Maintenance and Reliability Suppliers: Buyer Beware

Tim Goshert

In the past decade, plants have seen maintenance and reliability improvement as one of the best areas to improve profits. This has led to a proliferation of consultants, training companies, hardware and software firms, and other maintenance and reliability suppliers.

Just attend a trade show and you'll see a wide array of choices for the maintenance and reliability professional.

While there are many reputable maintenance and reliability suppliers and providers in the marketplace, there are also plenty of charlatans and sharks. I believe it's important for you to be aware of the possible environments that can exist and make educated decisions. Some of the top red flags are:

  • Companies that claim they can design an engineered maintenance and reliability plan for you but do not have a core competency in a certain area. An example of this would be a company that has little to no knowledge and experience in predictive technologies.

    As a consequence, the company will drive your maintenance strategy toward the only thing they understand - preventive maintenance. As RCM theory explains, many failures modes and equipment defects are best detected using condition-based methods instead of the traditional preventive tasks of repair and/or replace.

  • Companies and others that claim they can design your predictive maintenance program for you, yet do not have sufficient education and knowledge in the all of the required technologies.

    They may have some experience and knowledge in one or two tools but not the entire spectrum needed for plants that have multiple pieces of equipment with multiple failure modes. These need to be detected by a host of PdM tools.

  • Companies that claim to have a deliverable from their entire organization when, in reality, only one person has any competency/experience on the subject. This may be fine for a one-off project, but probably insufficient as a strategic supplier for any medium to large client.

  • Companies that claim public domain ideas as intellectual property and likely will try to claim work they do for you as their own intellectual property. You must be able to trust the firm with which you are working.

    If this company intends to further commercialize work it does for hire, it should have the integrity to have this discussion up front with you. It needs to work with you on the level of scrubbing that needs to be done instead of making the work you paid for widely available to competitors.

  • Companies that claim they helped a client develop a reliability strategy when, in fact, all they ever performed was tactical maintenance and reliability grunt work such as equipment walkdowns.

  • Companies that tout business cases that aren't grounded in fundamental economic theory (i.e. not factoring in the time weight of money in any of the calculations or just using cost avoidance calculations that never will affect the bottom-line profit and loss of the client).

  • Companies that claim to have maintenance and reliability benchmark data but can't explain its source, the sampling method, etc.

  • Companies that use gimmicks (acronyms, names, phrases, etc.) to differentiate themselves when their products are no different than (or perhaps inferior to) other products.

  • Companies that prey on uneducated buyers. They create a brand name for a product that infers it has a technology included that it clearly does not.

  • Companies that negotiate a deal and won't stand behind it because they didn't understand their own cost structure and/or distribution model or, worst yet, just don't honor their commitments.

  • Companies that "name drop" your name or company name with other clients in a manner that misrepresents, exaggerates or fabricates the relationship. They do this to create an illusion of competence in an area by associating their company to yours.

  • Companies that fail to deliver on promised product upgrades and enhancements. Review their history and attend one of their user conferences and talk to as many users as possible. Don't just call their scripted references.

The lesson in these examples is to do the upfront research and education on maintenance and reliability suppliers before committing to anything. A prerequisite is to be educated in the fundamentals and details of the subject.

Also, you should complete a full market analysis of the subject matter and uncover the exact requirements that your company needs on the subject. A detailed analysis of the total cost of ownership is essential before you make a supplier choice. The extra effort and due diligence will save you time, money and reputation.

Tim Goshert is the worldwide reliability and maintenance manager for Cargill, one of the world's largest food and agricultural processing companies (more than 1,000 facilities worldwide). He is responsible for the company's global reliability and maintenance initiatives and is chairman of the company's Worldwide Reliability and Maintenance Steering Committee. Tim is an active member of the Society of Maintenance & Reliability Professionals (SMRP) and serves on its board of directors. 

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