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Featured Reliability Leader: Anthony “Mac” Smith


Uptime® magazine recently had the pleasure to speak with reliability-centered maintenance (RCM) pioneer and expert, Anthony “Mac” Smith. Terrence O’Hanlon, Publisher, sat down with Mac to discuss his life and the career that led him to be recognized as one of the early leaders and advocates for RCM. The complete video interview is available at the end of the Q&A.

Terrence O’Hanlon (TO): It’s always great to have the chance to hear about the beginning of RCM. You were already very established when we met. Why did you get involved with me? This crazy guy getting on the Internet way back when the Internet wasn’t anything. I was fascinated with your work. What did you see in where we were going?

Mac Smith (MS): Well, to a certain degree, I think you can answer that question because it was my thoughts, initially, when we first started getting to know each other that you found out that I was doing some of this kind of work and became interested in following it and I was happy to have you do that. One thing led to another over the years, with papers and conferences and conversations, both private and public with us, and it sort of evolved along those lines. I think it evolved because our chemistry just went together, and our objectives professionally went together, and our friendship developed along the lines that sort of naturally came together.

TO: Mac, I saw a movie where the Beatles had never happened in history and it made me wonder, what if Nowlan and Heap had never penned reliability-centered maintenance in December 1978? How would the world be different in 2020 if we were still doing maintenance the way we did prior to RCM?

MS: This answers another question, too. What is missing in most places to achieve sustainable reliability? I have, really, three things to cite as reasons why it wouldn’t be a very pleasant situation, so to speak. The first one is I don’t think without RCM many of the businesses today that we’ve dealt with, and there’s a number of which are Fortune 500 companies for sure, would be profitable. It took some time for them to really own up to the cost benefit associated with RCM and, therefore, if there was no RCM, they never had that path to pursue to deal with the cost-benefit side of their business as it relates to how reliability can beneficially impact it.

The second thing is, in the absence of RCM, there would be a very different culture in industry today. Down in the technician ranks, look at the culture among the maintenance technicians, the operator technicians, those who haven’t been exposed to RCM versus those that today have been exposed to it. I think in my experience, and probably in yours, also, there’s two different cultures involved. One is very, very oriented toward what they do and how they impact the people they work with, the products they’re working with and the company they work for, versus people who have not had that benefit – not really understanding and appreciating that relationship.

The third thing that would perhaps be absent is the support from management for the work that we do in the maintenance and operations areas with these technicians that exists today, specifically in the areas where people have gone through an RCM program and understand that relationship and understand the meaning of an available champion who is going to make sure that culture is maintained.

So, I think we would see a very different set of people in the way they react to business challenges.

TO:’s conferences are filled with people who have been influenced by you and your work. How does it feel knowing your work has had such a major impact on the reliability and asset management community and, often times, national security?

MS: In the beginning, I probably did not realize what we had and the degree of impact that it could have on people and the business environment in which we were working. But I found out about that pretty quickly after I got into it and worked, especially with Tom Matteson from United Airlines* in the beginning. He had a lot of the culture and benefits that had been derived in the aircraft industry from RCM. I have an extremely satisfied feeling with what I’ve done for the last 40 years, with RCM being the basis for a lot of what I’ve done. I feel rewarded a good bit by the success that we’ve had with what the people have learned and how they have taken what we’ve done and implemented it and had an impact on the companies they work for and the people they work with.

* United Airlines was one of the first companies to integrate and promote the RCM process.

Over the years, Mac has had tremendous reliability impacts that stand out to me. Of particular note was his involvement in designing a reliable parachute recovery system for a photo capsule on the U.S. Corona Spy satellite which helped the U.S to prove that the USSR did not have ICBM launch capability (1960), and later discovered the Russian shipment of nuclear missiles to Cuba (1962). He then played a key role in the design of the parachutes for the Apollo earth landing system on the return splashdown from the moon.

Mac was also involved in a 5-year failure analysis project with NASA Kennedy Space Center to identify and prevent the recurrence of space shuttle failures post the Challenger disaster. He also led the implementation of several Classical RCM studies at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant Unit #1 after the meltdown accident on Unit #2.

In 2009, Mac brought Classical RCM to the water/wastewater facilities at Metropolitan Council Environmental Services (MCES), St. Paul, Minnesota. Again, his approach proved successful in focusing our available resources by harnessing the collective knowledge of our maintenance and operations staff in a collaborative team process. The success of this work has been shared as an industry best practice in several major water/wastewater utilities including DC Water, Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati (MSDGC) and Contra Costa County Sanitation District (California).

Sam Paske, Metropolitan Council Environmental Services

I am impressed by Mac’s dedication to his craft. Just the fact that he is still teaching others about RCM (when he does not need to be) tells you something about how much he enjoys what he does. Mac has been my mentor for over 20 years, and I have learned so much from him. Despite all his knowledge, when we attend a conference together, I hear him say, “I always learn something new at one of these events.” This attitude of his helps me stay grounded and to remember that there are always ways that we can improve our knowledge and craft.

Mac has always impressed me with his directness. He says whatever is appropriate, no matter who is challenging him and the level they may hold in their organization. He wants to make sure, they understand that reliability is something they need to pursue, and that cutting maintenance budgets or staff is not good for the company’s bottom line.

An example of this is when I was at a presentation of Mac’s and there was a person presenting prior to him. This individual discussed a very elaborate process for doing a reliability program. When Mac got up to speak, he starts by saying, “I wouldn’t touch what he is doing with a ten foot pole.” A definite cringeworthy moment, but it was true. His point was don’t overthink the process.

Nick Jize, JMS Software

While attending an International Maintenance Conference (IMC), I sat in on one of Mac Smith’s presentations, and then ran into Mac the next morning eating breakfast. I immediately was impressed on how he was able to understand the issues and possible solutions for our organization. My company then hired Mac to perform RCM training and analysis on one of our processes, resulting in a very successful output.

That led into Mac continuing to assist us on our journey. He assisted us in transforming our organization from a reactive to proactive culture, as well as winning an Uptime Award. One of the most impressive things I have observed in Mac is, if you listen to him talk (or tell a story), he is very crisp, accurate, to the point, and says a lot in very few words. Additionally, you can believe what he says (it just makes sense). I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to cross paths with Mac; he is a very nice, considerate, intelligent, and structured person who brings a ton of wisdom to everyone he comes into contact with, as well as the reliability world.

John Shinn, Jr., Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati of Greater Cincinnati - MSDGC

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