It’s not only a new year, it’s a new decade, which is a perfect time to take a look at how maintenance has evolved and where it’s going. We enlisted 11 maintenance experts from all corners of the industry to help us build a snapshot of maintenance over the last decade and piece together what the future of the maintenance industry could look like.
We talked about defining trends of the last decade, how the meaning of success has changed, the skills that’ll be in high demand, what maintenance is going to look like in 2030, and more.
Some of the dominant themes included autonomous maintenance, an impending skills and labour gap, and the need to not only interact more with technology, but with those outside the maintenance department.
Let’s dive in.
Chief Asset Manager, Reliabilityweb.com, Uptime Magazine, and the Reliability Leadership Institute
Global Relationship Leader at Reliabilityweb.com and Director of Women in Reliability and Asset Management (WIRAM)
On what defined maintenance in the 2010s: The biggest idea is that performance in maintenance comes from the culture or more accurately it comes from the people. Of course, there are technical aspects of maintenance that must be mastered, but for the technical mastery to be sustainable, it requires a context of an empowered and engaged leadership culture.
On how the definition of success in maintenance has changed: I think success is defined by the people wanting to commit their lives to the organization. People follow leaders with their hearts and souls, but it requires integrity, authenticity, and responsibility.
On the secret to success for tomorrow’s maintenance teams: They’re going to be focusing on people development, people development, and people development. The ones that do not will go out of business. If you don’t budget for people, you lose.
On what maintenance will look like in 2030: The industry will have established a healthy work culture, competency-based learning cohorts, technical work processes aligned to business processes, and communities of practice. Maintenance will be designed for sustainability and value-aligned asset lifecycle management. Technology will play a big role with highly defined and connected data structures, digital twins, inexpensive wireless sensors, next-generation artificial intelligence, and augmented reality.
Rob Kalwarowsky, P.Eng
Host of Rob’s Reliability Project podcast, reliability and asset management specialist
On what defined maintenance in the 2010s: I think it’s the shift towards condition-based monitoring and predictive maintenance. It’s been companies moving toward sensors, toward real-time monitoring of assets, and implementing more condition-monitoring programs like vibration analysis, ultrasound, and oil analysis.
On the biggest challenge facing the maintenance industry: The big one I see is the skills gap. Young people aren’t going into maintenance and the Baby Boomers, who have those skills and knowledge, are leaving the workforce. Companies should be focusing on capturing that knowledge, making it part of their daily procedures, and making it accessible to new hires.
On why mental health needs to be an important part of the industry’s future: Something that I’ve been talking about on my show and in my community lately is discussions about mental health. A lot of people in the maintenance and reliability industry bury emotions and mental health isn’t talked about at work. My mission is to talk about it at work, help them speak up when they’re unhappy, and help them get the help they need.
On what maintenance will look like in 2030: I think there’s going to be a lot of technology involved, whether that’s robots fix things, or augmented reality, or machines that fix themselves. I’m really excited about how CMMS technology is evolving and heading toward functions that, for example, take text comments in work orders and turn them into something meaningful without having to read them individually.
Over 30 years of experience as a plant/maintenance manager
On what defined maintenance in the 2010s: There were a lot more attempts at autonomous maintenance and I think the big driver for that was the decline in the number of people entering the maintenance industry. Because of that, companies have downloaded some less demanding, less skilled, and more repetitive tasks onto machine operators to elevate their skills.
On how the definition of success in maintenance has changed: It used to be just measuring the completion of tasks, like PM completion, but it was never connected to production metrics. It’s evolved so that facilities are linking maintenance success to productivity and uptime and to measure metrics that get to the bottom of the root cause of issues.
On the successful maintenance team of the future: There’s going to be a focus on learning how to do true root-cause problem-solving, predictive maintenance, and working in tandem with the manufacturing and production teams to make data-based decisions. Forward-thinking organizations will also strongly consider the voice of the maintenance team alongside engineers when it comes to key purchasing and design decisions.
On what maintenance will look like in 2030: Maintenance is a male-dominated industry right now, and there are more women coming into it, but we need to create an industry that encourages and attracts more women moving forward. And on a more general level, the industry needs to be attracting and developing more young people.
James Afara, P.Eng
Chief Operating Officer at CannTx Life Sciences Inc., over 14 years in maintenance and operations
On the defining trend in maintenance over the last decade: It really comes down to control. I’ve seen more of an emphasis on slowing down and planning a lot of the necessary work beforehand instead of reacting. It’s looking for control over the outcomes before they happen as much as possible.
On how the definition of success in maintenance has changed: I’d say the common theme is uptime. When I look back over the last decade, it’s been all about keeping the machines running and making sure day-to-day operations run smoothly. Downtime causes chaos, excess management, extra costs, resource issues, and stress on employees, so there’s been a big push to reduce it as much as possible.
On the maintenance leader of the future: There has to be a more analytical leader on the maintenance team in the future. This is someone who can look at data and build predictive models based on that data to spot where they need to add or shift resources. They might not be as hands-on or have as much maintenance experience, but they’ll bring ideas from other areas of business to help maintenance teams find success.
On how the role of maintenance in business will change: There’s going to be more of a focus on training maintenance leaders and equipping them with the right skills and knowledge to be integrated into the business and come to the table with a fact-based picture of what’s happening, what needs to happen, and what that means for the business.
David Berger, P.Eng
President of Lamus Group, over 30 years of experience in operations management
On what defined maintenance in the 2010s: The biggest trend I’ve seen is the merging of roles or the interconnectedness of roles. It used to be pretty clear that operations took care of processes, products, and environment while maintenance took care of assets. Now, those lines are really blurred. Maintainers are trained as operators and operators are trained to do some maintenance.
On how the definition of success in maintenance has changed: From a quantitative perspective, it hasn’t changed too much over the years, but on the qualitative side, there have been more companies looking into whether they have a safe and happy workforce, and whether maintenance and operations are working well together.
On the most important maintenance skills needed for the future: It’s going to be key to be a master diagnostician. It’s going to be learning how to manage and program new technology to diagnose the root cause of problems, and to do this in an increasingly complex ecosystem of technology and people.
On what maintenance will look like in 2030: Maintenance used to be synonymous with greasy hands and overalls. Ten years from now, the image is going to be of a clean, highly automated factory with highly skilled maintenance people who know how to operate the complex systems needed to run this sort of facility.
James Kovacevic, MMP CMRP CAMA
Principal Instructor at Eruditio, LLC, host of the Rooted in Reliability podcast
On what defined maintenance in the 2010s: First, it’s the growing professionalization of maintenance, whether that’s through certifications like CMRP or the adoption of an asset management standard with ISO 550001. And then there’s the conflict between the growing influence of technology and the continuing struggle to establish the fundamentals of maintenance.
On how the definition of success in maintenance has changed: What I see, more and more, is that the measure of success is not a single indicator, it’s a combination of indicators that are aligned with the organizational objectives. Maintenance teams are trying to balance cost, risk, and performance to meet business needs.
On what the maintenance leader of the future will look like: They’re going to have to be able to analyze and synthesize data. They’ll also have to link maintenance work to the financials of a business and speak to that. They’re going to need to know how to manage change, which is going to be very, very important for making sustainable improvements.
On what maintenance will look like in 2030: It’s going to look dramatically different, but only for some organizations. Some companies will have asset data coming in that allows them to make real-time decisions and will have significant advanced warning of failure. They’ll be able to reduce downtime because they’ve designed with reliability and availability in mind. But not all organizations will be there.
Jason Afara, P.Eng
Manager of Solutions Engineering at Fiix, over seven years of experience as a maintenance manager and planner
On what defined maintenance in the 2010s: The move towards using data and connecting equipment to software that tells you what is happening on that machine without seeing it. It’s about transforming what’s really happening with a machine into information that can be used to inform future maintenance and budgeting decisions.
On how the role of maintenance in business has changed: There’s been a shift in the way maintenance is viewed in a facility. They aren’t just the people you call when something breaks. There’s a lot more education for operators on how a machine works, the limitations of machines, and how to set up the machine. It’s the growth of total productive maintenance and a fuller appreciation of what maintenance is, the value of maintenance, and how to do maintenance.
On the maintenance leader of the future: They’re going to be the ones that focus on amplifying people’s strengths. If someone loves troubleshooting, they’ll be encouraged to stay on the floor and be the best one out there. If someone loves to lead and find ways to use data to improve the team, the leader will find a way to put them in positions that use those skills.
Watch Jason talk about the impact of technology on maintenance, how success will be measured in the future, and what the industry will look like in 2030.
Director of Product Management at Fiix, experience in technical engineering and production line management
On what defined maintenance in the 2010s: Digitization has been a big trend. You can group that with the movement toward doing more preventive maintenance. That’s existed for a long time, but it’s much more mainstream now. Asset utilization and efficiency have become more important as well. It’s figuring out how to do more with what we already have.
On how the role of maintenance in business has changed: One of the biggest trends in manufacturing has been making a faster and more efficient supply chain. Maintenance is now where companies are looking for those big efficiencies. If all maintenance does is make downtime organized and predictable, it can be the difference in making a supply chain quicker.
On the biggest challenge facing the maintenance industry: Old-school, hands-on, mechanical skills are dying. We’re going to see a massive exit of skilled maintenance workers and not enough companies have thought about what’s needed to fill that gap. Technology is going to help, but there’s always going to be a need for someone with those fundamental skills.
On what maintenance will look like in 2030: I think the conversation will have shifted from digitization and preventive maintenance to efficient maintenance and going fully predictive. We’ll have changed the way we design and build equipment with maintenance in mind so machines don’t break as often, and problems can be prevented before they become a problem.
Joe Kuhn, CMRP
Owner of Lean Driven Reliability, over 32 years of experience in manufacturing leadership and plant management
On what defined maintenance in the 2010s: The use of electronics, electronic data collection, and automated data collection using more sophisticated CMMS software. Access to data has improved massively. It’s a lot easier to get the data and calculate your metrics, where an enormous amount of time was spent on that 10 years ago.
On how the role of maintenance in business has changed: Leaders used to have a more technical background and knowledge of maintenance. Now, organizational leaders are shying away from maintenance because it’s mysterious to them. That’s concerning. We have all the tools, but those arrows are just sitting in the quiver waiting for someone to figure out how to use them properly.
On the biggest challenge facing the maintenance industry: People will be inundated with data and technology and not know how to sort through it, and use it effectively and efficiently. The data and the metrics point you in the right direction, but you have to verify that data, recognize where the opportunity is, and then actually do the job.
On what maintenance will look like in 2030: You’re going to walk into every plant and everyone in there is going to be using a CMMS on their smartphone. There’s going to be sensors on every asset that can tell you when there’s a problem with it. The automated factory will be a reality. Facilities that don’t get on board will be the ones that go out of business.
Operations Manager, Over nine years of experience in manufacturing production and operations
On what defined maintenance in the 2010s: I’d say the amount of technology that we’re using in maintenance now. With that change in technology comes more of a focus and an investment in training and skills development so people can use it to troubleshoot and solve problems.
On the impact of technology on maintenance in the 2010s: In the past, we’d mostly rely on visual inspections to tell us if something was wrong with equipment. Now, the PLCs and maintenance software do a lot of that work. They get the data, model it, and tell us the best time to service a machine. It’s taken the focus off the mechanical side of the job and more toward understanding software systems and programming PLCs.
On what the best maintenance teams of the future will be focusing on: They’ll be the ones that put a major focus on programming and troubleshooting technology and computers. They’re going to be analyzing the data from these systems, seeing trends in asset performance, and from that, determining the best maintenance to do on that machine.
On what maintenance will look like in 2030: I believe the name of the maintenance department is going to change in the future to reflect its role in business. They’re going to be more of a reliability team or an automation team that takes a strategic approach and manages the predictive technology that helps a facility run.