Collaboration, Humility Keys To Manufacturing’s Future

Rendela K. Wenzel talks about reliability and maintenance, the next big thing in manufacturing, the importance of being humble and her trail name.

By Traci Purdum, Senior Digital Editor

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Putman Media’s Influential Women in Manufacturing program launched this year. We received nearly 100 nominations for women with varying titles across many industries. As part of the coverage, Chemical Processing is profiling winners in the chemical industry to learn more about their trials and triumphs. In this installment we learn more about Rendela K. Wenzel, CMRP, CRL -- associate senior consultant engineer, Global Plant Engineering, Maintenance, and Reliability at Eli Lilly and Company.

Why did you choose the career in engineering? And how did you land in manufacturing?

I think in a lot of ways it chose me. I wanted to be an engineer. I wanted to work with my hands and design and implement solutions. I started out in the Chrysler Corporation; they had their engineers start out on the floor, which I thought was a great opportunity. I learned a lot about people and about engineering, in general. And I learned about having to live with something that was designed and how the process works, so that was really good.

For me, positions never became available at the time I was ready to move into another direction. So I’d hop from one place to another. There was an opportunity at International Truck and Engine for a maintenance engineer, which I had no idea what that was. [When I asked, they said] "Well, we're going to change this maintenance engineer role into a reliability engineer role." I said, "Wow, what's that?"

So that is where I learned about predictive technologies. And that led into what I do today. I'm morphing into this global maintenance and reliability role. It's been a great ride.

Is it hard to get buy-in on predictive maintenance?

Being an operations and a maintenance manager I was challenged with do I run it or do I fix it? I also had to manage my own maintenance budget. That's not necessarily the case when you go to different areas. That really gave me an understanding of how you should run things. What is the overall design of something when you run it? What are its limitations? How long does it take to fix things? And then being able to take that knowledge and being able to communicate with upper levels of management. Going through some of the trials and tribulations in a role like that has really helped me to be able to communicate the need and wants of those in those roles.

What other challenges do you face in the field of reliability and maintenance?

I think that when you talk about reliability and maintenance, it's viewed as the same thing and it's really not. One is a short-term look; another one is the long-term look.

Also, I think communicating with senior management about lessons learned and completing the feedback loop in a role like a global maintenance and reliability leader is a challenge. Trying to take those shared learnings and trying to make sure that we don't bring those same pieces of equipment back in that don't necessarily function well within our process so we don't have to constantly relive the same issues.

Maintenance is still looked at as a cost center, not necessarily a profit center. So now when you go into predictive maintenance -- big data, IoT, smart maintenance, call it what you will -- they're very skeptical. But they know that this is the wave of the future.

The world is changing and we have to adapt to that as a pharmaceutical industry. So it's a matter of the culture change within the organizations to accept something like this and to see maintenance and reliability as a profit center and not as a cost center.

Do you think that will happen or is it always going to be a challenge?

I think that the proof is in the pudding. What I'm trying to do now is bring in a lot of proof of concepts and working with different areas of the organization that historically we haven't worked with -- IT and the whole business architecture side of things.

I think that's part of the culture change; we've always been more siloed. I think we're becoming more circular, if you will, instead of siloed and I think that's great.

What has been your biggest triumph?

On the personal side, becoming a mother is one of my biggest triumphs. I have two kids and I never thought I’d be a mom. I've always been that wandering crazy soul.

Professionally, being the global maintenance and reliability leader for a major pharmaceutical company -- that's been really a great accomplishment for me. Designing and implementing predictive programs and changing the culture in organizations -- I've done that in two organizations now and I really like that. I like changing the whole dynamic of an organization to see this whole reliability and maintenance world is something different than what it's always seen as.

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