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Columbia Business Monthly

Create a Technical Maintenance Support Team That Helps Decrease Downtime

Apr 11, 2022 03:03PM ● By Rodney A. Jones

It is a new year with companies creating new goals. The goals may be different, but they all consist of the same concepts.

To run with little to no downtime and develop suitable products, I have recently started a new industry training program here at Clemson University. This program is designed to help companies get their maintenance support trained to help eliminate some of this downtime. Identifying and correcting issues before they happen is a skill maintenance support need.

There are four things I believe companies need to focus on to have little to no downtime. 

The first is technical management and its structure. Secondly, who and where are you hiring your technicians from? Thirdly, how much specialized experience is in your technical support? Lastly, does your maintenance team understand production and its role in it?

Yes, there are other things to think about, but you are ahead of the game if you get these four down. Let’s take a closer look at all four of these critical points. 

Technical management and production management are different. That is a crucial statement.

Your technical management should be making decisions like, “Is my shop equipped with everything they need to get the machines back up?” “Are my technicians trained to handle the breakdowns that may occur?” “What new technologies are coming out to help improve our maintenance program?”

Questions like that keep you on top of things. Technical managers must continuously evaluate their shop performance to adjust and adapt to unknown situations.

Creating preventative maintenance programs that cater to your equipment and not just a generic layout plan is another essential piece. Refresher training is necessary for seasonal and new technicians. You do not hire firefighters or police officers and just let them perform without refresher training. This goes for your maintenance support as well; you want to invest in them and keep them trained and ready to perform. 

Most importantly, once your technical management has met and made decisions, have only one person from your team deliver the instructions. Do not have several people from management giving out orders. Too many chiefs will wreck the ship. 

Secondly, when hiring maintenance support, know what you are looking for in those individuals. Do not hire just to fill a position. If so, it will hurt you in the long run. The technical manager should have a list of strengths, abilities, and skills they are looking for when hiring each technician.

I stress experience over academic degrees. My 25-plus years of experience as a technician and instructor taught me that hands-on learning experiences make the best technicians. 

When individuals learn on the job, they get hands-on physical experience. However, a college degree can make up for lack of experience. So, hiring managers should not decide based on experience without considering education.

It is vital to hire a candidate who desires to be in maintenance and did not apply because of the potential paycheck. My experience has taught me that the best technicians should reason on the job, because not everyone has that skill. While good technicians are hard to find, they are out there. 

This leads me to the third point. Once you have hired your maintenance team, I recommend adding up your shop’s total years of experience. This will help during performance evaluations. 

Additionally, it can help you decide how much experience your next hire should have. If you have 20-plus years of experience in your shop, you may want to consider a candidate who has a degree but only one year of experience. 

However, if your shop has relatively little experience, like five or six years of experience total, you may want to find a candidate with more than your total to help increase the knowledge of your shop. A good experience ratio per technician is 2.5 years minimum to five years per tech for hiring a new technician. Therefore, if you have a shop of eight technicians, you will want your experience range to be 20 years minimum or higher. 

The final point is to make sure your maintenance support understands production and its vital role in production. 

In any company, technical maintenance support is an essential team. Companies must have machines and equipment with operators who run them currently and within the scheduled time to create products. To achieve that, a company must have a maintenance support team that is trained and ready. 

Also, the maintenance support team needs to know when machines are down to prevent financial loss. Technicians should prioritize getting the machine operational because when machines are running, they can make production numbers which creates profit. 

In 2022, take these four pointers and examine your maintenance support team. From managers to technicians, see if they fit the role. If not, there is never a wrong time to regroup and start over.

Rodney A. Jones is Clemson Industry Project Manager. He can be reached at 864-365-0414 or [email protected].