Maintenance On The Floor Reliability Reliability Engineering Training Workforce

Reliability Engineering Students Share Views

Klaus M. Blache | May 10, 2020

The exchange of tribal and technology knowledge between retirement-age and incoming young professionals is a consistent theme when students are asked about their role in manufacturing reliability.

Q: What are engineering students saying about reliability?

A: Four reliability and maintainability (R&M) related questions were posed to four students at the Reliability and Maintainability Center, Univ. of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Students were Angelique (recent Industrial Engineering graduate), Luke (Electrical Engineering & Computer Science), and Nabeel and Noah (Mechanical Engineering). Their responses are summarized and combined.

Why is/was Reliability & Maintainability Engineering a good career choice for College of Engineering students?

• Gives a good behind-the-scenes look at how facilities and processes work, their roles, and importance to the company.

• Great way to work with people in different departments and levels.

• Students will use their problem-solving skills in any project that they are tasked.

• It applies to every field of engineering.

• Every machine or device is going to require maintenance at some point in its life cycle and understanding how best to maintain that machine will allow higher production rates and longer lifetime.

Provided experience of working in a plant to combat the consistent struggle of downtime, the replacement of motors and gearboxes too soon, and parts-room reorganization utilizing applications such as 5S and Lean operations.

How do you think you will be able to apply R&M in your first job (these students have had work internships)?

• Focus on creating a system that works correctly and has design features that will perform to or beyond expectations.

• Many of the tools and skills learned in R&M can be applied to a first job. They are valuable and cross functional (departments and fields of work). The mindset of being proactive, as opposed to reactive, is effective in any work setting.

• R&M has taught me not to just keep replacing the same broken part but looking deeper by performing a root-cause analysis to determine why the failure is occurring and how to prevent a repeat failure.

• By having a core understanding of R&M and its value in the workplace, along with 5S, I was able to restructure/consolidate a parts room to increase productivity of the maintenance crew and reduce downtime.

How do you see IIoT and digital applications being used with R&M?

• These implementations can be used in fields everywhere and allow thousands of data points to be tracked and recorded. Trending can then show whether systems are performing well or components may need to be changed.

• Can be used in R&M to make better data-driven decisions—what is happening in the moment (real time).

• The technology advancements being made are providing easier and more accurate ways to capture and analyze data in R&M.

• With accurate data, statistical-analysis software can be used to identify failure modes and design weaknesses.

Older existing employees have practical knowledge and younger employees have more digital skills. How do you think that younger and older workers can best work together?

• I think that it is important to develop relationships with older existing employees because you can learn and teach each other things that will make the company better as a whole. It is important to respect one another’s knowledge and skills.

• Younger and older workers can benefit from working together. Older workers can pass down “tribal knowledge” that younger workers could not acquire elsewhere. Younger workers can teach older workers tips and tricks about technology to better enhance the R&M experience.

• They can teach each other things if they are open to learn from each other. Some older employees are sometimes reluctant to change their ways in the workplace simply because they have been doing it that way for so long. Older workers can benefit younger employees by giving them more practical knowledge and teaching them ways to perform tasks without technology. 

• With the rapid advancement of technology this is no easy task. However, R&M combined teams (younger and older) can help in this by combining the strengths of newer graduate student’s knowledge in technology and the applied knowledge of the experienced workforce.

According to an Emerson (St. Louis, survey (, “The number of roles requiring STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) expertise is growing at a rate that exceeds current workforce capacity. In manufacturing alone, the National Association of Manufacturing and Deloitte predict the U.S. will need to fill about 3.5-million jobs by 2025; yet as many as 2 million of those jobs may go unfilled, due to difficulty finding people with the skills in demand.” As has been addressed many times, more STEM engineers equate to better economic results. Hire reliability engineers to add value to your organization. EP

Based in Knoxville, Klaus M. Blache is director of the Reliability & Maintainability Center at the Univ. of Tennessee, and a research professor in the College of Engineering. Contact him at


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