RM&D: Making “House” Calls in the Modern Military
On the TV show “House,” the brilliant Dr. House attracts patients from all over the world who come to seek out his unique problem-solving and diagnostic capabilities. Only the patients with the most difficult-to-diagnose conditions come through his door, whether it’s a rare genetic disorder or a combination of illnesses that present as one mega-syndrome. But House can use his brilliant mind and decades of experience to solve the mystery. Given that there is only one Dr. House in the world, at least according to the show, he doesn’t spend his time giving flu shots or limit himself to serving patients within walking distance from the hospital. That would be a waste.
The problem with the way we do military maintenance today is that we have our equivalents of Dr. House—our most experienced maintainers whose ability to recognize patterns and diagnose patterns is unparalleled—giving flu shots to locals. They’re tethered to a base, a ship or other limited footprint, and probably spend as much time thinking about “routine” or scheduled maintenance as they do working on big, knotty issues.
This is clearly a waste of talent and an inefficient use of resources. While that waste might have been manageable in earlier areas, demographics and budget cuts are conspiring to create a situation in which action is imperative.
Both the military and commercial industry face a coming bow-wave of retirements of their most experienced and knowledgeable maintenance personnel. In many cases these “greybeards” are being replaced by relatively inexperienced staff still climbing up a steep learning curve. Budget cuts, again in both government and private sector enterprises, are exacerbating the impact of the demographic trends by slashing staffs and reducing training opportunities for young and old alike.
There is no solution to this problem, strictly speaking, but remote monitoring and diagnostic (RM&D) approaches offer the promise of mitigating it substantially. RM&D centers, like GE’s Industrial Performance and Reliability Center (IPRC) outside Chicago, offer enterprises the opportunity to leverage their most experienced maintainers across the widest possible population of assets.
The IPRC is staffed by Customer Reliability Managers (CRMs) who generally have two or three decades of experience as maintenance engineers on industrial platforms. More than a few of them actually have grey beards. They’re recognized experts in their fields and they take a “manage by exception” approach to monitoring the 1,000+ assets assigned to them. They don’t stare at data from any one asset on a constant basis…they focus on the machines that are in trouble at any point in time.
With the help of more junior staff, our CRMs dive in deep when sensor data from those assets is flagged as problematic or anomalous by our SmartSignal monitoring software. They coordinate directly with the maintenance staff at the site, be that an oil rig, power plant or airplane maintenance hangar, and work through the issue with them. It’s like having the most experienced maintenance guy in the industry standing over the shoulder of the junior staff and guiding them, wherever they are in the world and whenever the issue arises.
Or, if you like, it’s like having Dr. House at your local urgent care clinic.
As the military, like its industrial brethren, is forced to contend with the retirement bow-wave under extremely resource-constrained conditions, the value of transitioning to the RM&D model will only grow. Whether that means utilizing commercial resources like the IPRC or partnering with GE to license software and get training so the military can stand up its own centers, the path forward is clear.
If you want to learn more about how the IPRC combines predictive analytics with human expertise to prevent surprises from causing unplanned downtime, check out the Catch of the Week.