INDUSTRIAL MAINTENANCE covers the repair, installation, adjustment and maintenance of industrial production and processing equipment. To find opportunities for industrial maintenance work, contractors can look right at their own business and customer base.

  • The business outlook for their industry  
  • Whom they have a good relationship with  
  • The needs of their customers

The National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) has just put out information in its Electroindustry Business Confidence Index, which covers the construction, architecture, engineering, transmission and distribution, electrical contracting, chemicals, food and medical industries, as well as other industries that use electrical equipment in their daily operations. The index said the current business conditions were highly favorable for May 2006, but the evaluation of near-term growth prospects (i.e., for the rest of this year) had deteriorated dramatically. NEMA interview results found very strong, positive comments about the North American market, while others felt the outlook for the future was less than they had hoped.

On the other hand, you could protect yourself against this less-than-exciting outlook by considering adding maintenance work to your current projects. There is a belief that the current generation of contractors will be retiring in the next few years, and a new work force will need to be available to take their place on the job. Computerized maintenance management systems (or software programs) can’t do the whole job—people with expertise and experience are the best to do the work.

This is an indicator to find more maintenance to do today. The consensus seems to be that maintenance generally follows work that was bid on by the contractor. It could be called service, sustaining or maintenance work. For low-voltage or datacom projects, it could involve handling moves, adds and changes, some of which could be done long after a job is completed. For electrical contractors, it could be something simple, such as changing lighting fixtures or ballasts and cleaning up unprofessional work done by others or it could be major work such as doing power quality surveys or refurbishing production equipment/hardware.

Opportunities 1 to 4

For industrial maintenance, the opportunities arise because there is already a relationship established with a customer. Take advantage when the following opportunities arise:

  1. When a contractor is already on-site, he or she can be requested to do routine maintenance work on an ongoing basis.
  2. Some customers want to farm out all their maintenance work to a contractor.
  3. Recognize that a company budgets for a hard dollar contract job differently than for ongoing maintenance work.
  4. Downsizing can make room for companies to outsource their maintenance, whether it is for their production floor or their data/voice network.

Electrical contractors have the advantage of in-depth electrical training as apprentices and journeymen. Working in the training capacity, they may already be on the job site and available to do other work, and using that on-site experience, they can establish and maintain a customer relationship.

Opportunity 5

Another advantage is that apprenticeship training can be extremely valuable in this field and you should maximize this. Sometimes a company has Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) violations that need to be fixed. If electrical contractors notice violations of OSHA regulations or mandates while on a job location, they can support the customer by fixing those violations.

Their training helps in both identifying the problems and in fixing them because the training programs teach the contractor what is expected of them regarding safety. General areas of study, especially by those in National Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee courses, include OSHA 1910, the Occupational Safety and Health Standards, Subpart S, Electrical; and OSHA 1926, Safety and Health Regulations for Construction, Subpart K, Electrical.

They also study OSHA 70E that has based its electrical safety mandates on NFPA 70E, the Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace. OSHA tells the user what to do to avoid electrical dangers; NFPA 70E tells them how.

Opportunity 6

There are community or technical colleges that offer training in electrical controls, hazardous materials, industrial equipment, industrial waste disposal, plant maintenance, etc. The more highly skilled a contractor is, the more opportunities there are for industrial machinery repair and maintenance work. There are jobs in the manufacturing sector, in industries such as food processing, textile mills, chemicals, fabricated metal products, motor vehicles and primary metals. Others might work for government agencies, public utilities or mining companies.

Opportunity 7

One of the services or byproducts of regular maintenance is a reduction in downtime. Every company wants to achieve as little downtime as possible. Someone who can help a customer find a new way to maintain their equipment can provide a value-added service. As an example, a recent press release described Rockwell Automation’s E1 Plus solid-state overload relay with DeviceNet communications. It warns engineers when to take preventive action when motor-performance parameters exceed permissive limits helping avoid downtime.

“Even at the component level, our customers can gain greater access to information from the plant floor,” said Jerry Watkins, marketing manager, Rockwell Automation, Milwaukee. Communication via the network allows for constant monitoring of machine performance and access to operational and diagnostic data to help customers reduce downtime.”

This is just one idea you can recommend to a client that will help them run their shop.

Opportunities 8 to 13

Other approaches to take when meeting with the customer involve presenting your concept of how you could provide them with one-time or ongoing industrial maintenance support:

  1. You can present industrial maintenance as important right now—Industrial machines are expensive and require regular maintenance to save the customer money in the long run.
  2. You can present maintenance work as being part of the green building approach—it can save energy, improve factory operation, and add to the safety of the workers in the factory when done correctly.
  3. You can point to outsourcing as a way to save them money and offer to provide the services they need as an outside contractor.
  4. If there is an in-house staff already performing routine maintenance, you can show your high-level skills and how the company can supplement them by using you.
  5. You can do a presentation on the costs of maintenance versus no maintenance.
  6. You can offer to do this under a contract for them if that’s what they prefer.

Opportunity 14

Make the most of your promotional tools to cash in on industrial maintenance work. If your company has the maintenance experience, customers have to hear about it, either through your presentation or perhaps from a Web site where you could list all the equipment with which your company has experience.

One Web site listed work with industrial boilers, coal handling systems, retubing, piping, welding and air preheaters. The site even described that the company held different yearly maintenance contracts with industrial customers. Potential customers will seek you out, especially if they discover that you have the goods.

Opportunity 15

Another way to promote your own expertise is to be involved with the Instrumentation, Systems and Automation Society (ISA). It is a globally recognized standards-writing organization that develops consensus standards for automation, security, safety, batch control, control valves, fieldbus, environmental conditions, measurement and their symbols. ISA is accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and has published more than 150 standards, recommended practices and technical reports.

In addition to the organization and its standards writing charter, ISA—as an objective third party—offers specific certifications that confirm a person’s skills that make them stand out from the crowd and be recognized. The organization offers video and online training and live Web seminars. Some of the areas of certification ISA offers are Certified Control Systems Technician, Certified Automation Professional and a Certified Industrial Maintenance Mechanic (CIMMs).

CIMMs are certified to do preventive, predictive and corrective maintenance. They perform troubleshooting and analysis and apply sound maintenance practices in all aspects of their work. They are multiskilled individuals whose expertise is primarily mechanical in nature as opposed to instrumentation or electrical. Having one on staff could be beneficial.

Applying the opportunities

After reading about the advantages the contractors have, they must look at ways to solve their customer’s problems and save them money. After all, that is what the customer wants. They also want to work with a professional who knows how to handle themselves in the commercial building environment. It is important to dress, act and speak professionally when on the job because you make an impression. If you are seen as sloppy, loud or unkempt, people will not want to call you back for more work.

A customer wants an industrial maintenance contractor to be a highly skilled worker who maintains and repairs machinery in a plant or factory. They want someone to diagnose a problem and detect a minor one before it becomes major. They want you to understand the equipment and be able to see what’s going on. While there are computerized diagnostic systems and vibration analysis techniques, the mechanic brings extra value to the table from his or her years of training and experience.

Here is a list of skills that can bring that extra value to the plant:

  1. Computer skills to repair sophisticated equipment on your own
  2. Testing skills to ensure that a machine is running smoothly
  3. Machinery repair
  4. Preventive maintenance tasks for specific types of machinery
  5. New machinery installation and placement
  6. Knowing how to adjust and calibrate automated manufacturing equipment, such as industrial robots

For companies who neglect their equipment or their technician’s skills, hiring a skilled industrial maintenance technician can give them the opportunity to introduce maintenance into a plant’s scheduling and bring that program into shape.   EC

MICHELSON, president of Business Communication Services, is an expert in TIA/EIA performance standards who writes articles and update reports for clients, and provides other industry guidance on her Web site www.bcsreports.com.