Developing a Reliability Strategy
Michelle Segrest | January 23, 2018
Gina Kittle drives processes and programs for her company and SMRP.
As a young girl, Gina Hutto Kittle would sit in the garage with her father and grandfather and study their every movement. She watched her father—a mechanic—fix anything that the neighbors needed repaired. Her grandfather, Owen Ramsey, worked with Red Stone Arsenal in Huntsville, AL, where he was part of the core group that launched the first missile into space. Kittle would play with his drafting tools and ask hundreds of questions about how things worked and how to fix them when they broke. Even though she didn’t really know what engineers did, she knew she wanted to be one.
“My grandfather passed away when I was in the fifth grade, but I remember seeing the newspaper articles about his involvement with the missile,” Kittle said. “I found what he did so interesting. He worked on cars and would show me what he was doing. I learned about all the tools and how to use them. This was manual machinery, and just being around it inspired me. Even though I didn’t really know the definition of an engineer, I just kept telling everyone, ‘I’m going to be an engineer.’”
Kittle now has a mechanical engineering degree and works as the program manager for The Timken Company’s manufacturing advancement program, Product and Process Development. Based at the global headquarters in North Canton, OH, she owns the reliability strategy for Timken’s 26 international bearing facilities. “We work as a team and I set the overall reliability strategy,” she explained. “We’ve been very busy deploying our SAP plan and EAM (enterprise asset management) tools across the various plants. I’m also involved in training and the standardization of PMs (predictive maintenance) tasks across multiple plants—really, anything that has to do with maintaining the equipment of the bearing-producing facilities, I support them in whatever they need.”
While all this keeps Kittle busy, she finds time to also be the treasurer of the executive committee for the Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals (SMRP, smrp.org), Atlanta. Since attending her first conference in 2001, she has served on various committees and the Board of Directors since 2013. Her ultimate goal is to become the first female chairperson of SMRP.
“Within SMRP, I have been able to work with some really great people,” Kittle said. “It has given me a platform to learn and share knowledge about the reliability industry.”
Kittle remembers being a bit overwhelmed by her first SMRP conference 16 years ago.
“I didn’t even know half of the terminology back then, and I was blown away by the knowledge that was in the room,” she said. “The next year I began to get engaged with the committees and worked my way to conference chair. This was a huge experience seeing thousands of people come together to improve maintenance and reliability. It’s amazing. I’m making bearings, but you may work with someone who is making ice cream, or someone making insulation or producing fruit or making pistachios. But we all have the same issues.”
Kittle takes the knowledge gleaned from SMRP and uses it to develop best practices for Timken. “I use the metrics definitions every day,” she said.
Women in Engineering
Kittle is aware that she is a woman in a male-dominated profession, but she doesn’t let that drive her. “Especially in today’s world, my goal is to be known as a mechanical engineer with the right credibility and the right certifications,” she explained. “I want to be held up on the merit of my 20-plus years of experience. It shouldn’t matter whether I’m a female. However, it’s important to bring diversity to how groups like SMRP interact.”
Even with this positive attitude, she can’t ignore that diversity has not always come easy in business, and particularly in manufacturing. “It has been a struggle,” she admitted. “When I first started out in the mid-to-late 1990s, there were contractors that didn’t want to deal with me. They would walk right by me and shake my boss’ hand even though I was in charge of the project. There are times when women in our field must overcome things like this, but at the same time, you can’t let it weigh you down.”
Kittle offers advice for all young engineers—male and female. “As women, we have to protect our image a little more than men do,” she explained, “from little things like how we dress to big things like being sure that our voice is heard. I would advise any young engineer to put your time and effort into making sure that the information you have is correct. If you say something, be sure you’ve done the research and are certain this is the way to go. Once you lose credibility, it’s hard to get it back.”
Striving for excellence
With Timken, Kittle supports plants of all sizes. One may have 80 maintenance technicians, and another may have six. Therefore, programs that work in one facility may not succeed in another. This requires creativity in developing reliability strategies.
“When I go into the plants, I’m on the floor troubleshooting,” she said. “I also do a lot of training on root-cause analysis and teach about different methodologies. When I go into a plant I’m first taken to the source of the biggest headache. Then we develop a plan to correct it.” This problem-solving aspect is one of her favorite parts of the job.
When she began working in the company’s Union, SC, plant 21 years ago, Kittle was introduced to one of her first mentors, Bob Williamson, CMRP, CPMM, and member of the Institute of Asset Management. “Bob trained us, and we began having pit-stop events using TPM principals,” Kittle said. “We dug a little deeper than autonomous maintenance and improved our overall PM with some robust maintenance plans and procedures. We found a significant amount of savings in decreasing downtime. We used this program for many years. Later, we automated the operator checklists but, for the most part, we stuck with the five pillars of TPM (there are six now). I later moved to Pulaski, TN, but the program was so strong it sustained.”
Kittle incorporates many manufacturing best practices, but the key to what drives most of her programs is effective metrics tracking.
“From a global perspective, we try to always know exactly where we are by tracking three main metrics categories,” she said. “You can’t look at just cost, or just proactive maintenance, or just PM compliance. You have to look at all of them in a cross-functional way. Drawing conclusions around the metrics is key for us. It also lets us focus on where to spend the most effort. Specific programs may work for one plant, but not for another.”
Kittle still incorporates some of the same philosophies she learned from Williamson.
“I use a lot of the RCM philosophies, but I try to bring it all together without calling it a name,” she explained. “Sometimes we just need to get back to basics and use the principles of TPM and allow the pillar of autonomous maintenance to make a difference. There are so many tools in the reliability toolbox. You have to know what to use at the right time, based on that specific situation. A lot of that comes from experience. And sometimes you just need to let the data tell you where you need to go. ”
Kittle said she will never forget the lessons learned from all her mentors and experiences.
“Growing up, I had the opportunity to attend an Engineer-for-a-Day event at a local company in Tennessee,” she said. “This sealed the deal for me wanting to be an engineer. Once I went to college, I started in the co-op program. Many of my projects on my assignments involved working with the maintenance technicians. After my first year of that assignment, I was hooked and knew this was the group I wanted to work with and with whom I felt the most at home.
“Being able to solve a problem and make something work again was what drew me in at first, but then trying to figure out how to make it even better was the next natural step.”
In addition to her father, her grandfather, and Williamson, Kittle drew inspiration from Margaret Thatcher, another female pioneer. And she also found inspiration recently from Henry Timken, the founder of The Timken Company, who said “If we all think the same way, there will be no progress.”
Striving to improve is always a part of what drives her. “I love this field and have lived it practically my whole life,” Kittle said. “My grandfather always said to always try to be your best. You’ll never reach perfection, but if don’t at least strive for perfection, you’ll never even get close.” EP
Michelle Segrest is president of Navigate Content Inc., and has been a professional journalist for 28 years. She specializes in creating content for the industrial processing industries. If you know of a maintenance and/or reliability expert who is making a difference at his/her facility, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.