Sustainability through physical asset management conference addresses the future of asset engineers

July 31, 2012

Equipping future asset engineers to deliver sustainable asset management strategies and plans

Asset owners and consultants to asset owners have generally considered asset care knowledge as a greater competitive advantage over rivals than the accurate execution of the knowledge in practice for the last 20 years. This means that knowledge bases are strictly guarded and rarely shared amongst asset care professionals across companies and industries.

Speaking at this year’s Physical Asset Management Conference, presented by Pragma and Reliabilityweb.com, Dr P J Vlok of the University of Stellenbosch, says: “Guarding knowledge is detrimental to the entire asset care fraternity since research is often repeated, which means the growth rate of the asset care knowledge base is severely restricted. The collective pool of asset care knowledge has matured sufficiently over the last decade that it’s time to shift focus from collecting knowledge to executing and expanding the knowledge base.

“If the asset care fraternity is to increase its sophistication and contribution to the outputs of companies, it’s time to earn recognition through the quality of the execution of the knowledge base that exists while sharing the same knowledge base. This does not necessarily imply sharing the methods of execution. Sharing of the knowledge base will significantly increase the positive impact of asset care, while providing an opportunity for tertiary institutions to equip future asset engineers with sustainable, universally applicable and a deeper knowledge of asset care.”

According to Vlok, the threats to sustainable asset management or asset care training include research and the publication of knowledge. Says Vlok: “The field of asset care is poorly researched at academic institutions compared to other fields of study and formal research activities are uncoordinated and inadequately funded. Also, knowledge gained through research is not published. Unlike many other fields, first publishers of knowledge are not respected by the asset care fraternity. This can be compared to the recognition of Black and Scholes in option pricing, Einstein’s relativity theory, Laplace’s trend test and Demming’s theory of quality management.”

He continues: “Providers of asset care services compensate for possible execution shortcomings by hiding behind their superior unpublished knowledge. Research is duplicated and the pace of expanding the body of knowledge in asset care is slowed down. Furthermore, knowledgeable individuals are in industry and not at research and training institutions and only isolated research activities are taking place at a few of these institutions. There is also no coordinated effort. All these factors lead to an unsound and unstable knowledge base.”

According to Vlok, companies involved in delivering asset care services often roll out training for two reasons – firstly to showcase knowledge in the hope of winning work; and secondly to capture training budgets. “There is no structured education path that asset care professionals can follow to advance their knowledge of the field. Courses advertised with essentially the same content are completely different in terms of substance, grade and quality. There are also no transferrable standard in education levels similar to for example Accounting 101.”

The lack of standardisation with regards to terminology, the fields in asset care, knowledge levels, education path and recognition also plays a major role. “The effects of this are a disorganised skilling environment. The new paradigm in training future asset engineers is that knowledge is power, so one needs to protect it, and collaboration is wealth, therefore share the knowledge.”

Vlok continues that there is a need for an Asset Care Research Group (ACRG), which entails a structured education path, standardisation, training needs analysis and grading of material. “Academic institutions need academic integrity, structured research methodologies and accepted qualifications. Asset care service providers need knowledge, training courses, experience across industries and practical asset care knowledge, and industry requires physical assets, asset care knowledge, local knowledge, skills and a focus on education.

“The Asset Care Research Group concept is not perfect, but the first step to fulfilling a need. It should be non-profit and not owned by role players as it needs to remain independent and manage interaction and inputs from role players. It should support itself by providing a service to industry and asset care service providers as well as by research outputs. It should further be responsible for the standardisation of training grades quality and needs in conjunction with role players. It should develop and maintain structured education path and act as intermediary to fast track progress and not to be an obstacle.”

According to Vlok, the next steps for the Asset Care Research Group is the development of the ACRG at the Stellenbosch University, the as-is analysis, organic and sustainable growth, support from industry, asset care service providers and other academic institutions as well as the refinement, replication of the concept at other universities and expansion through collaboration.

An industry perspective on future asset engineers is to publish the benefits of being peer reviewed and use publications to demonstrate a company’s asset care maturity, to support the standardisation and execution of asset care, the recognition of qualifications, research, expansions of the asset care knowledge base and the publication of this knowledge as well as the execution of asset care.

The academic institution perspective is to focus on the most valuable contributions in the medium term and provide academic integrity as well as structure research, to build by laying the foundation for a solid academic base in the future and involvement in publications to gain academic respect amongst peers, and to expand the reach of asset care training through the creation of structures and teaching media.

The perspective of asset care service providers is to implement as knowledge will in time be a common denominator (the ability to implement the knowledge will be the competitive edge), skilling their own people and clients’ people is the key to expansion and investing in people which will provide long term returns in the field of asset care. Finally, they will need to gear their business by being equipped with deeper and broader knowledge on asset care than their competitors.

In conclusion, Vlok says the asset care training environment is disorganised and inefficient at present. “We’re not publishing our progress and allowing bums-on-seats training only add to the inefficiency. The lack of standardisations slows progress. An intermediary is required between industry, asset care service providers and academic institutions to overcome inefficiencies and lastly inefficient knowledge transfer is typical if an expanding field. It’s time to structure the process of sustainability.”

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