T-Cards to AI: Exploring the Evolution & Possibilities of Tech in Maintenance

Episode 18

Maintenance Management Podcast


About this episode

Roy Milne, MD & Principal Consultant at newly-formed company Asset ONE, talks extensively about the progress and limitless capabilities of maintenance techniques and predictive maintenance strategies through the use of advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence.


Matt [Host]: Hi everyone, welcome back to the Comparesoft podcast. Great to have you here as it always is. And today our guest is Roy [Milne], and Roy is the managing director at Asset One. Roy has worked with well-known companies, including Global Energy Group, ENSCO, and KCA Doitag and has over 25 years of bottom-up experience in maintenance, delivery, asset management and technical service delivery globally. So, it would be great to get his take on maintenance management.

Welcome to the show, Roy. How are you, sir?

Roy Milne: Hi there, I’m good. Thanks for having me. Great to be here.

Matt: Ah, it’s our pleasure. And so, let’s jump straight into the first question. What do you do? Can you give our listeners a little bit more information on your job role and what you do?

Roy: Yeah, sure. So, I am the managing director and principal consultant at Asset One. Asset One is a technical asset management consultancy. So, we specialize in providing reliability and uptime and reducing major incidents for asset operators, typically in the energy, industrial and maritime space. So, we look after and advise on things like maintenance systems and the content of maintenance systems, spare parts and the connection between the two, strategy as well, how our customers manage their assets, either as an individual or as a fleet, if it’s drilling rigs or ships. And we’re basically a critical friend, I guess, to anybody that owns a fleet of assets.

Matt: Okay, and so how do you set a good maintenance culture?

Roy: Culture is a great word. I guess people talk about culture like it’s this kind of mythical thing that isn’t very tangible and you can’t really put your finger on. It’s just like a feeling. And culture for me, any kind of culture is, it’s a bit of a formula to it that I was once told a long time ago. And it’s good values plus leadership behaviour equals culture. So, if you have good core values and your leadership in the business is living and breathing those values every single day, day in, day out, you will have a great culture.

And we talk about maintenance culture when we have values around, and everybody’s seen them on posters of corporate walls and all this kind of stuff. It’s always things like integrity and honesty and ‘do a good job when nobody’s looking’ and all this kind of stuff. But, there is a lot of truth in that actually, take integrity for example, when we carry out maintenance tasks, we have to, do what it says in the maintenance system, assuming it’s correct. So we have to make sure that we carry out maintenance correctly, even when the supervisor is not watching or when you’re not being audited.

And then, of course, the maintenance supervisors, technical managers, etc., they need to live and breathe that integrity as well. Let’s say, create a culture where, if you make a mistake, then that’s all right. It’s not an ear-bashing opportunity. It’s a time to sit and reflect on what do we learn from it. And that creates a great culture when you have a team who are okay with making mistakes and willing to sit down and learn from it and continuously improve. That’s when you set a fantastic, a real high-performing maintenance culture in any organization. But it starts with the people, it’s all about people.

Matt: And so then moving on from that, how do you recommend the best way to plan maintenance activities?

Roy: Planning. So I guess most asset operators nowadays run a computerized maintenance management system. Some are not quite there yet, but most do. When I started in the industry, we didn’t have a computerized maintenance management system. It was a T-card maintenance system that was based on a calendar. So, every month you did this, and every six months you did that, and every 12 months you did that, and then when you did the maintenance task when you completed it, you turned over the T-card to show that all the maintenance was complete for the month. And then at the start of the following month, the maintenance supervisor would just turn them back around and then that would be restarted for the month through the six-month period.

So, I think the awakening of computerized maintenance management systems in the 70s and 80s has been a game changer. What we find now is the content of the maintenance management systems, typically speaking, can be improved. And the strategies that we use in that maintenance management system as well, are always up for debate. And that then creeps into the ‘how do you optimize maintenance?’ ‘How do you make sure that you do the minimum standards and reduce the risk of a failure, but it doesn’t cost you the earth?’ You’re not spending too much money on it. Doing too much maintenance. So, I think, you know, how do I recommend planning maintenance activities effectively definitely maintenance management system and probably going to talk about artificial intelligence later in the podcast. But the introduction of AI and enabling predictive maintenance is an absolute game changer. But more on that later.

Matt: Yes, we will definitely move into the tech discussion. Very interesting stuff. But before that, how do you recommend implementing an effective maintenance plan?

Roy: Implementation is– there’s probably two parts to it, I would say. The first is making sure that the content of the maintenance plan is appropriate and you know, meets all the minimum compliance standards. But you’ve also engaged the team from top to bottom essentially, to make sure that maintenance plan’s correct and everybody’s in agreement.

You’ve got to have alignment from the board and the senior leadership side through middle management through to the guys that are on the job that are going to be completing these maintenance tasks. I found anyway that workshopping, when you’re writing new maintenance plans to create a workshop and get everybody around the table, the key stakeholders around the table and say, look, first pass guys, this is how we feel that the maintenance plan should go. This is the task that needs to be completed. This is the frequency. This is the strategy, whether it’s reliability-centred maintenance, or it’s a calendar-based, or it’s a run failed, whatever. And this is what we feel as a team of consultants. This is what we think it should look like. What do you think?

And the conversation that comes out of that workshop is invaluable. It’s not something that you can do by email. And you’ll tease information out of all the key stakeholders, that then feeds into the most effective maintenance plan. So, you’re getting the best of everything, the best of capex and opex from the sort of senior leadership side. You will be looking at workforce smoothing in, so making sure you don’t have too much maintenance at a particular time of year or a particular time in the month, right the way through to the guys that are going to be carrying out maintenance tasks, feeding back in, going, you know, that’s, you’ve missed out a step there, that your logic doesn’t quite work, we need to redefine what the, what the maintenance task is. So, essentially, come up with a draft plan, and then workshop it and get all the stakeholders engagement before you implement it.

And then implementation, normally the easier bit, get it into your maintenance management system. And again, run through it with more of the co-face team, they’re going to be carrying out the maintenance plan. They’re going to deliver the maintenance plan. They might need a bit of training on how the maintenance management system works and how the plan fits into it. And maybe some one-to-one coaching on site, on how to carry out the maintenance task and all the other associated bits and pieces. Your maintenance plan is going to have spare parts linked to it as well. So, you might want to include the team that’s responsible for spares your inventory team or your materials team and getting their engagement and buy into what it is you’re trying to do and why and taking the best of their knowledge as well as part of it.

Matt: Okay and so going back then talking, getting kind of into the tech conversation, do you think software tools are useful for managing maintenance activities?

Roy: Absolutely, 100%. In the modern world, we have so much tech available that sometimes, I’ve had a few conversations in the last couple of weeks with senior leadership teams who, they don’t know which tech is of value, and which they should disregard for their business. And I think that’s probably key. There’s so many businesses coming up with technical solutions and software solutions, that having a guide, having somebody to guide you through, well, what is it as a business you look to achieve by implementing this software or this technology versus the value it’s going to bring back? So, you know, there are any number, condition monitoring is a great example. Condition monitoring is fantastic in the way that you can, you have to spend a bit of cash, you can spend a bit of money and invest some money into installing a piece of hardware and plugging it into a piece of software. However, that then helps you adjust the maintenance plan and the maintenance scheduling to suit the actual condition of the equipment.

So the equipment’s telling you what it needs rather than you saying, well, I’ve decided every six months you’re going to have this and every 12 months you’re going to have that and every five years we’re going to change it out, regardless of conditions. So, condition monitoring is a fantastic example. Now we spoke about AI earlier and I guess condition monitoring ties into the idea that artificial intelligence– having an artificial intelligence hub in your organization where you’re continually feeding information into, how is equipment failing? At what point is it failing? What’s the lifecycle of each piece of equipment or system? And then obviously the AI bot helping you predict when this failure is likely to happen.

So, you can then, or the computer can then work back and say, you know what, on average, this piece of a pump, for example, is going to last five years. So, you know what, at the two- and four-year period, let’s do some intrusive inspection. And perhaps at the four-and-a-half-year period, let’s aim, let’s plan to change it out at that point before it dips below its performance standard. And then inevitably fails in service. And, there’s all kinds of consequences there around. cash and reputation, et cetera. So, introduction of artificial intelligence and connecting that to maintenance systems, providing your maintenance teams are feeding back in to say, to report failures correctly, that’s going to be invaluable. And the more you do it, the more the system learns about trends in your organization around maintenance. I think that’s the future, it’s less engineers deciding when to do calendar-based maintenance and more analysis on failure codes, failure modes and trends across industry to enable predictive maintenance, which is what every operator wants. They want to predict when they need to do maintenance rather than failures in service.

Matt: And are you using AI at the moment? Has that been implemented yet?

Roy: Yes, so the AI has been used. I think it’s fair to say, it’s not been fully rolled out as an integrated solution. So having an AI bot speaking to a live maintenance management system, an integrity management system, and then a materials management system, that combination hasn’t come together fully across most industries, I think all industries actually. What we’re working on at Asset One is exactly that, how we tie that together and basically provide an AI solution to help you predict, when do we need to do maintenance? What spare parts do we need to keep in stock? Perhaps tying into suppliers’ availability, so we can say, well, you know what? We don’t need to keep this spare part in stock because it’s readily available nearby, for example. So that’s what we’re working on just now. And AI has a very, very central function in that solution. Nobody’s done it yet.

Matt: No, I think it’s going to, anyone that’s used chat GPT knows just how powerful it is. And I think it’s going to really change the future and quickly as well. How quickly it’s being improved and it’s growing, it’s just, insane.

Roy: Absolutely. And I think the key message to anybody that doesn’t understand AI enough to make calculated decisions is that artificial intelligence is there to enhance what we already do, what maintenance teams and engineers already do. It’s not there to take over jobs. Yes, you know, the job might change, the roles and responsibilities might change, but it’s only because we’re making things better, because we’re predicting far more accurately when failures are going to occur.

And therefore, there’s decisions that need to be made by the human and then feed that decision into the AI bot so that it learns and we’re continuously improving. We all talk about Plan View Check Act, and the HSC 65 cycle. But I found anyway that some people in some organizations are quite reluctant, actually, because they think that it’s going to take over. It’s not at all. AI is there to. to enhance maintenance and support the work that the maintenance team already does.

Matt: Yeah, exactly. I think a lot of people in the world are scared of basically robots taking over, but you got to have a human there to manage the robot, right? So, there we go, I think. You guys can relax, just take it easy. You don’t need to worry about your jobs just yet. Right. When they start getting walking, talking robots, then we can start wiring perhaps a little bit then. But at the moment we’re all right. So then how do you see connected technologies change the way we work in the future?

Roy: Connected technology, I guess, it’s what a lot of organizations seek out. You know, to have a maintenance management system that speaks to your integrity management system, that speaks to your spare parts. You know, have that fully functioning ERP that is perhaps plugged into AI. That’s pivotal across any business. Far too many businesses still work in, with the silo mentality, so they’ve got standalone maintenance management system, which on its own probably works quite well and fantastic. And then we have this completely separate purchasing piece and materials management system that perhaps doesn’t speak to the maintenance management system. Now, finance people will tell you that’s an absolute nightmare because they don’t have visibility on numbers, on usage, and there’s a manual intervention. There’s somebody that needs to be hired to crunch data from one system to the other. This manual intervention is what we look to get away from.

So integrated systems absolutely the way forward and it’s a huge part of the future. I would say, you know, there’s a lot of companies out there that do get it right. They have got an ERP system set up that brings value to the business because it cuts out the amount of manual intervention that’s required. And that really, as I have been a user for an operator, when you’re using that system that is integrated, it’s a godsend. It’s fantastic. It’s like Christmas. And you don’t need to copy and paste from this to that. 10 screens open in your computer. So, integration, 100%. And then if you can imagine, we spoke about condition monitoring and the maintenance management system there. You can imagine the data coming from the pump on a remote drilling rig down in Africa, coming up through your maintenance management system and helping you predict when you need to mobilize the service vendor to go out and maintain that pump. It’s also speaking to your materials management. system that says, hey, we need these 10 spare parts to do that work before you mobilize the vendor. And then it’s automatically cutting a PO to the vendor, say, right, we’re going to call you off to do this work in six weeks time. Everybody gets visibility earlier on, which means there’s less firefighting, there’s less reactive, like we need to do this now because we’re caught short. There’s far more time for effective planning, which is great in any business.

Matt: Okay and so I remember you talking about back in the day you used to have like a calendar that was basically like, you know, a flip calendar. I’m not sure whether you miss that these days, but what’s your take on using spreadsheets for maintenance management? Do they still have their place or are they also a little bit old school now?

Roy: Excel doesn’t have a place anywhere now, in my opinion. Not just in maintenance, but do you know the great thing about the T-card maintenance system was, it was very, very simple. And I think that’s the only downfall potentially for some technologies that exist now is it’s got too complicated. And therefore, people are going, “Oh, what rubbish, because I don’t really understand it.” And to a degree, I agree with that to a certain extent. But I think the beauty of the old T-card system and the beauty of ERP systems, which are- companies invest the time to set them up and implement them correctly is that they are simple. They are simple to use. So, spreadsheets, no thank you. Not even for a shopping list. We don’t need them anymore. V-lookups are dead, in my opinion. But, the rest of the opportunities for new technologies, fantastic.

Matt: All right, and so then moving on from the tech conversation, do you use maintenance as a competitive advantage?

Roy: Maintenance is a profit enabler. That’s exactly what it is. We do maintenance to reduce the risk of operations having to stop because we need to fix something. That’s maintenance in a nutshell. So, when we talk about competitive advantage, if you can tailor your maintenance processes and the maintenance requirements to such a minute degree that you have more foresight on what the next six months, year, two years, five years looks like for your fleet of assets, your downtime is going to be probably non-existent, your unplanned downtime. That’s almost certainly a competitive advantage against your competitors. And when we look at asset operators in any industry, if you look at the nuclear industry for nuclear reactors and nuclear plant, you look at the drilling sector of energy for uptime, everybody is judged on their unplanned downtime.

So, all we’re doing with maintenance is making sure that nothing’s unplanned. Okay, when we have that– when we set up the agreement to operate with the end client, there is an allowance in there for maintenance and that’s all agreed at the front end of the contract. On a drilling rig, you need to have that hour every day to do maintenance on the top drive. And if you don’t make that hour for maintenance, maintenance will make time for you. You’ll go into downtime and you’ll know about it. Obviously, that obviously brings or lowers your competitive advantage against other competitors who are enabling that one hour a day and because then they don’t have unplanned failures.

Matt: Okay well there it is. Roy you’ve been a fantastic guest so far and given us some really interesting views and some great information there. So, what are your top three tips on effective maintenance for our listeners?

Roy: Top three tips. I guess engagement with everybody that’s involved in maintenance, from technical directors and finance directors through middle management, right the way through to the people that are on the asset. Engagement is number one. If you get engagement when you’re planning and executing, then you’ll have an easy life and you’ll have a reliable asset. Second one, a tip. I guess the technology piece, certainly, I would advise anybody to have a look at technology.

And if it’s too tricky to navigate that brand new world for so many people right now, then, you know, hire a third-party consultant, speak to somebody who knows and can advise you and explain in layman’s terms that this is how it works and this is what it does. So, embracing technology would definitely be the second tip. Third tip, and probably one directed more at senior managers, is don’t see maintenance as a cost centre. Maintenance is a profit enabler. If you can see that as a senior leader in a business, then you’ll have a reliable asset again. It’s all about keeping the asset reliable and reducing downtime.

Matt: Okay. And then so wrapping it up, what’s your favourite saying or quote on maintenance?

Roy: Saying. I guess an old one. If it ain’t broke, a maintenance worker will probably fix it for you anyway.

Matt: Nice. All right. Well, there we go. Wham bam. Thank you, ma’am. So, Roy, thanks so much for being on the show. It’s been great having you on and you’re giving us some really fantastic information there.

Roy: Sure, my pleasure.