The Value of the Bakery Maintenance Manager
By Jeff Dearduff
“Chief engineers” at bakeries across the nation have had to face a lot of change as of late due to the idea of perceived value.
What is value? According to “Webster’s” definition, value is “a rating or scale of usefulness, importance, or general worth.” In the baking industry, it’s not only about salary, but what good maintenance managers bring to the overall operation.
In many cases, almost any bakery mechanic with ambition, a good demeanor and a knack for learning can become a maintenance manager. Being mentored and seeking self-development opportunities are just a couple of the main ingredients that can lead to providing someone a shot at stardom. In today’s business environment, consolidation, attrition and even company expansion into new markets provide ample opportunity for promotion.
The major difference between today and years ago is that maintenance managers now must bring a stronger arsenal of technical and business skills to the job to deal with the complexity of the position. An open mind and a desire to learn make the transition to the next level a truly achievable process.
To attain the necessary skills, we must understand what they are. Categorizing what is seemingly an endless set of requirements is one way to truly comprehend all that is needed to accomplish the job today.
Moreover, being a manager requires the right attitude. Remember the old phrase “I wouldn’t ask you to do something I wouldn’t do?” Well, that applies to the position of maintenance manager, maybe more so than any other position in a bakery. Some maintenance-related tasks can be quite unpleasant, so when you have a manager who has “been there, done that,” and his team knows he has that attitude, their resistance to tackle the most difficult of tasks decreases.
Learning Tools for the Job
Originally thought to be the core of the bakery maintenance manager’s duties, maintenance, in itself, is so diverse an area that it requires an extreme amount of concentration and continuous learning. It covers much more than just greasing machinery, although proper maintenance relies on greasing. Understanding why you are greasing, as well as realizing the consequences of not doing it properly, is key.
Lubrication is a science. Chemists all over the world continually are finding new ways to create better lubricants. The maintenance manager should constantly be investigating new methods and materials to use in the bakery to extend the life of its equipment and ease the burden on labor. If the maintenance manager ignores the calls of the lubrication salesmen and technicians, he could miss critical information that could help the production lines stay up and running.
From lubrication, you enter the world of components. The materials and engineering designs of motors, gearboxes, bearings, cylinders, pumps and conveyor belts are improving every day. The task here is not only knowing how to apply the component to the machine or system, but also learning about the next best thing that could improve performance.
In some cases, adapting newer technology such as PLC controls to older equipment can be challenging. In other cases, it’s just better to leave well enough alone. To improve the performance of a machine, maintenance managers often must draw on their ambition, knowledge and creativity to solve a challenge. If you aren’t heading out to an equipment or maintenance technology show at least once a year, you’re missing out on opportunities to take advantage of the latest advances.
Every three years, our industry puts on the International Baking Industry Exposition (IBIE) show, which reveals the latest in baking technology. Oftentimes, the attendee list lacks a large number of maintenance managers.
The biggest misconception about IBIE is that it’s all about new equipment and systems. The truth is, a large number of the suppliers that lease booth space are component manufacturers. The latest in conveyor belts, lubricants and electronics always are found on the show floor, where the bakery maintenance manager can acquire some critical best practices that he can bring back to his bakery.
IBIE will next take place in 2007, and the maintenance manager from every bakery should attend. IBIE is the cheapest show in town and the most valuable place to learn about the trade in such a short period of time.
Maintenance also includes knowledge of plumbing, HVAC, building systems, boilers, air compressors, refrigeration … the list goes on. It is imperative that the guy in charge knows a lot of something about everything.
Maintenance skill sets usually are managed by a method. Many times, that method is in the form of a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS). This, in itself, is a talent that starts bringing in that art of management.
Technically Speaking
No other set of skills needed by the bakery maintenance manager requires greater attention than those categorized as “technical.” Control systems, electronics and computers are used in many different areas of the bakery. They control everything from process machinery to building system monitoring to the maintenance manager’s desk. We can no longer hide from the computer.
Years ago, the “chief engineer” was expected to be on top of his game in every area, including computers. Remember where most bakery “chief engineers” came from? They came from within the baking industry. That begs the question: How much previous computer training did they have? The bigger question really asks, how much learning curve time was initially given to pick up these skills?
Every maintenance manager can remember that first PLC on a new piece of equipment that dropped its program the day after the service technician signed off.
Even today, this area of expertise changes faster than any other element of the job. The learning process seems to start all over every time a new piece of software is released or a new communication device is promoted. Suddenly, you’re stuck with an older system that became outdated overnight. The rapid revolution of technology should spark a debate about whether bakeries need a “controls specialist” on staff to concentrate on the changing world out there.
Recruiting and Retention Skills
Long ago, you could grab a mechanic from the local auto shop and convince him to cross over into bakery maintenance. Gone are the days when working 12 hours a day six days a week was accepted as the norm. Nowadays, candidates for the job rarely are readily available. If they are, they don’t want to work long hours or, heaven forbid, the night shift.
In most bakeries, the perceived quality of life, or lack there of, is the main obstacle to recruiting and retaining maintenance staffers. Today’s manager is faced with the challenge of creating a lifestyle that job candidates will accept. Occasional weekends off, days off together rather than split, and flexible shift schedules are just a few places to start.
Perhaps making the job more challenging, the maintenance manager might have to deal with union leadership, business agents or shop stewards on a regular basis. He also needs to be up-to-date on the latest training opportunities available.
Necessary Business Acumen
Maintenance is big business, and bakery maintenance is perceived as one of the larger expenses in the company. Certainly, capital spending take lots of time and money, but keeping lines running and reducing downtime requires keeping spare parts, supplies and services — that’s inventory that sits idle until it’s used.
A typical two-line bakery can have a maintenance budget in excess of $1 million annually. That’s a lot of responsibility to put on the maintenance manager. For that person to manage it well, he needs to have an accounting background.
Many maintenance services today are outsourced using contractual agreements. Here is where an exceptional understanding of the details of the service, as well as a knack for negotiations, comes in handy. For standard services that go on forever, it’s always good to review the contract details occasionally to ensure that you’re getting a fair shake.
I have always tried to look at the maintenance department as a business within a business, like a proprietorship. If you run your shop like it’s your own business, you will come to learn the list of skills necessary to help you through the early years and keep you performing at the top of your game for years to come.
Regulatory Requirements
Every day something new comes up regarding wastewater, refrigerant management, oven emissions or facility security. The maintenance manager must be up to speed in these areas to keep the regulatory agencies out of the company’s pocketbook. One slip up in certain areas could cost $32,500 a day for a violation. Who wants to explain that to their boss?
The problem is finding the time to understand the complexity of all of these regulations. A suggestion: You need to find ways to understand this enough so you can develop ways to handle it all internally or understand it enough that you can put on one heck of a sell job to management that allows you to outsource to a full-time consulting firm.
The gray area is in the margins. If you hand off these duties to a consultant, you still need to understand the regulations so you aren’t mislead and headed for trouble. The onslaught of regulations also can wear you out, so it’s best to dive in and try to understand, rather than look at them from a distance and hope they go away.
There are valuable industry groups that can support you in this area, so don’t overlook the possibility of getting on a mailing list for regulatory updates and information. If your company belongs to these groups, the help is there for the taking.
Innovation in the End
Applying innovative solutions to even the simplest of tasks can help a maintenance manager shine in the bakery. Whether it’s inventive problem-solving or juggling a work schedule, creative juices are what separate the boys from the men, as they say.
If you look at the diversity of the talents that are required in your maintenance manager and then compare the same criteria to any other operational management position in the company, it all will come clear. SF&WB
Editor’s Note: In this new monthly column, Jeff Dearduff, director of engineering at East Balt Inc. in Chicago, will address the responsibilities of the bakery engineer. Jeff got his start in the baking industry at Perfection Biscuit Co., now Aunt Millie’s. He is a member of the American Bakers Assn., the Baking Industry Sanitation Standards Committee, the American Institute of Baking and the American Society of Baking. You can contact Jeff at