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At this year’s Ultrasound World in Clearwater, Florida, industry leaders met to learn from technology experts from around the world. General Electric’s Global O&M Digital Implementation Leader Jose Maria Gurria spoke about his role preparing Maintenance and Reliability professionals for the future.

A 15-year veteran of the maintenance and reliability in the Power Industry, Gurria is a forward thinker, taking today’s emerging technologies and applying them in a practical manner. This year, his focus is on the advancement of automation and how it impacts facility maintenance stakeholders.

Should maintenance professionals fear automation?

Automation isn’t likely to spare many industries. However, that does not mean that automation will eliminate the need for human interventions. In fact, many emerging technologies actually seek to enhance the human element rather than replace it.

Gurria points to the robotics field as an example, saying drone technology and robotic augmentations could make work safer for maintenance professionals. For instance, sensor-equipped drones can enter areas where a human may not be able to reach. Flying, crawling and swimming drones are becoming more effective, efficient and affordable each year, making them a real solution to existing problems. These types of drones can take photos, record sound and even capture air samples. In other words, drones will change the way some maintenance professionals work, and certainly they could replace some human driven maintenance tasks functions.

Another example is the idea of a collaborative robot – a mechanical helper for technicians in the field. However, this type of robot wouldn’t resemble a human being. In fact, it might be as simple as a mechanical arm attached to a backpack. Such a machine could help a reliability expert with crane operation, tube fitting, cutting, lifting, etc. Gurria noted that these types of advancements are near, but there’s no real way of knowing when they will become widely adopted.

Robots and artificial intelligence are likely to change the nature of maintenance and reliability work.Robots and artificial intelligence are likely to change the nature of maintenance and reliability work.

What disruptions can we expect?

In addition to robotic enhancements, the maintenance industry can expect much more from artificial intelligence. Already, software developers have utilized sensor technology to gain beyond-human insights into the inner workers of complex machinery.

Gurria believes that AI will help us understand “random failure modes.” AI will be able to find the pattern in what we perceive to be randomness, thus allowing for better uptime rates and fewer unexpected failures.

Furthermore, AI has the ability to interpret massive amounts of data, which can be turned into operational knowledge. However, when it comes to achieve desired level of optimization, there’s no real substitute for adoption, implementation and education services, mostly human driven. The workflows will remain relatively unchanged, but the data will be much more granular, there’s still millions of maintainable items that are not connected neither have any smart function on them. Then digital transformation for legacy assets and business is not just “plug & play”.

How can today’s workers prepare for the future?

Maintenance and reliability methodologies haven’t changed much since the turn of the millennium, but the tools maintenance professionals use to monitor and diagnose assets have gotten much smarter. Gurria says maintenance leaders need to manage skill life cycles in the same manner as asset life cycles.

Organizational leaders should look to the mid- to long-term to see what risks might emerge. Looking at “what could or may be done”, will certainly pay back the opposite to what you “can do” today. Letting one’s imagination fly while checking the latest advances will make you realize how much more innovative and proactive the M&R collective is compared to other skilled professionals. The entrepreneurship spirit is the best companion for the digital journey where you will have to use your influential skills and resilience to help transforming your company and co-workers.

A skills shortage could put smaller employers in danger. By training for skills proactively, managers can ensure that their workforce is ready and able to leverage the latest technological advancements.

Keeping up with the latest trends can be a challenge, however, as it’s never clear which technology will be the next to dominate the industry. Gurria recommends looking to your current pain points for the answers. Once you have a thorough understanding of which changes will bring the most value to your organization, you’ll be able to effect change in a meaningful way. Career trajectories will change – but they can do so in a managed, sustainable manner.

Did you miss Ultrasound World this year? You can still find great insights by visiting our resource center today.