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The success of reliability and maintenance (R&M) programs ebb and flow depending on the flavor of the month. Frequently those programs gain legs because of some catastrophic incident. Or, perhaps, they are used as a way to reduce headcount based on common business practices, but then suffer entropy that leads to a return of previous levels of unreliability with fewer resources to manage unplanned outages. Unfortunately, the general practice, even with reliability and maintenance professionals, is to hold physical-asset management as a separate entity. 

The concept of tying reliability practices to safety is not new and, in fact, has been growing, with the further partnership between OSHA and SMRP (the Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals) through the SMRP Government Relations program (SMRP – Alliance Agreement – October 11, 2018 | Occupational Safety and Health Administration []). This has brought increased recognition of the fact that R&M and proper physical asset management has an influence on safety, as well as the safety aspect of maintenance performance. After all, when you consider such things as NFPA 70E arc flash, the conditions and injuries tend to occur to electricians and maintenance workers who are not performing standard operations work, but mostly maintenance practices.

There are, however, several additional areas, including energy efficiency and environmental issues, that can be associated with the management of physical assets in plants and facilities. A properly maintained and operated equipment system will be more energy efficient than one that’s defective or improperly maintained and/or operated. The technologies we use to detect faults are all effectively detecting energy losses, be they in the form of vibration, heat, or sound.

Technologies such as Electrical Signature Analysis (ESA) and power analyzers directly measure the losses in the form of watts for electrically driven equipment and the energy to “drive through” the defect from electric-machine airgap torque. This concept was formalized with the Energy Policy Act of 1992 (EPACT’92) and the work developed through the U.S. Department of Energy (USDOE, “Challenge” programs for motors, pumps, steam, and process heating, among others, which were similar to programs adopted by other energy departments worldwide.

Partnerships between end-users, equipment OEMs, repair and consulting companies, trade and professional societies, utilities, state and Federal agencies all expanded on those concepts, starting in 1993. These hugely successful programs included USDOE-certified training programs that were presented through suppliers, trade associations, and utilities and, incidentally, kicked off my own first speaking engagements, through ComEd’s “Chicagoland Motor Challenge” outreach classes, in 1993.

In 1997, when I joined the University of Illinois Energy Resources Center (UIC-ERC) as the Industrial/Utility Senior Research Engineer, the primary focus was on moving from energy-efficient retrofits to a concentrated effort on the maintenance impact of systems on energy. This concept was first presented publicly by USDOE’s Johnny Douglass, at the 1995 “Motor Challenge Workshop,” coupled with work presented by Washington State University’s (WSU’s) Energy Extension Office on energy impacts of the electrical distribution system (i.e., power quality, loose connections, voltage levels, etc.).

All of these efforts tied maintenance practices directly to energy and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Multiple projects at UIC-ERC were focused on these areas, including the impact of electric-motor repair on energy efficiency, an area of study initiated by the Canadian Electrical Association in 1992, through Ontario Hydro, Hydro Quebec, and BC Hydro. Similar studies were performed globally with the Electrical Apparatus Association (EASA) study in the UK that was implemented later. (We will discuss energy efficiency, reliability, and motor repair in my next article).

At UIC-ERC, in partnership with Flowcare Engineering of Cambridge, Ontario, a project was initiated for Pacific Gas and Electric on the relationship between electric motor condition and energy with the concept of retrofits versus repair based upon electric motor condition. The project included development of a combined tool for defect analysis, which culminated in a jointly funded Pruftechnic, ALL-TEST Pro, and Dreisilker Electric Motors modification of MotorMaster Plus (USDOE’s Motor Challenge calculator software produced by WSU). This modification allowed data entry of vibration, motor-circuit-analysis, and related testing data to sort motors by condition for pre-emptive repair versus replace decisions.

Concurrently, UIC-ERC’s industrial team was focused on an Illinois Department of Commerce project on energy opportunities within the State’s food-processing industry. An agreement to expand the program included an Industrial Engineering program senior research project, with a focus on the relationship between energy, waste stream, process, and reliability, which was my dissertation (A Novel Approach to Industrial Assessments – MotorDoc LLC). 

The project swept the UIC engineering awards for senior projects and was also presented as an Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. (IEEE) conference paper (UIC ERC Industrial Assessments Project 1999 Paper – MotorDoc LLC). In all cases, the impact from implementation of these ideas at everything from a small bakery to a large corn miller resulted in significant impacts on profitability, as shown in follow-up testing. At this stage, GHG improvements were also becoming an item for several of these companies to present to shareholders (and for one had am impact on stock price following a shareholder report).

Those successes were brought to General Motors’ Quality Network Planned Maintenance (QNPM) facilities maintenance program and project team. Through a brokered agreement by the team between then GM CEO Waggoner, UAW-GM, and the Secretary of Energy, GM Worldwide Facilities adopted the complete set of USDOE “Challenge” programs and helped start USDOE’s “Save Energy Now” program. The partnership and program resulted in over 44 joint UAW- and management-driven steam, pump, motor, compressed air, and other surveys that had impacts exceeding 20% energy improvements per facility site through maintenance practices, alone.

That potential is considered reasonable, as the USDOE Industrial Assessment Center (IAC), program led by Rutgers University’s IAC impact studies, identified that a minimum of 14% energy improvement, just through the conversion from a reactive maintenance to planned maintenance program, is probable.  Some of the largest opportunities were found in electric-motor-driven pumps, fans, steam power, and compressed air systems.  Interestingly, things such as belt tension, alignment, and other items that we now call “precision maintenance” were included (Steam Ahead at General Motors Pre- 2006 – MotorDoc LLC).

In June 2020, while the world was wrestling with the initial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), a branch of the U.S. Department of Commerce (, published a study on the corporate impact of maintenance programs through the Manufacturing Machinery Maintenance program. Titled, “Economics of Manufacturing Machinery Maintenance: A Survey and Analysis of U.S. Costs and Benefits,” the study tied maintenance to preventable losses and other benefits of different program levels.

Through an advanced maintenance strategy, researchers identified over $57.3 billion in direct costs for maintenance that had an impact of over $119.1 billion in return for downtime, defects, and lost sales. They also identified additional non-financial impacts, including the fact that 16.03 injuries and 0.05 deaths per million employees were directly associated with avoidable maintenance issues. These safety issues were direct maintenance-personnel-related impacts based on reactive practices. They didn’t include other injuries and death associated with actual failures (which they did not have good data on but knew were higher).  The study and related papers can be found at Manufacturing Machinery Maintenance | NIST.

Long-term success for physical-asset-management programs, including direct reliability and maintenance, have a direct impact on an organization’s bottom line. When R&M programs are used to support themselves, they rarely survive, and are often sacrificed when belts tighten.  On the other hand, when incorporated as part of an overall strategy and tied to other programs including safety, energy, environment, and corporate profitability, such programs are self-supporting.

Even when QNPM programs were dissolved with the transition from Old GM to New GM after 2009, the maintenance Best Practices developed and tied to energy and waste stream were adopted or absorbed into programs within the corporation’s worldwide facilities group. The question is this: How are you tying your physical asset management program into other aspects of your operations?TRR

Howard Penrose, Ph.D., CMRP, is Founder and President of Motor Doc LLC, Lombard, IL and, among other things, a Past Chair of the Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals, Atlanta ( Email him at, or, and/or visit

Tags: reliability, availability, maintenance, RAM, energy efficiency, pumps, electric motors, steam systems, compressed air systems, process-heat systems, greenhouse gas emissions, environmental sustainability, vibration, Electrical Signature Analysis, ESA, SMRP,  Electrical Apparatus Association, EASA, OSHA, U.S. Dept. of Energy, National Institute of Standards and Technologies, NIST, General Motors