Maintenance.  It’s the factor most often overlooked in the quest for reliable and efficient operations. Yet poor maintenance practices are often to blame for limited production capacity, poor product quality and low profitability. Even knowing this, many manufacturers continue to take a reactive approach to maintenance, waiting until there’s a problem to act. It’s like waiting until your engine fails – because you never changed the oil – to visit the mechanic.

The lack of a proactive maintenance program can have a negative ripple effect across your business, eventually resulting in recurring equipment failures and consistent overspending on maintenance parts and labor, to name a few issues.

Conversely, implementing a maintenance improvement program can help you meet a wide range of demands, from achieving target output levels to minimizing labor costs, controlling parts spending and ensuring maximum uptime.

Still, instead of implementing a comprehensive maintenance program to improve equipment uptime, we see companies hire additional resources, make large capital investments in equipment, purchase non-critical replacement parts and spend on specialty contractors. Unfortunately, these efforts typically increase costs and administrative burden without addressing the maintenance system and process holes that are the true root of the problem. These stop-gap measures deliver the perception that equipment problems have been addressed, when it’s only a matter of time before equipment failures recur, leaving managers exasperated.

We’ve helped some of the world’s largest manufacturers convert maintenance into a proactive, scheduled operation that is used strategically to control costs, maximize uptime and maintain critical equipment. By following a few fundamental principles, you can establish a maintenance improvement program that supports operations and improves plant performance.

If the demands of day-to-day operations have put maintenance low on your priority list, or you don’t have a clear vision of what a proactive maintenance program should look like or where to begin, these guidelines are a great place to start:

  1. Plan and schedule maintenance activities. This seems simple, right? Just as production schedules are used in operations to establish output targets by hour and/or day, both preventative maintenance (PM) and corrective repairs should be scheduled by using reasonable expectations, commonly known as work order time estimates.
  2. Implement maintenance planning and scheduling meetings (MPSM). Good planning always precedes good execution. For this reason, weekly MPSMs that allow maintenance and operations to communicate, prioritize, allocate and evaluate are a critical component of an effective maintenance program.
  3. Measure results. After a maintenance schedule is implemented, measure execution levels by defining metrics such as the number of work orders completed, increases or decreases in backlog, equipment downtime and overall equipment effectiveness (OEE).
  4. Conduct PM audits. Even when maintenance consistently meets PM attainment targets, it’s common for equipment reliability to remain low. Audits are a good way to gradually improve the quality of the content of the PM and ensure that execution is carried out safely, efficiently and effectively. It’s also an opportunity for supervisors to coach mechanics.
  5. Integrate operations and maintenance. With operations playing a pivotal role in equipment reliability, many organizations implement Total Productive Maintenance, Standard Work and Centerline to improve performance. While these techniques are very effective, they require extensive time and effort and don’t directly integrate operations and maintenance. Instead, establish processes that align operations and maintenance, such as formal methods for communicating potential failures and required repairs, communicating equipment failure at the first sign of a red flag and providing regular updates on pending repairs.
  6. Conduct baselining on critical equipment. Savvy manufacturers identify the equipment that represents the largest potential source of loss if it were to fail and schedule baselining maintenance to improve the overall productivity and extend the life of that equipment. Known as the “red tag” approach, baselining involves overhauling machinery to restore it to “like new” condition through deep cleaning and technical audits to identify potential needs, build a backlog, prioritize and execute repairs.

Implementing these guidelines takes time and effort. To be successful, you’ll need to ensure that upper management and the executive team communicate and support expectations and objectives. Management should be involved in periodic reviews of program milestones, challenges and results. They should constructively challenge the team when timelines aren’t met and be prepared to remove any barriers to progress.

In particular, don’t let technology become a barrier. While it can be a great tool, technology often serves as a roadblock to making process, system and behavior changes. For example, computerized maintenance management systems that are designed to help maintenance departments manage work orders, track parts spending and manage projects to completion can be difficult to customize and configure, causing many companies to delay or discard process changes. Technology should support your business, not the other way around.

As you move forward, don’t expect 100 percent success the first time. Instead, take steps toward improvement, making progress over time. By setting the expectation that the program must be 100 percent successful the moment it’s implemented, you run the risk of “analysis paralysis.” If your team is reviewing metrics and implementing improvements, the program will mature and improve over time. Don’t get overwhelmed by the fear of not getting it perfect.

Know When to Ask for Help

Involvement of key internal stakeholders is fundamental to achieving program ownership, but the daily intensity of running an operation can be distracting. Making sure timelines and objectives are met may require support from your corporate office or consulting resources. External resources can bring a fresh perspective and effectively challenge your organization to improve in ways that internal resources can’t. Having already helped many clients, consultants contribute a wealth of expertise and best practices that can shorten the learning curve.

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Or for more information on how Myrtle Consulting Group can help you establish an effective maintenance program, contact us at info@myrtlegroup.com.