. My maintenance experience at the beef-packing plant was very minimal, but I was really good at it. But I thought I was better than I was. I got into a smaller facility where I owned the storeroom. Then I was responsible for electrical, facilities, and all these things where at the beef plant everything was departmentalized. I realized I had to lead these guys who had to be multitalented and multi-crafted. This is when I realized I cannot be an effective leader if I cannot train and develop my team. I was learning all the technical skills, but I could not justify some of the things I was doing because I did not understand the business.”
When trying to sell upper management on reliability programs and maintenance upgrades, the need to understand the business became even more apparent.
“I kept getting told no because I was not bringing anything to the table,” he said. “You cannot just walk in and say you need USD $50,000 to buy something. I was getting told no because I was not giving them a reason to say yes. Now that I understand how the business works, I can convert the language to make my case more effectively.”
Manufacturing During the Time of Coronavirus
Reliability X’s space is food and pharma, which are two necessities. Therefore, Anderson said his business has not been affected as much by the Coronavirus pandemic. However, he has solid advice for those whose businesses have been directly affected.
“Spend this time doing training,” Anderson advised. “Utilize the time that you have. If you are paying employees anyway, you should get some value. Value comes through knowledge, so as much training as possible is a good idea.”
He also recommends a clear strategy to return from a shutdown.
“It is so important to have an emergency plan,” he said. “People are paying the price now because they were not prepared. For example, you should have a lot of equipment that is connected to PLCs (programmable logic controllers). Do you have a strategy to perform maintenance on the batteries on the PLCs? What if the batteries are dead when you start back up? You may have to spend hours getting it system back up. Are the batteries good? What about your lubricators? Do you have single point lubrication or auto lubricators that may still be running when your system is not running? They may just be pumping grease everywhere. There are a lot of those types of things. At least once a week you should rotate that equipment and start it up and run it a little while, even if the plant is shutdown.”
Running equipment regularly is vital, he said.
“Make sure your equipment will start,” Anderson explained. “If you bring back 300 employees without starting up the equipment and working out the kinks first, you waste their time and your money. Use this time to get the people trained on guidelines and standard operating procedures. Be sure you understand the governmental guidelines for starting back up. Can you have the same amount of people on the line and still have social distancing? There really should be a strategic plan in place.”
Anderson also has solid advice for end users just entering the workforce.
“Continue to learn,” he said. “Self-inject yourself into the process to learn how everything works. Go out and run a line for a couple weeks and work with an operator. Do not just sit in the office.”