European cooperation makes maintenance more attractive

European cooperation makes maintenance more attractive. Europe-wide the industry in several countries is faced with the same human problems. Why not look for solutions together? Unfortunately this is easier said than done. The borders are not limiting, but the markets are not always compatible. The project More4Core will join the European innovation activities and encourage collaboration.

During last season’s full stop the pressure on the Dutch maintenance market was again painfully clear. The contractors could just manage the workload, leaning firmly on temporary workers from various European countries. And that during a period of recession. As the economy is showing an upward tendency, the asset – intensive companies will feel the pressure of an aging workforce even more. The solutions seem obvious: more migrant workers, work smarter and motivate more young people to choose technical careers. The daily reality is more complex.

The Netherlands is not the only one facing these challenges, the demographic trends across North West Europe show a population decline due to the proportional increase of the ageing population and corresponding challenges. Plans are made to make the industry more attractive and efficient to operate. Maintenance markets in Belgium , Germany and France are making plans to make the industry inviting and efficient.

To join efforts, learn from each other and to tackle similar problems together the Brabant Development Agency (BOM) established the More4Core project. With the support of the European Union DI-WCM (the Netherlands), MEC (the Netherlands), BEMAS (Belgium), Voka (Belgium), AFIM (France) and WVIS (Germany)want to put maintenance in Europe firmly on the map. The European Federation of National Maintenance Societies (EFNMS) could obviously not be missing here.

Integration, innovation and mobility

Briefly the partnership focuses on improving market integration, labour mobility and innovation in the market for maintenance and overhaul to enlarge the effectiveness of this growing industry. To fulfil these ambitions six work packages have been compiled. Coen Sanderink of BOM and Wim Vancauwenberghe, President of the Belgian Maintenance Association (BEMAS), give a full explanation about the European cooperation.

Vancauwenberghe :” Our government, like other European governments, has identified the industry as an important economic sector. Agreed is that we are not going to make it with just services in Europe. This poses a number of challenges. First of all the industry is currently investing little in new installations and existing installations are also rapidly becoming obsolete. The emerging economic powers in the BRIC countries put European industry at a disadvantage because they have lower labour costs and often lower energy prices. In Europe we can counter that only by energy efficiency and higher productivity.”

As productive as the European countries are, there should be enough qualified people to carry out the work. Vancauwenberghe: “In Belgium maintenance is designated as a critical profession. This means that shortages threaten with serious consequences for our economy. We also look for technically trained personnel from Eastern Europe to assist in achieving our ambitions. At the same time we try to motivate our young people to choose a job in our industry. I think we can learn a lot from the other affiliated associations. If we jointly tackle the problems in Europe, we can achieve more than on our own.”

Professionalise consultations

The first work package of the More4Core project therefore focuses on European politics. Sanderink: ‘To put it simply our goal is that the maintenance world is better heard in political decisions. We believe to do so by setting up a so-called triple helix consultation between business, governments and education & research. If governments offer the industry material assistance, it is wise for us to include political decisions in the maintenance industry. In order to involve all stakeholders in the process we put together advisory boards for the work packages 1 , 2 , 3 and 6.

To succeed it is important that the industry is represented at a CEO-level, but also regional and national governments play an important role since they can insert the chosen strategy in government policies. Finally, also the scientific institutes and education cannot be excluded because they play an important role in innovation processes. Ultimately, it is the intention that these innovations are quickly embedded in trade and industry, coming full circle.”

Although the participating partners agree that the maintenance sector is under pressure , they also aim to know how big the problem quantitatively is and what the economic impact of maintenance on the European industry will be. The second work package will take this in its stride. Sanderink : “First a tender is issued to establish the methodology based on micro-studies. Now a uniform questionnaire is compiled with fixed templates. This makes it possible to compare the performance of individual countries with each other for the first time.”

“Actually, it’s two levels that we want to compare,” says Vancauwenberghe. “First we look at the individual countries and extrapolate that at the macro level to the European market. For now we want to know what the current state of the assets is in the Western European countries. What is the invested capital and how do the installations perform? How big is the knowledge of professional asset management and what does one want to spend on maintenance? If these figures are known , you can also indicate the potential for improvement and thus concretely make plans for example innovation projects or labour projects. At the micro level you could look at benchmarks or sharing best practices.”

“You can see the problems quite easily.’ adds Sanderink. “For example, large companies often manage to recruit new staff, whilst  the smaller players find it more difficult to recruit new talent. If these figures are known , you can perform a targeted campaign.”European C

In the area of innovation the four participating countries learn a lot from each other. Vancauwenberghe :’ At first we will have to make an inventory of innovation projects that already exist and then see if we can combine research or research results to share with one another. These do not always have to be technical innovations. It could also be , for example, optimization of shutdowns.”

European labour

In another work package one looks at the mobility of workers. Part of the solution of the shortage of technicians is in mobility of labour. Poles, Bulgarians, but also Spaniards or Portuguese are often technically well trained and are desperate for work. At the same time it also brings along a problem because the skills of those employees are not always clear. “The customer still wants to know who one is dealing with,” says Vancauwenberghe.

The idea is to invent a European skills passport validate competencies: the combination of knowledge, skills, attitude and maturity. Ultimately, the aim is to set up the structure so that it fits the Europass portfolio. So we speak a European language that everyone understands.” People can acquire knowledge in several ways: by formal training, but also for example by following an in company training. In addition, they build  a load of practical experience throughout their careers.

Vancauwenberghe : “A client should ultimately know if for example someone can replace a bearing but also whether he has experience with standard or special bearings. In addition, you should also know what competencies are required for example a shutdown engineer or a planner. At a more abstract level, if these skills are clear, you could accredit people and customers are assured someone can handle a task.”

Harmonization of the legislation

Market integration also aims to improve on other levels. “Laws lay sometimes barriers to labour mobility. Also national norms and standards often differ and may even conflict. The first goal is to get an overview of the many laws, rules, norms and standards and then see what the biggest conflicts are. After that we will try to harmonize Northwest Europe. The fifth work package focuses on that task. We will also create a supplier guide that shows which parties can provide a certain  kind of maintenance services.

Insights spread

The joint efforts of the interest groups should have more effect than for the duration of the project only. The sixth and final work package ensures that the research leads to concrete actions and the results are shared with governments, education and businesses. Vancauwenberghe: ‘The European maintenance , repair and overhaul sector (MRO) makes an important contribution to the revival of the industry in our part of the world. For example there are opportunities for the high-tech industry , nanotechnology and bio-based products. To make this possible we need innovations and high quality engineering. This technique should ultimately be translated to the field and continue to perform under all circumstances.”

Sanderink emphasizes that there is already a European umbrella organization that can perform lobbying for the MRO sector. “The EFNMS does have the potential of a lobbying organization, but still has too little clout. With the More4Core project we hope to give them a firm leg up. This also means that EFNMS has to get a permanent stature. It is the intention that we do not run the tests once, but they are repeated as a measure of improvement.”

The schedule has also become clear: “In September we started sending out the surveys for the benchmark,” says Sanderink. “We expect to discuss the first results coming March. The study will be presented at the EFNMS Congress that is organized in May.”

From: Maintenance Magazine September 2013 edition, published by the Dutch Institute World Class Maintenance, Breda, Netherlands