AKWIRE for Maximo User Group

Are your Maintenance Professionals Training for the Industry 4.0 Era?

by John Soldatos on April 20, 2017

Employee training has always been important for the effectiveness of industrial maintenance activities. In particular, training processes allow maintenance workers and engineers to increase knowledge and skills that help them understand and improve the way they perform their maintenance tasks.

Training has always been a complementary asset, and could be considered a prerequisite for the productivity of maintenance workers and processes. Recently, the interest in the training of maintenance employees has been increasing for two main reasons:

  1. The ongoing digitization of industry as part of the fourth industrial revolution (Industry 4.0) means that training and educating maintenance workers are more critical than ever. Maintenance processes are gradually becoming knowledge-intensive, which demands very well-trained workers.
  2. The evolution of information communication technologies is changing the way training and education programs for maintenance workers are designed and delivered. Hence, new training opportunities are emerging that were not possible few years before.

Along these general lines, let’s explore the scope and importance of training tasks.

Rising importance of maintenance training

Training in the Industry 4.0 era is more important than ever before for a number of reasons, including:

  • Human aspects of maintenance: Despite increased adoption of smart and connected technologies that automate several maintenance tasks, human workers remain at the heart of maintenance processes. These people play a key role in maintenance efficiency.
    Therefore, it’s important that they fully understand their role and activities they have to perform, both regularly and during a maintenance call. This includes understanding the overall process and the use of new automation systems, along with the most effective ways to have context aware access to inventory data.

  • Rapid technology evolution: As evident from our series of posts, industrial maintenance technologies are evolving at a rapid pace, as digital technologies are penetrating the plant floor. Therefore, maintenance workers and engineers are expected to be acquainted with new concepts and technologies for data collection and processes. This includes new maintenance models, such as Maintenance as a Service (MaaS).
    Training can familiarize workers with relevant concepts and processes, as well as their deployment on the field.

  • Skills gap: While new maintenance technologies are emerging, there is a prominent skills gap between understanding and actual use. Most plants lack enough people who understand the technologies associated with the fourth industrial revolution. Training is among the means to alleviate this talent gap.

  • Aging Workforce: Most developed economies facing the problem of an aging population, as part of rising longevity and falling mortality rates. This phenomenon is reflected in the age of the labor force as well. Productivity growth and higher worker skills are the best ways to address the adverse effects of an aging workforce.
    As these older workers move out of the workforce, they need to be replaced. Those intending to stay need to be retrained for the ongoing changes in the work environment.
    In this context, traditional education is no longer sufficient. Rather, lifelong learning programs are required, including education in new technologies and job retraining programs. The latter must be properly designed and delivered in order to address the needs of the maintenance job market.

Designing maintenance training programs

The design of training programs should address most of the above needs. In principle, the design of training programs is driven by a number of factors, including:

  • The key skills that participants to the program should acquire upon its completion. These skills include understanding new technologies, the ability to access problem knowledge faster, understanding industrial mechanics, operating specific equipment or tools et cetera. Organizations should allocate effort in identifying qualification gaps.
    To this end, they can build a qualification matrix listing the existing skills of the personnel and the desired skills that are really needed to support maintenance processes.

  • The background and skills of the targeted participants in terms of mechanical drawing, computer programming, electronics, ability to read blueprints, understanding of maintenance processes, and more.

  • The target industrial sector, as programs are likely to be properly specialized and customized based on the target industrial sector (e.g., oil & gas, energy or manufacturing).

  • The mode and setting of delivery. Training programs can be delivered based on a combination of face-to-face (classroom-like) training, on-the-job exercises and computer-based training (including online courses).
    On-the job-training is particularly crucial. However, it is challenging because it risks damage to valuable equipment, and presents safety risks. Nevertheless, on-the-job and on-site training are usually preferred, as it is very expensive to develop realistic off-site mock-ups.

  • The need for evaluation and certification of the training process. In cases where certification is required, the design of the program should make sure that the requirements of the certification are properly addressed.

The design of a program leads to the specification of the training curriculum, as well as of the length and frequency of delivery. It should also specify the target groups of the training (e.g., maintenance engineers, machine operators, Industrial software programmers, and repair workers). It should also specify whether the training is mandatory or optional for some employees or subcontractors engaging in maintenance tasks.

Maintenance training stakeholders

The planning and delivery of training programs require engagement and commitment of various stakeholders, including:

  • The human resources department, which will be in charge of planning the delivery of the training programs.
  • Maintenance workers and engineers, who will attend and benefit from the programs.
  • Senior management, who will ensure the employee engagement, as well as financing these training programs.
  • External consultants and training providers, who provides invaluable expertise in both designing and delivering the training. For example, when developing the qualification matrices and identifying needed key skills, consultants can always help in building the right lists based on the state of the market and the state of practice.

Maintenance training technologies

Modern technologies provide opportunities for more effective training. Prominent examples include:

  • Online Personalized Training: Online training programs can be delivered at a personalized pace for each worker. At the same time, it can provide customized/personalized content tailored to the needs of the trainee.
    Remotely-driven online training is already pursued by educators, including universities and enterprises dedicated to the provision of online maintenance training services.
    For example, Kent State University offers industrial training programs for both students and maintenance practitioners. The university collaborates closely with corporate clients in order to create individualized training plans for the employees involved.

  • Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR): AR and VR are already playing an important role in alleviating skills gaps associated with maintenance processes. They are ideal for showing employees the details of a maintenance process, using realistic cyber-representations and associated visualizations.

    There are already cases studies which report tangible improvements in worker productivity after using AR.
    In one of these case studies, AR led to 32% average productivity improvement in some plant processes.
    Heartwood3d provides a wide range of VR training solutions, including solutions for maintenance and repair operations. The company’s solutions provide a host of advanced training possibilities, including both learning how to repair machines without being in the plant and on-the-job training via visual instructions in a portable device (such as a tablet). The interactivity of the solutions leads to increased effectiveness, while their delivery in mobile devices and on the basis of AR/VR modalities separates the trainee from a certain location (such as a classroom or a plant for on-the-job training).

    The benefits of VR/AR training over conventional training modalities are illustrated in the video above. As shown in the video, the trainee is able not only to see realistic virtual representations of the plant, but also interacts with trainers as part of the process.
    For instance, the trainee is able to open the cover parts of machines in order to inspect their status, while deploying spare parts when needed. This enables a ‘Learning by Doing’ approach, which is much more appealing and effective than old-fashioned multimedia training modalities.

  • 3D Simulations: Similar to AR and VR technologies, 3D simulations are used for demonstrating maintenance procedures within a training program. With 3D simulations, workers can understand how to best engage in maintenance tasks to minimize delays and mitigate risks, including safety-related risks. In addition to 3D simulators, there is a host of software programs that simulate equipment operation. These can be used to train employees in maintenance and troubleshooting operations.

    In the video above, an online simulator allows the technician to narrow down the problem of an agitator overload tripping in an electric motor control unit. The simulator allows testing multiple scenarios to identify the problem down to a single loose connection. All this is done in an interactive way.
    Based on the use of simulation software, trainees are able to see how machines and equipment operate, as a means of getting acquainted with parts and maintenance processes. 

Maintenance training yields a positive ROI (Return On Investment)

At the end of the day, enterprises care about their bottom lines. Training also yields an economic benefit. Some managers view training as an investment that cannot be always justified. However, well-planned training yields a positive ROI. This is reflected in the above-mentioned productivity improvements, worker safety, and in alleviating risks associated with equipment failure. In most cases, a risk management exercise can demonstrate tangible benefits.

Beyond the direct benefits for the enterprise, training is also beneficial for the workers, as it helps them improve their knowledge and gradual transition to the high-skill jobs of the Industry 4.0 era. Maintenance training boosts performance at work and overall industrial productivity, which often leads to higher wages.

Are you already planning your next maintenance training program? If so, you might want to consider some of the program design tips and technology suggestions above. 

Subscribe to the Solufy blog

John Soldatos

John Soldatos holds a Phd in Electrical & Computer Engineering. He is co-founder of the open source platform OpenIoT and has had a leading role in over 15 Internet-of-Things & BigData projects in manufacturing, logistics, smart energy, smart cities and healthcare. He has published more than 150 Read More..