Using Lessons Learned Registers to Get Maintenance Fundamentals Right

Episode 11

Maintenance Management Podcast


About this episode

Specialist engineering and maintenance trainer, Matthew Laskaj leans on his experience in maintenance management to highlight the importance of mastering the fundamentals and why it's important to understand your data before purchasing a CMMS.


Matt (HOST) [00:00:31]: Welcome back to the Comparesoft podcast. Great to have you here with us yet again. Today, our guest is Matthew. Matthew is a specialist engineering and maintenance trainer and is the director of Project Engineering Management and current chair of the institution of mechanical engineers Scottish region.

Matthew has worked as an engineering manager, project manager, reliability manager, and mechanical engineer and has trained hundreds of people over the world in engineering and maintenance improvements.

Matthew has over 25 years of experience in the upstream oil and gas refining and manufacturing industries. It will be great to hear his take on maintenance management.

Welcome to the show Matthew. What should I say; good day? How’s it going?

Matthew Laskaj [00:01:31]: Excellent. Yes. Thank you for having me on the show. Some of the past speakers you’ve had on previously have been excellent so that’s really nice to be considered among them.

Matt [00:01:44]: No. Thank you for joining us. Well, let’s just jump straight into the show then. Right. What do you do? Can you tell the audience what it is you do in a little bit more detail for us?

Matthew [00:01:55]: Yes. Absolutely. I love my job because what I get to do is just meet so many people. I get to help and guide a lot of people to help improve their maintenance processes and their engineering skills in general. That’s mostly what I do.

The week is really varied. I spend most of the time training – whether that’s virtually or more recently around the country in person. I also teach engineering from master students and undergrads to apprentices in HNC engineering. Then to go alongside that, I help clients and businesses manage engineering projects. They typically tend to be repairs and modifications but sometimes we get to do some interesting designs and new builds as well. That doesn’t keep me busy enough.

As you mentioned, I’m the chair for the institution of mechanical engineers around the Scottish region. I’m based in Scotland. I get to talk to a lot of businesses. We organise events, do presentations, and just support our members in general. So as I said, I get to meet and spend time with a lot of people.

Matt [00:03:04]: Amazing. A massive amount of knowledge coming our way I would say so. Going from that then, moving on from that, how do you set a good maintenance culture?

Matthew [00:03:15]: I think the best way is to lead by example and to have good communication amongst yourselves and the businesses. You need to create that supportive working environment. When you think of what culture is, it’s different to different people, but it’s about values and beliefs. Some of that’s inherited by past experiences within the business. And some of that’s brought in by the current people. So the leaders are responsible for driving that vision of the business.

And if you have a poor culture, you might struggle to get that business vision implemented. If you’re looking at maintenance, which is what we’re talking about here today mainly, that division strategy can be the business vision, or it could be the asset management vision or asset management strategy. So if you’re looking at setting up a good culture or good people and communication working environment, one place you could get some good information is the ISO standards.

Something like ISO 55001, which is your asset management system, or others that people might be a bit more familiar with like ISO 9001 – which is your quality, and ISO 14001 – which is environmental. They focus a bit more — doesn’t tell you how to do it, but it definitely tells you what you need to do, which does include communication, people and culture.

Matt [00:04:38]: Then how would you recommend the best way to plan maintenance activities?

Matthew [00:04:47]: The word planning is, I suppose a different variety of meanings. If you’re looking at maintenance planning, planning and scheduling are two different concepts. The planning is the what and then how so what tools do you need, the procedures, the risk analysis skills, and then how it will be completed. It’s a little bit different to the scheduling part, which is who’s going to do it specifically and when they’re going to do it, what part of their shift or what day.

So if you’re looking at the word planning in maintenance planning, you want to reduce delays during jobs. So my recommendation for that is to have a good planner. And that good planner needs to be somebody who knows the job. I’ve been in projects where we’ve had some really excellent planners who know the software really, really well but they don’t know anything about the job. So what ends up happening is the engineer would have to come and sit next to them on a Monday morning and sit down with them for two hours telling that planner exactly what tasks go where, how long, it’s going to take, what’s going to be needed and all that personal planner would do is input stuff into the computer.

So I think, for a good maintenance plan or good planning process, have someone who knows the job really, really well before the other side of it’s done. The other part is to measure your performance. The better performance you get, less delays during jobs, the more efficient you are, where does all that wasted time go or what we call non-productive time.

Matt [00:06:22]: That moves nicely then into the next question. How do you recommend to plan maintenance activities?

Matthew [00:06:31]: Guess this comes back to what I was talking about earlier, and it involves the people. Have the right people but involve the people in the process. You can get a lot of information from manufacturers, the original equipment manufacturer will recommend a lot of tasks and frequencies. You can get them from other resources. But I found that the people doing the job have so much untapped knowledge, just walking around asking people’s opinions, the fitters, technicians, electricians, and operators, get as much information from that as you can.

And that’s why I say as a planner, get a planner who knows the job, who also gets on well with the other people doing the job. You’re almost talking the same language to them. Not to someone who knows how to use a computer really well like I was mentioning there.

Matt [00:07:23]: Do you think software tools then are useful for managing maintenance activities?

Matthew [00:07:29]: I think software tools are absolutely useful. And they can be a really effective way to get better efficiency, to get better processes in place, but also to manage those. So if you look at the main aim of any business, it’s to make money and to manage safety. And if we’re looking more at the maintenance side of it, it’s also to manage the risks. The way you manage risks is by having good processes. If you can’t document those processes, then it’s very hard to prove that you are managing the risks, especially if something bad happens. But also, it’s harder to find that information to be able to pass it on to the rest of the team.

So if we look at software tools in general, they’re a really good way of organising your information, being able to find the information you want, when you want it, but also like I mentioned before that, the people of the culture, a lot of it’s from past experience. So how do we pass on that past experience?

Lessons learned — people in general know that lessons learned are a really valuable tool to improve your business. I don’t find very many companies who have a very good lessons learned register that can actually be used after the fact. So they’ll use the lessons learned register to document the lessons learned. But then it goes somewhere that sits there. And it’s very hard to find it in the future. If something like a software tool is as that example could be a really good process.

Also the same with technology. A lot of people come to me and say, well, what technology can I apply to make our business better and make our maintenance better? You know, all of these fancy things with the internet and digital twin and everything, should we get it? — Absolutely get it, but not until you realise what you want it for.

So software tools are very useful, but you need to know why you want it. An example I tell people is, not this example, but I do triathlons. If you’re doing triathlons and training, you want to manage how well you’re performing. I’m not a great performer but I like to see how far I go. Now I could go and buy a 900-pound watch that gives me heart rate, sleeping patterns, recovery plans, and all sorts of things but I’m nowhere near the level that firstly, would understand half of that information for me, and then what am I going to do with it. So I could spend a lot of money on a really good tool that gives me really valuable information. But unless I’m going to use that information, I’m wasting my money. That’s the same with software tools for managing activities. It’s the same with technologies. Find out what you want to use it for, or what you want to achieve, then find the technology or the software tool that actually helps you achieve it.

Matt [00:10:39]: So documenting lessons learned, I guess one part is just recording it. But how do you encourage people to actually use that to drive the business forward?

Matthew [00:10:52]: Yes. That’s a great question because lessons learned is not just in maintenance, but it’s also used in projects that we manage, or any operations facilities. When we get a failure, or an incident or something that happens, or even just some important information, a big focus on business is to record and document it. If it’s a safety-related problem, then it’s investigated, usually quite thoroughly, because that’s our biggest priority. If it’s a cost problem, it depends on how big the cost problem is, as to how deep you want to investigate it.

What usually happens is some companies have anti-software to manage these failures or incidents. You can allocate actions to people. That action will then get emailed to the person. Sometimes they’re in the meeting and sometimes they’re not. And it’ll go off and then when that action is completed, if it’s ever completed, it gets logged. So it depends on how advanced that system is as to whether notifications keep going out. And eventually, you get sick of getting notifications so you might do an action. And that’s all fine. Because we’re used to dealing with that one on a safety basis.

But if it’s a performance improvement, I don’t think the same emphasis goes into managing or using the lessons learned. We dump it somewhere, whether it’s a spreadsheet, whether it’s a database or something. And yes, we’ve done a great job of capturing our lessons learned. Let’s go and start the new project or let’s go investigate the next failure. There’s so much information in that database on that system. Can you find it easily and are you actually looking for something or are you just scrolling to see if something’s relevant to what you’ve just wanted to talk about? What are the titles of your boxes and names? If someone’s written a very specific title and description, which sounds very specific to that one thing or is it generic enough to cover yours?

I think, to answer the question is how do you learn from those lessons, I read a book a while ago. For anyone who’s interested, it’s called Black Box Thinking. The author talks about the comparison between the aircraft industry and the hospital system or the healthcare system. This was in America but I suppose it’s the same anywhere. If you get an aeroplane failure, everyone knows why the Concorde blew up on its final takeoff because it was published in a bit of debris on the runway; a tyre runs over it, a bit of debris flicks up the only bit under the bottom of the wing that was not protected, it hits the fuel line or something and explodes. Now that information gets passed on.

The Boeing incident from a while ago is another example. If you wanted to find it, you could find it. But the book talks about other industries, which are a little bit more secretive. So I worked in refineries in Western Australia. The accent thing is Australia, and that’s where I spend most of my time in Australia. And our refineries, we had three refineries in Western Australia, all within 100 kilometres of each other. Which for Australia and Western Australia is pretty close. Working in those three refineries, I visited them probably two or three times in that whole three years. Now I look back on that, and I go, what a complete waste of potential resources because I spoke to them on the phone. Why didn’t I drive down their monthly more often when they had failures or anything, and learn from what they’re doing and then bring it back to ours? So it’s very easy to capture the data. It’s very easy to log it somewhere, but it’s harder to figure out how to reuse it in the future.

Matt [00:14:57]: So we’ve spoken a lot about technologies. I guess you might have answered this question, but how would you see connected technologies change the way we work in the future?

Matthew [00:15:10]: I think if the word connected technology, it’s a little bit different to software. I did mention the bit about the watch as well. I suppose that’s a connected technology. But the word connected technology, to me, is smart technology. Something that is connected and it’s going to be really important if it’s not already important in maintenance.

So if I look at probably the four most widely used inspection methods in maintenance, it would be vibration monitoring, so things like rotating equipment, pumps, and turbines, and the second one might be oil analysis. So it’s amazing how much information you can get from analysing the particles within oil, down to the shape, the colour, the texture, it can tell you, whether you’ve got gearbox meshing issues, all sorts of information like that.

The third one might be thermography. So heat is really good for electrical panels. Rather than opening up an electrical panel using a screwdriver and stripping threads and bolts and things, you can use a thermal camera. The fourth one would be ultrasonic. Whether that’s just thickness testing with pipes and vessels or some other sound.

If you think about the complexity of how these things work, and how hard it might be to interpret the information, 20 years ago, I was walking around the refinery with the probe in the little handheld box, and you type in the asset number you’re up to, and you’d stick the probe on the little panel and you upload the information, and then you’d walk back to your office, and then you’d have to download it all and there’d be these graphs. Unless you’re trained on the graphs, the graphs just look like a lot of points of lines. So I think having connected technologies is going to open up the opportunities of using this technology so much more because now I don’t need to be the expert on interpreting the graphs. We can use things like artificial intelligence, and digital twins to model them. We can connect them remotely to places that I don’t have to go out and in Scotland, freezing cold and rain, perhaps or Australia, the boiling heat and dust. So it opens up the availability to use the technology more widely to give us better information to make better decisions,

Matt [00:17:44]: What advice would you give to companies looking to head into connected tech and using data to improve their operations?

Matthew [00:17:53]: I think once you’ve made the decision that technology is going to help you. So we’ll make that assumption for the sake of this point that some technology will be useful because we think it’s going to prevent or predict the fire, then can that software or that technology match with what you’ve already got existing?

Smart meters in your house, you’ve got to stay with your own smart meter provider, and then when you changed providers, you’ve got to buy a different smart meter because they can’t use that. So how locked into that provider might you be? The sensor? Can that sensor be from one company, but the software be from a different company? Because maybe you want to buy some sensors that – sensors in vote vibration analysis as an example – measure vibration in three axes, and it might measure temperature. Is there a different software that can then later be added on to that to use and store that same information to get it?

The other problem I have – the other problem I see businesses have – is how good is your internet connection. So oil rigs, they’ve really – a lot of them that I go on to have – really bad internet connections. So how likely is it that you can get an Internet of things sensor that then the data is going to be continuously sent back to the land because this internet connection is not that great?

So if you’re looking to get technology to help you, again, it’s down to what is it you want it to do? How locked into that provider might you be or how interchangeable is it and what information will you get back? Is it going to be proprietary and you don’t get to see the data that comes back where you have access to dashboards and graphs, or do you need to interpret that data yourself which means you need specialist engineers or specialists software people who can interpret it?

Matt [00:20:01]: So then going back to the old-school way of using spreadsheets for maintenance management, what’s your take on using spreadsheets in the modern day for in the current day for maintenance?

Matthew [00:20:16]: An engineer loves good spreadsheets, don’t they? You can make all these fancy formulas. You don’t need to know how to do programming but you can write your own little formulas. And you can have different coloured boxes pop up with rules, and you can do lookup tables and all these sorts of fancy things.

When I first started the business, that’s how I used to manage my accounts. You don’t have a lot of transactions going in and out. You did it all on a spreadsheet. That was great for a while, but then you have to start worrying about that and then you have to start worrying about all these, I suppose more fancy things that the spreadsheet needs to do.

It’s very easy to make mistakes. So spreadsheets are great but it’s very hard to manage complex tasks with a spreadsheet and make sure that they don’t have errors. Even things like formulas, it can save you a lot of time rather than typing it back into your calculator a lot.

The second problem I see with spreadsheets is that everyone will have their own one. So you’ve got different groups of people writing their own versions of spreadsheets on their own desktops, doing their own thing. So having a computer system that is connected, that everyone can get access to, that everyone can use, means you’ve got a more effective process. It’s easier to manage, control, and change and that helps you manage risk better, which again, is a big part of what your business needs to do. Maybe a good starting point, maybe a good initial just messing around with things for yourself but if it gets a bit bigger than that, I don’t think that that would be useful.

Matt [00:22:03]: How would you use maintenance as a competitive advantage in business or for business?

Matthew [00:22:10]: Yes. Everyone’s looking to get ahead of the next person. Everyone wants that advantage. In general, what is it that people want to manage, which I’ve talked about already, its safety and its costs.

Safety and environment, especially these days, are your number one and two priorities and making sure that people are working and not getting injured, and that you’re protecting the environment. If we look to the future, it’s about sustainability and things like that as well. But also cost. If you’re not making money, you go out of business. You have to make a profit. So these are the two areas that I find in maintenance are also the biggest priority. We need to manage the safety and environment but we also need to do it as cheaply as possible.

We want to do that as low as reasonably practicable. Al ARP is the acronym that they use for that one. This is what we want to manage in maintenance. So if you understand where your business is now through collecting data, whether that’s cost, whether that’s performance from your maintenance – we mentioned planning before, whether that’s performance of your team, collect and monitor what you’ve got. If you’ve got good reliability and maintenance program through having the right tasks selected, through doing the right types of tasks that prevent or predict the failures you want to predict, you’ve got good processes, you’re involving the people that I talked about earlier with good communication practices. They’re trained and competent so they’re doing the right things at the right time, then your safety will improve and your costs will decrease. If you want to get a good competitive advantage of safety and cost, get your maintenance right, that’s a good starting point.

Matt [00:24:10]: Could you give us your top three tips on effective maintenance for our listeners?

Matthew [00:24:25]: Yes, absolutely. I spoke to a lot of people and a lot of businesses who struggle to figure out why their plant is not performing the way they want it to be. They’ve got really good people. Most businesses will say that our biggest asset is our people. So we’ve got really good people. We’ve got really knowledgeable people, but we don’t really understand why our plant keeps breaking down. We’re busy, we’re always working. The people will come on callouts when we want them to get called out. Why are we still getting breakdowns?

So, the three areas that I say is, get an effective maintenance is one, you need to set up the support. The support would be, firstly, the leaders have to have that vision. So you have to have your asset management strategy. They set the goals for the department or the organisation. The operators are probably the most underutilised asset as they provide basic care and knowledge and help with the condition monitoring even.

Then you’ve got your maintenance and engineering teams, who don’t ever tell operations this, but they’re there to support operations. Our job as maintenance and engineers is to help them. And so if you can set up that support system, and help with all of those areas, that has been the first area to focus on.

The second is to get the fundamentals right. Understand what the failures are, what type of failures you get, and select the right techniques. Whether that’s to let it fail, whether that’s to do planned maintenance, predictive maintenance, maybe you want to use reliability-centred maintenance, risk-based maintenance methods, whatever it is, do the right things by understanding the choices you’ve got, and the information you’ve got.

And then the third one is absolutely use technology. Use, embrace it, utilise it to improve your monitoring systems. Whether that’s the Internet of Things, augmented reality, [or] just condition-based maintenance tools. But if you are going to use it, you have to do the first two first. Because otherwise, you’d be wasting your money buying the things that really aren’t value-adding, and you’re just spending money for these shiny gizmos that sit in the cupboard.

Matt [00:26:57]: Well, amazing three tips there. Thank you very much for that. Finishing up, then what’s your favourite saying or quote, on maintenance?

Matthew [00:27:08]: It’s probably not so much a quote because you see lots of quotes get posted on the internet and you think, that’s great. That’s inspirational. But I suppose more as much of a saying or a tip and it’s just master the fundamentals first. Get the basics done really, really well, before you try to get too fancy and too complicated with everything else.

So many places, as I said, they’re busy, they work hard, but they don’t have the fundamentals in place. So you’re never going to get the next part right if you don’t have that foundation right. Understand the choices you’ve got, the information you’ve got, get that done, then off you go and spend all your money on whatever you like. But master the fundamentals first and that’s what I focus on.

Matt [00:27:59]: What advice would you have for people looking to enter the industry?

Matthew [00:28:04]: There’s a lot of options if you want to get into engineering and maintenance. What I found is that if we focus on the maintenance part first, is that there’s not very many education programs, whether that’s universities or colleges or things like that, that teach maintenance, in a lot of depth or even at all. So I do speak to some people in universities who have covered maintenance a bit and then they’ve come on to the courses and they do get a bit of a basic understanding. But I don’t think there’s a huge emphasis on maintenance. It’s something that I didn’t learn at all at uni. It was all learned through jobs after that. And then you get companies who come in and sell your software, and then they train you on their software, and you pick up from experience.

So if you want to get into maintenance, I think the best starting point would be whether that’s a trade so you’re going to do an apprenticeship where you’re going to go directly as a trade and learn on the job.

When I was working in the refinery, as an example, my office was kind of in the middle of the refinery. So you’d have to put your hard hat on and everything to get to your office. And anytime there was a fire I always used to tell the fitters and electricians I want you to phone me up and tell me that there’s a fire because I want to come out and see it. I want to watch what you’re doing. I want to watch how you dismantle it. They never let me talk to anything but I was allowed to stand and watch and ask questions. So just asking lots and lots of questions, because they actually do like you asking questions mostly because they want to show that they know their jobs and they want to get the things fixed.

So learning on the job, I think in maintenance is probably the most common way to do it, because there’s not as much formal training.

If you want to get into engineering, then you’ve got again a few options. One is the formal path where you get a degree and you go in through that way. Or you can do it through the technician’s practical side of it and then move into it. We had an engineer in one of our companies a while ago that I used to work for, and the lead structural engineer, he was in his 70s. So he didn’t have an engineering degree, because at that time they weren’t as necessary. But he’s worked his way through as an engineer through experience. So it depends whether you need a degree to do the job that you’re doing.

So some of them you need a degree to be able to sign off on things and that or you need to be a technical authority, or you need to be a competent person for various things. Other practical experience. So it doesn’t really matter, I don’t think which direction you go, whether you’re the academic route, whether you’re the practical route, is just about asking questions, and learning from all of the people that you work with. The younger you are, the more you can get away with asking why the older you get, they expect you to know the answers a little bit more. So utilise it early on.

Matt [00:31:08]: Okay. And then how much of your time is actually spent working on the association side?

Matthew [00:31:13]: As the volunteer side, I suppose it’s as much time as I can get. I don’t work a nine-to-five job so when I’ve been managing a business, it’s as and when needed and bits and pieces.

Before COVID came, a lot of our events were night times where we would do presentations and events and things like that. Then during the day, we might go out to a school, or we might go out to a business or help people get chartered, for example. So it depends on what events are on.

Now, the last two and a half years, it’s pretty much all been online. So that’s been predominantly nighttime events, and then daytime events as well have started to creep into it. So I’m lucky in a way that I can be flexible with the time that I spend on it because I can do a lot of the other tasks from my other job at night times and at weekends. I’m not having to set — so I do spend quite a lot of time scattered all over the place.

Not everyone can spend daytime hours unless they’re lucky enough that they can say that their business — I’d like to volunteer and get involved in some of these institutions, or some of the organisations or things like that. So it’s hard to say to other people what it’s going to be but even if it’s just nighttime, come to the committee meetings once a month, that’s a massive hope. The more volunteers we can get.

The big challenge I think we’ve had over the last two years is the younger generation of engineers coming through, but they haven’t socialised with people in person at the universities. So they’ve not formed those communities of then working in committees and things afterwards. So the younger committees and the younger panels have a higher turnover because they move jobs and they move location more and we’ve struggled to get the continuation of the new ones filling the old positions. I think that side of it is more of a challenge than the more experienced people who tend to stay put a bit longer generally.

Matt [00:33:32]: Well, there we go. Thanks so much for coming on the show and being a guest. You’ve given us some really fantastic information and advice and knowledge.

Matthew [00:33:43]: Absolutely, thank you very much for inviting me and it was great to be part of it and challenged me into thinking in some new directions too with some of those questions so it’s always good to hear. Thank you very much.

Matt [00:33:56]: All right. Well, thanks to all of you listeners for being with us again. We really appreciate having you here and we’ll see you on the next episode. Cheers!