She Ignores The Glass Ceiling

EP Editorial Staff | April 11, 2016

Rendela Wenzel works in the office and in the field as a reliability engineer with Eli Lilly and Co.

Rendela Wenzel is a reliability star in a global arena.

Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 1.51.50 PMRendela Wenzel approaches each maintenance issue like a CSI investigator. “I love to understand how things work and explore the mystery behind equipment failures,” she said. “The main difference between a police detective and me is that I investigate and fix machines, not people.”

A global consultant engineer, Wenzel uses every tool in her toolbox. However, her most effective tools are experience, analytical thinking, training, and a belief that every option should be exhausted.

“Let’s say we have a bearing issue. I can look at the peaks and tell you how many side bands there are and what frequencies are off,” said Wenzel, who specializes in maintenance-and-reliability engineering for Eli Lilly, headquartered in Indianapolis. “I can pinpoint the approximate amount of life left in the bearing. I can tell you if the lubrication was adequate. We can use thermography to look at the heat signature. Like a CSI investigator, I go in and examine all the details, then troubleshoot a problem from the inside out.”

Her first step is to take a look at the body. “You can’t do an investigation without the body. Instead of a body, I have a piece of equipment,” she said. “The chalk line is drawn, and they bring me the part. They may bring the bearing or the pulley or the whole pump. We have an area in predictive maintenance where they will go in and cut those apart. We then write tech reports and give it to management. It’s like a police investigation, and I get to do all the reporting around it.

A woman in a man’s world

Wenzel’s enthusiasm for diagnosing and repairing machines started at an early age. Born into a working class, blue-collar family in Terre Haute, IN, Wenzel earned a mechanical engineering degree from Purdue Univ., West Lafayette, IN, and became the first person in her family to attend and graduate from college. Her father worked on a manufacturing line at Pillsbury, and her mother worked from home as a cake decorator.

“Growing up without a whole lot, I learned to make do and get creative,” Wenzel said. “I spent a lot of time working with my hands and fixing things. I would fix bicycles, tinker with cars, and I would build things from wood.”

Her original aspirations were to fly airplanes and become an astronaut. This would require military service and an engineering education.

“I like the theory side of engineering, but I also like working with my hands. It helps me to understand things better,” she said. “What I love about what I do with reliability engineering is I can go out and work with the crafts. Then I can write the report. I interface with higher levels of management, craftsmen, and engineering personnel, and travel to different sites and help them solve problems.”

Rendela Wenzel served in the U.S. Army as a Captain and Quarter Master Company Commander.

Rendela Wenzel served in the U.S. Army as a Captain and Quarter Master Company Commander.

She gained early management experience as a Captain and Quarter Master Company Commander in the U. S. Army and as a maintenance engineer and supervisor at Chrysler and International Truck and Engine Corp.

Now, in her 13th year with Eli Lilly, Wenzel designs and implements programs, then facilitates the reliability discussions and onsite failure analysis for the company’s 21 manufacturing sites in 13 countries.

Being a female in a male-dominated industry was tough at first, she said, but she adapted quickly.

“There’s been some good and some bad and some ugly,” she said. “My first experience out of college was with Chrysler in 1997. Entering a leadership role in a foundry was intimidating. There was one forklift driver. We called him “Tramp.” He saw me and said ‘Sweetheart, are you lost?’ I said, ‘No, I’m your boss.’ He was an older gentleman and had never had a woman supervisor in 40 years in the industry. He and I became fast friends, and he was one of our best employees.”

Wenzel experienced the metaphoric glass ceiling quickly, but didn’t let it stop her. “There can be a disparity, especially among engineers, as you rise in the ranks,” she said. “The more experience I get and the older I get, I find I’m held to a higher standard. It’s just that much tougher, but it is an adjustment you make with time. It becomes a part of your personality and a part of who you are. I believe strongly that I should not be given a position because I am a female. Give me the position because I’m qualified and the best person for the position.”

A natural transition

A common practice with many motor manufacturers, Chrysler had a philosophy of having engineers spend a few years on the floor in management to learn how the business works from a grass-roots level, Wenzel recalled. “This helped me to learn how to manage people and also manage assets,” she said.

At International Truck and Engine, Wenzel wrote her own job description as the company embraced an environment of reliability and predictive-maintenance. “They told me to find out what these technologies are and then bring them back to the company,” Wenzel said.

Her title of mechanical engineer was transitioned to reliability engineer. She implemented an oil-analysis predictability training program that included vibration, oil, and thermography.

“At International, it was in a union environment, so it had a different spin,” Wenzel said. “I had to learn how to troubleshoot equipment without touching it. Only the craftsmen could touch the equipment. I had to learn how to explain to them how to fix something instead of touching it and fixing it myself like I had always done. There were times when they would ask ‘What do you mean?’ I would explain how the item worked, then ask them to tell me from a mechanical standpoint how to fix it. We would then create a hybrid approach. It was very interesting to learn how to communicate it instead of doing it. It was like working with one arm. But I got very good at it, which has helped me in my current position because I sometimes have to help fix problems all over the world over the phone.”

Eli Lilly’s worldwide operations require onsite support. Wenzel writes and implements policy and procedures that create global quality standards and engineering functional standards.

In-depth analyses are performed at each site to ensure global guidance from corporate headquarters in Indianapolis is followed. From the Global Center of Excellence, Wenzel’s group handles materials-management, planning and scheduling, reliability, and maintenance-management functions.

Wenzel works with a variety of pharmaceutical-grade equipment, including bulk pharma pumps, tanks, agitators, vacuum dryers, chromatography columns, vacuum units, and buffer systems.

“There is a lot going on that affects the chemistry inside that tank,” she said. “I may not understand the chemistry inside that tank, but I understand the facets of the mechanisms needed to deliver it. Everything is clean and well maintained. We are very mindful of patient safety. With everything you do, you have to remember that this could be for your husband, or for your wife, or for your child. That is something culturally that is on the minds of everyone.”

The craftsmen at Eli Lilly are extremely meticulous, Wenzel said, and the environment is especially clean. “I have worked in very dirty environments, and I’ve worked in very clean environments,” she noted. “It really affects the attitudes of the craftspeople toward the equipment.

According to Wenzel, she could give Eli Lilly’s craftsmen a piece of stock steel and they could turn it into a chandelier. “They are not parts changers,” she said. “They are true artisans.”

M&R philosophy

Wenzel’s responsibilities include running reports combined with field work.

“I don’t always do bars, and charts, and statistics,” she said. “I still love the one-on-one type of equipment repair. I don’t like to just sit at my desk all the time and run numbers that tell me something. I like to prove those numbers in the field. Metrics are great, but we can get wrapped up in what doesn’t get measured, doesn’t get considered. I am on board with that, but there are unforeseen consequences that we cannot always recognize. We have energy costs and travel time with crafts and opportunity costs that cause issues. That doesn’t always show up in the numbers. You have to get in the field and meet with the people and understand what their day looks like. What does their wrench time look like?”

As a site engineer, Wenzel was in the field every day. Now, her global role combines phone with on-site support.

Wenzel believes strongly in PM optimization strategies that include the crafts. By training them to be more predictive, the maintenance team gets more throughput, which means more medicine to the customer and increased market share. “It’s all about delivering to the patient what the patient needs.”

Wenzel has developed and implemented predictive-maintenance programs worldwide that include understanding vibration, oil, thermography, and ultrasonics, but it also includes compiling and interpreting data.

As a coach and mentor of junior engineers, she helps them understand how reliability is central to business, then how to sell this philosophy to senior management.

Making a difference

Wenzel said she is especially proud of a predictive-maintenance program she designed and implemented for Building 130 in Indianapolis. It involves cross-training technicians and craftsmen who were interested in the reliability tech world. She saved money from other programs and applied the extra funds to cost-justify the training program.

“We were able to create a whole area of PdM technicians, as well as craftsmen,” she said. “I took them through a ‘crawl, walk, run’ and they learned and helped me develop the routes and the format to follow. They took on the challenge of building the website and tracking their data. They wrote the work orders and showed me the savings. They ran this program that took two years to conceive and implement. It was a shared learning experience—a unique mentoring and coaching experience for me, and it was great to see them take ownership.”

Wenzel coached the team on how to cost-justify and write reports. She also trained them on how to present the reports to management. Wenzel has also developed and implemented pump training courses at Eli Lilly.

From the company’s Manufacturing Quality Learning Center (MQLC) in Indianapolis, where the focus is on success factors and internal training, she drives the global pump, vacuum-pump, mechanical-seal, and basic and advanced lubrication fundamentals training programs.

Pump trainers have cutaways of vacuum pumps and can instruct students about function, factors to monitor, and why temperature is so important. The four-hour hands-on course trains on different types of pumps, failure modes, example PMs, predictive strategies, vibration, and pump specification.

Multiple roles in multiple industries

Wenzel’s experience spans many roles in a variety of industries. Each one provides the opportunity to learn.

“As a senior-level engineer, you have to be able to influence without direct reports. I must be able to operate as a manager, but without the overhead responsibility of managing those people,” she explained. “That also has its limitations—to influence those people technically without being in charge of them. In a global world, you must be able to influence and get the agenda across, and implement programs at each site, even when everyone is so culturally different.”

From a managerial standpoint, Wenzel has acquired experience as an operations and maintenance-team leader. “In the cleaning room of the foundry at Chrysler, I had to manage the operations personnel, but I also had the maintenance responsibility of keeping it all running and getting things ready for the next shift,” she said. “So I was constantly faced with the question, ‘Do I run it, or do I fix it?’ It’s an interesting position to be in. But I learned to communicate to both operations and maintenance directors on the importance of running an asset as well as when to perform preventive maintenance. I learned when to run something and when to fix something, and why that’s important.”

Wenzel said she works hard to help people understand the difference between maintenance and reliability.

“A lot of people think maintenance and reliability are the same thing, but they are not,” she said. “Maintenance is short term, and day to day. Reliability is a long-term focus toward sustainment.

As Wenzel describes it, she talks to managers who have substantial heartburn about “all this voodoo stuff we call predictive maintenance. They ask why this is needed when they have a guy who rides a white horse and can come out and fix things,” she said. “I pull from my maintenance and operations experience and can speak to why it’s so important to be proactive.”

1604fvoice01pRendela’s Top 5 Tips

  • Have multiple technologies tell you the same thing before taking an asset out of service.
  • Exhaust all options—no matter how crazy.
  • Involve your crafts people and make them feel empowered.
  • Take time to write down your successes in a technical format.
  • Never stop learning.



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