Podcast Masterminds in Maintenance

Episode 30: Tips and Tricks for Maintenance Workers to Boost Productivity with Gregory Mecomber

Ryan Chan

On this week’s episode of Masterminds in Maintenance, we have Gregory Mecomber on the show! Greg offers a ton of tips and resources to help those in the maintenance and reliability industry to stay productive and proactive during the COVID-19 pandemic. Listen today!

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00:05 Ryan Chan: Welcome to Masterminds in Maintenance, a podcast for those with new ideas in maintenance. I’m your host, Ryan. I’m the CEO and founder of UpKeep. Each week, I’ll be meeting with a guest who’s had an idea for how to shake things up in the maintenance and reliability industry. Sometimes, the idea failed. Sometimes, it made their business more successful and other times their idea revolutionized an entire industry. Today. I’m super excited. We’ve got Greg Mecomber here on the show. Greg currently works as a Maintenance and Reliability Engineer at the Smile Direct Club, a cosmetic dentistry startup specializing in clear dental aligners. Over the years, he’s worked in the maintenance field from automotive, hospitality, as well as infrastructure groups and heavy equipment. Greg recently earned his CMRP credentials in 2019. Congratulations, Greg. Welcome to the show, Greg. I’m super excited to be speaking with you today.

00:56 Greg Mecomber: Oh, thank you, Ryan. I’m thrilled to be here on this special social distancing edition.

01:00 RC: Exactly, you’ve got the social distancing Masterminds in Maintenance podcast edition. The way that I always love to start these things off is just sharing a little bit more about your background, how you got into the space and how you got started in the maintenance and reliability industry.

01:17 GM: Alright, well, maintenance was never really something that was on my radar. In fact, I made every effort I could to avoid getting into this line of work. I grew up in a very south Mississippi working agriculture. We weren’t a big co-op or anything so between vaccinations and crop rotations, I spent a lot of time mending fences and repairing farm equipment. Also during this time, I spent a great deal of time at New Talavan which is an ashram in my town. And as part of my service to the temple, I performed minor repairs to the buildings and helped with the general upkeep of the gardens and buildings. When I turned 18, I joined the Air Force and was assigned to a civil engineering unit and our main purpose in life was airfield maintenance and much of our peacetime mission was base maintenance, infrastructure construction, building and repairing roads, sidewalks, drainage systems, fences and assisting other trades by providing heavy equipment support, maintaining parks and even a golf course on the base. We also maintained a fleet of heavy construction equipment to include mobile concrete plants and asphalt plants. And I think there was one specific event during my time in the military that has allowed me to be successful. I never get bored or burnt out in this field. It was something that, one of my former bosses in the military Ed Cebula said to me that has stuck with me ever since.

02:28 GM: I was hanging out in the hallway and one of my fellow airmen went to the boss’s office to complain about something. And my boss replied in his typical booming voice, “Don’t bring me a problem unless you’re also gonna bring a solution with it.” And I’m paraphrasing what he said, but ever since then, I would always try to find a solution to a problem instead of just letting it be somebody else’s problem. And after doing my time in the military, I went to a university in Tennessee, jumped from major to major and job to job, most of them customer service, which I enjoyed until my wife brought me back to Mississippi where I was able to attend Pearl River Community College. My intention was to get a degree in Bio-Medical Equipment Repair, but I wound up triple majoring in the former as well as Electronics and Instrumentation and Controls. And my goal from then was to get into an entry-level engineering tech position, but this was proving difficult because NASA wasn’t interested nor was the Department of the Navy. I finally landed, my first job as a temp at Schneider Electric, building switch gears. Then I began going through the doors that were consistently open to me, which always seemed to be multi-craft maintenance positions in industrial environments. Once I landed this job, I continued reading, watching webinars, going to ISA meetings and generally bugging the heck out of anyone that would give me their time of day.

03:41 GM: And by doing that, I found some good mentors and did some job shadowing along the way. And there were a few that pushed me to take on more responsibility, which I gladly did and I learned new skills and perfected new ones that I already knew which let me continue growing professionally. All this time and I still have a passion for finding solutions and for meeting the needs of customers. And all those years I spent trying to avoid getting into the maintenance field even though it was something I was already doing, but just didn’t realize it, all those years of winging it and it has proven to be one of the most rewarding and challenging fields I’ve ever had the privilege of being a part of. And people ask me from time to time what I do and many times, I just tell them that I get to solve puzzles every day as every day presents a new challenge and a new, a potential new and innovative solution.

04:26 RC: That’s awesome. It sounds like you’ve had such an amazing journey, almost coming full circle from working in the military all the way to working customer success back into this maintenance and reliability industry in world. I also wanna ask you a question. I know that you recently passed your CMRP. What motivated you and who pushed you to take that CMRP exam?

04:55 GM: I think it was just myself that pushed me. The motivation was I… Well, I didn’t have any bachelor’s degree and I figured, well, I need to have something else to let people know that I’m ambitious and I’m willing to learn more.

05:07 RC: That’s awesome. That’s so amazing and congratulations, once again on passing that. That’s a huge accomplishment.

05:11 GM: Thank you. I appreciate it.

05:14 RC: Now, Greg, you’re over at Smile Direct Club. I know that that company, you guys manufacture these clear aligners, give them to customers without any doctor’s visits. And obviously, right now, we’re obviously in this work from home and social distancing episode and we’re kind of in the midst of this coronavirus epidemic. I’m curious, for you, is it business as usual since there’s no in-person contact? How has this coronavirus pandemic affected you, the business, your team?

05:49 GM: Well, I think anyone would be hard-pressed to find anything that’s business as usual right now. And while I can’t speak with any authority on the business side, I can say that our production facilities have been taking measures to reduce person-to-person exposure in the building as well as eliminating any direct contact with our product. One of the efforts the company is taking like many others right now is to temporarily stop production and close many of the shops located around the country in an effort to flatten the curve.

06:16 RC: Got it. Yeah, it sounds like the company is really taking a big effort to make sure that you guys are safe.

06:21 GM: Definitely.

06:21 RC: The company is doing the right things to help flatten the curve and the entire, obviously, prevent this infection from getting any worse, which is great to hear.

06:32 GM: We all try to do our part.

06:36 RC: On the businesses that are still working during these efforts, for a lot of us working in the industry, we’re turning wrenches. We can’t necessarily work from home. There is a great deal of folks that are still working on the front lines. What are some measures that people specifically in the industry can take to protect themselves while at work? And also, how can upper management, how can businesses help care for employees during this time knowing that there’s a global pandemic but they’re also extremely essential to making sure that our world maintains the standards and continues to keep running?

07:15 GM: Alright well, there’s a lot of things for that one. Proper and frequent handwashing is one of the top things on my list. And this is one of my top recommendations to anyone since you’re the only one that can control your actions and control your actions. You can’t control anybody else’s or know what they’ve done. You never really know if they’ve coughed in their hands five minutes ago or if they’ve washed their hands and how well they’ve washed their hands, but you can know how well you’ve washed yours. Also be conscious of shared tools and shared PPE. It’s always a good idea to clean your tools before putting them away but take a few extra seconds to make sure you clean them. Well, that it’s disinfecting, if it’s available. If the PPE you’re using is shared or difficult to clean like an Arc flash suit, perhaps designate one person to use that suit for the time being. If it is feasible to have your own PPE, do something to identify it as your own so the chances of it getting mixed up are minimized. One thing my company has done well is to encourage working from home if possible. And for those that are high-risk and unable to work from home such as production workers, they’re permitted to not work and will not receive any penalties as a result.

08:21 GM: Masks and gloves have been available as always but we began rationing them to the supplies to ensure that everyone has a set since there’s a shortage right now. The cleaning crews have been supplied with the disinfecting cleaners and have been working extra hard to paying great deal of attention to the high traffic areas. Doors being propped open to eliminate any need to touch common surfaces. If possible create a distance between workstations on production lines. This is not only, creates a safe distance but it also reduces the tendency to group up on tasks. Allow those at a high risk to work in a more secluded area possibly. If you know, it’s not just the manufacturing industries that have been affected.

09:02 GM: I have colleagues in several different industries that have discussed with me the ways they’ve been changing and some of the steps they’ve been taking. As for heavy equipment operators and truck drivers, but especially now do not let anybody else in your cab. Sanitize surfaces if equipment is shared. In hospitality, some elevators have been programmed to stop on each even floor and the other one the odd floors to eliminate the need to press any buttons. As we know, knowledge is power. Make sure that everyone is aware of the symptoms and the risks and the efforts the company is taking to reduce exposure and slow the spread of illness. My advice for any management going forward is to make sure that you have the resources in place to remain ISO compliant for whatever ISO you subscribe to for 9001. Make sure you have the necessary resources to sustain the conformity of both your products and services. Be creative and resourceful. If feasible, find ways to re-tool in case market emergency needs shift. As an example of this, we’re currently 3D printing parts for face masks and regulators.

10:01 RC: Wow, that must be so… I mean, that’s so cool to see you guys as a company pivot to help support everyone within the world to help stop this like you mentioned spread of illness. You touched on one point which is, we were recently talking about where a lot of folks actually can’t necessarily work from home and production has stopped. So on that note, for businesses that are trying to work in this uncertain time what can… Do you have any tips for people who are working at home to try to stay productive in the plant and production if it is paused due to this Coronavirus outbreak?

10:44 GM: Well, as you know, I’m currently in the situation myself. While manufacturing is stopped temporarily, construction and basic maintenance tests are still ongoing. At this time we’re allowing one maintenance tech to come in during the day to go through a list of safety checks for the facility and equipment as both failure finding effort and to keep the equipment in the state of readiness for when we do start back up. We’re figuring out as we go as much as anyone else right now.

11:08 GM: And while at home, I’ve learned two new card games with my son and I’m trying new recipes, getting the backlog of chores my wife has had for me, and procrastination is still real. But as far as tips for others, if you’re able to be at your place of employment while still practicing social distancing, now would be the great time to get some hands-on experience with guidance from more senior individuals on the job. You know the tasks that they never have time to train you on because a piece of equipment’s down, you’re trying to get it back up real quick, that’s the ones I’m talking about. Most places probably have some components sitting around in need of repair. Some expired lubricants that need to be properly disposed of. Things are much quieter in the plant right now and it’s a perfect time to go out and find some air leaks, and cleaning and disinfecting is always a good idea, especially right now. And cleaning as you know is a big part of the autonomous maintenance pillar of TPM and a big part of preventive maintenance, so deep clean some of that equipment and operating stations, find impending failures, oil leaks, coolant leaks, etcetera.

12:11 GM: And any healthy manufacturing plant will have about two weeks of a backlog. And so, it’s kind of a coincidence that we’re pretty much all staying home for about two weeks in most places. So tackle those items that’ll be the biggest impact on the safety, cost savings and liability. Audit the inventory, do account and make sure everything’s accurate. Take the time to re-assess quantity. Sell or return the parts that are now obsolete at your facility. Make sure you have enough tools. And one example of this is when I worked at the horizontal infrastructure shop in the military, there were several times we went to get tools for the asphalt crew and wound up only having one shovel that wasn’t broken in half, and nobody bothered to tell anybody. It was a bit of a surprise and set us back a little bit in a scrambling. Use a slower pace to plan for when things pick back up or plan for larger projects that can be completed during this time, projects which will increase reliability and resilience mostly. Calibrate to work and align the hard to access motors and instruments.

13:13 GM: With the decreased traffic, if materials are available, now will be a good time to fill those potholes, repair the sidewalks, fix the drainage systems, or do something about that trail that’s eroding. And while things are slow, it would also be a good time to update your documents, such as flowcharts, SOPs, PM tasks, precision maintenance procedures, contingency plans. And this might be a new one for most places, and we’ll definitely get some good lessons learned from this going forward. So we’ll be proactive, and keep daily notes on challenges, successes, and suggestions in case this or something similar happens again in the future. A colleague at a power plant mentioned that they had been stacking up food and necessary items, so that someone could be sequestered at the plant if the need arises. For critical facilities such as that with a high consequence of failure, I think, this would be a good idea going forward. Perhaps with your team do some benchmarking, and gap analysis for the department. Getting the whole team involved will increase buy-in, and also help those in the front line understand, what goes on behind the curtain, so to speak. Perhaps even get in touch with some production and operation folks, and ask them to think about any concerns or issues they’ve noticed. Have the new maintenance guy walk around, and note anything that doesn’t seem right.

14:22 GM: So these new eyes and perspectives can see the issues that have existed a long time that others have just become so used to seeing that it’s just wallpaper basically. In addition, to getting the maintenance folks on hands-on training, conduct TPM training with the operators. They can use this opportunity to ask knowledgeable folks some good questions, and get some answers that are less rushed. Perform the TPM with the operators if you want. So they can point out concerns, oversights, and make suggestions for improvements. And as I mentioned before, documentation… Since the inventory terms will be… Inventory returns will be much lower during this time, make sure that all sensitive items such as lubricants, desiccants are stored by the manufacturer’s standard. Some places have turned off their ACs, the humidifiers, and these can affect items in storage. Be sure that these documents are clear and in good condition, not covered with grease or anything while they’re hanging up. Make sure a list of start-up and shut-down procedures have been communicated to all the affected individuals, such as production and equipment operators, maintenance personnel, etcetera. If you’re unable to work, YouTube is still around, sharpen your skills as well your tools. Stay up to date and flexible. Listen to the Masterminds in Maintenance Podcast, catch up on the latest trends and technologies in your field.

15:36 GM: Read a book on a methodology that you totally are unfamiliar with, and then add that to your resume. If you’re unfortunately out of work, Ryan has developed a virtual job board for those seeking employment. There are also plenty of recruiters out there looking for talented and experienced folks from many different backgrounds. And if you’re in Tennessee or Nashville area, or thinking of relocating here, feel free to message me on LinkedIn, and I’ll do my best to put you in touch with recruiters that are hiring right now.

16:04 RC: Wow. Thank you so much, Greg, for all of that. You know, to all of our listeners, if we were wondering, “Hey, what should we be doing during this time?” I think, Greg just gave us another three years of work, just now. [laughter] But now, that’s so good, and so great to all of our listeners. Because I think my main takeaways from you, Greg, is that, “You know, yes, we may have some downtime, but that doesn’t mean don’t work. That doesn’t mean don’t stay productive.” I think, a lot of what I heard was training… Training others, getting trained in education, optimizing your backlog, and things that you’ve always been wanting to do, but you’ve been pushing off. Maybe the fourth one just centers around like this idea of knowing that your facilities is gonna get back up and running at some point, making sure that you are prepared, and the company is prepared when that day happens. Making sure that we stay prepared, and we’re proactive about all of that. These are all things that we can start doing today. So thank you so much there, Greg, there’s so much good stuff that you just mentioned for all of our listeners.

17:14 RC: You know, something else that you mentioned was just like lessons learned from what’s going on today? I’m curious, you know, once all of this blows over, what do you think are gonna be some major takeaways, lessons learned, in terms of preparation, sanitation, training, education, and being proactive about these mitigation plans going forward?

17:38 GM: I think, one of the big takeaways we have is just be prepared, prepared for unusual situations such as these. Most places have a contingency plan for things such as a power outage or an earthquake, but most did not have a plan for something of this nature. So now is the time to take good notes and do the right thing. Others are counting on you to do your part, you know. Much that we’re learning is on the individual level, right now. And the industry will hopefully be able to take these small steps, that individuals are taking such as washing hands, social distancing, and use them to create a policy to expand the concepts going forward. One company I worked for required its employees to perform group stretches twice a day to avoid injury. And as simple as it is, and as silly as it may have sounded last year, mandatory handwashing at certain intervals throughout the day doesn’t seem too unreasonable now.

18:27 GM: A few minutes a day to prevent two weeks of… Or… Yeah, two weeks or more of reduced or no through put… You know, I wouldn’t be surprised if new safety and industrial hygiene guidelines were expanded after this experience either. And it is possible in the future that office layouts may begin to change, more space between desks. People not sitting face-to-face with no barrier between them. It would be a good idea to look into the ways to increase the ability for employees to work from home. And with more employees working from home and remotely, the internet usage is up, which may identify some IT opportunities and risk that exists. So many places do it as part of their onboarding, but training on infectious disease, safety precautions, and again the steps the company recommends must be documented and dispersed.


19:13 GM: I just wanna say that organizational knowledge, like this COVID-19 can’t survive in isolation. So we prepare a company for resilience by cross training employees, that’s a big one, make sure that knowledge and information is documented. If it is undocumented, uncontrolled or ill-maintained and not dispersed properly or shared, the knowledge may be misunderstood, used incorrectly, or lost altogether. So this type of situation requires companies to rely upon many cross-trained employees and secondary backups to fulfill their duties. And as such knowledge transparency, integrity and training is vital to the continuity of operations. And if job responsibilities in the big picture are not understood by others, the organization is vulnerable.

19:57 RC: Yeah. And I think again, there’s gonna be so many major takeaways after this whole event, which is obviously gonna be a hard lesson learned. And for us as well, I think us as a company, one positive thing that I think we’ve been forced to do since all working from home is have better communication with the team, have better documentation. So that was one thing that when I look back, it really forced us because now we are all working from home instead of having hallway conversations. Now instead, we’ve got it all documented so that we could share it with the entire team, since there were one, two people having this conversation in the hallway. Now we can actually share it with the entire group which is actually a very positive thing. And I think we’re gonna see a lot of these major takeaways come from this event. And hopefully some very positive ones, so that we can plan for the future next time. Hopefully it doesn’t happen though.

20:55 GM: Hopefully not, but I think we’ll be a lot more resilient next time.

20:58 RC: Exactly, exactly. Greg, you’ve been in the industry, you’ve gone through a full cycle of being in the industry, in this maintenance reliability industry, what’s something you wish more people knew about maintenance and reliability?

21:16 GM: I think there’s two things from that. And one is for people that are not in the maintenance field, and the second is for people who are in the maintenance field. The first for people that aren’t is that maintenance comes in many different forms, very unique forms sometimes, infrastructure, resorts, facilities, medical equipment, missiles even, parks, industrial, oil, pulp on paper, just to name a few. And just as maintenance comes in many different unique forms, so do those that make up the teams that are responsible for the maintenance of these systems, structures and processes. The second is for those that are in the field. And we’re well into the 21st century now, so we have no excuse. [chuckle] And in order to remain competitive maintenance must be proactive in a data-driven endeavor and all efforts must be the result of careful analysis tailored to your organization’s resources, risk tolerance and mission.

22:11 RC: Agreed. I think the future of this space is gonna be much, much more data-driven. We’re already starting to see it with all the predictive technologies, sensors, really helping push this industry forward. And like you mentioned, maintenance reliability comes in so many different ways, shapes and forms, in so many different facets. So I’m also learning every single day as well. On that topic, where do you continue finding new resources? And where do you continue learning? Where do you go for educational content?

22:45 GM: Well I think that’d be mostly from others. Those that have many more years of experience than I have, but also from those that are still green to the maintenance field and maintenance theory and practices. The new ones are the ones that will point out the obvious, yet often overlooked issues. They haven’t been taught to do anything a certain way, they question why, they make mistakes and they’re also ambitious and motivated. So it’s from these mistakes and questions that one can tailor any formal training and determine any generational skills gaps we may have. Other resources that I like are scientific journals, these are great when it comes to reliability knowledge. Journals, white papers, technical papers, especially those written within the last year or so are sources of some of the most up-to-date and cutting edge information and trends.

23:31 GM: And a more traditional but… Trade shows and sales reps are still a fantastic source of information on developing technologies. There’s a great deal of content that could be found on maintenance reliability websites, such as the UpKeep maintenance website and the SMRP websites. These are great resources for those that are new to the field and as well as those that have spent decades. And when I’m looking for new ideas, I guess it depends on the type, if I’m looking for inspiration, in that case I’ll probably bug the newer folks on the front lines and maybe those that work with them, like the production operators. And if I’m looking for that solution, this is also a good resource but I’m thankful that I have a great network of professionals in varying fields that I can bug when I need advice or fresh perspective on something that I’m maybe over-looking.

24:23 RC: Absolutely. And it sounds like you’ve had such a great network of mentors that have helped and pushed you along the way, you get to learn from them. It also sounds like you don’t take the newer generation as… You also use them as places to learn from as well.

24:40 GM: Definitely.

24:41 RC: They ask a bunch of questions. And yeah, there is that skills gap, but it also pushes, I feel like all of us to get better as well. I remember one saying that the best way to learn is through teaching actually. [chuckle]

24:58 GM: Oh, that is very true.

25:00 RC: Yeah. So thank you so much, Greg, I really appreciate…

25:03 GM: Thank you.

25:04 RC: You taking the time. Can you share with all of our listeners different ways they can connect with you and watch you, learn from you along your journey?

25:12 GM: Oh, if you wanna connect with me, the best way to do it would be LinkedIn. Look me up, send me a connection request. And if you heard this podcast, mention that to me and I’ll be more than happy to make your a acquaintance.

25:24 RC: Alright. Well, thank you so much, Greg, for opening that up to all of our listeners. I hope some of our listeners take Greg up on that offer. Once again, thank you so much for joining us today on Masterminds in Maintenance, Greg.

25:37 GM: Thank you.

25:38 RC: Thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in to today’s Masterminds in Maintenance. My name is Ryan Chan, I’m the CEO and founder of UpKeep. You can also connect with me, I’m pretty active on LinkedIn, or you can also reach me directly at [email protected] Thanks again, Greg. Until next time.

25:53 GM: Thank you.

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