Maintenance Reliability

R&M Challenges And Opportunities

Klaus M. Blache | April 1, 2024

Hiring and retaining young workers who can fill the void being left by retirees is one of many challenges that will test reliability and maintenance.

As we look to the near future, reliability and maintenance professionals face numerous challenges and opportunities in their continuing quest to support mission-critical goals and improve operational performance:

Challenge: Skilled maintenance technicians/trades are difficult to find/hire/retain, while experienced people are retiring.

Opportunity: Millennials are getting somewhat more interested in reliability and maintenance because of newer technologies. Simultaneously, companies are engaging in more operator maintenance involvement and in-house training practices.

Challenge: For too many, maintenance is still not sufficiently aligned/partnered with operations on business rules/operating principles. Short-term operational decisions rarely have sufficient maintenance involvement and related long-term impact understanding. Operational financial incentives are often counter-productive to maintenance strategies.

Opportunity:  Companies need to develop a sufficient number of joint operating principles that are not violated. Shared goals and KPIs would be beneficial.

Challenge: Reactive maintenance/firefighting is still high for many companies. Some want to change to proactive maintenance but don’t know how to get there.

Opportunity: Maintenance needs to be led and not managed. To get good candidates, you need to have a career path. The skill set of new leaders needs to include much more predictive/condition-based technologies, AI, augmented reality, and related digital interactions.

Challenge: There is a general lack of plant-floor computer skills, while workers are expected to embrace all that comes with Industry 4.0.

Opportunity: Develop a program that will upskill workers so they can comfortably use digital technologies.

Challenge: Working in-office, remote, or hybrid?

Opportunity: People need to decide on how they are willing to work. For some jobs, remote or hybrid can work. If you work at a place that assembles, distributes, manufactures, performs research with equipment only at the workplace, you need to be at the workplace. Even if you are not the person touching the product, having all involved at work is key to supporting the team and culture.

Challenge: Old systems don’t easily integrate with the latest technologies, making new digital applications difficult. Many current business models aren’t able to support disruptive digital methodologies.

Opportunity: Need a better understanding of how much/how fast and an accompanying roadmap? For example, Generative AI is still in its infancy and will take some years to find its proper place in reliability and maintenance.

Challenge: Technology applications need more focus on the implementation process to be successful.

Opportunity: A balance of organizational health (people engagement) and operational performance is needed, along with a sociotechnical approach that combines people and technology.

Challenge: Quality of services and products has deteriorated since pre-COVID. Too many facilities have unfilled positions and/or are filling positions with less-qualified people.

Opportunity: Use this minimal time left to align experienced trades/engineers with young incoming workforce. Soon there will be more robots than people in specific production jobs.

Challenge: Many are still dealing with ageing equipment, continued long lead times for MRO spare parts, and ongoing weaknesses of overall supply chains.

Opportunities: Many companies are buying extra critical long-lead-time parts to minimize this risk. Parts beyond this critical high-risk group still need to be managed. EP

Based in Knoxville, Dr. 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



Klaus M. Blache

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