Lean operations

All that data your CMMS has been collecting can be a great resource when you go on a diet

By now, most people have heard the term 'lean' used in some context such as lean thinking, lean enterprise and lean manufacturing. Let's explore what a maintenance department can do to support lean initiatives and how CMMS can provide support for a lean main


First of all, 'lean' is defined as the elimination of waste and things that don't add value as defined by the customer. No customer is willing to pay for equipment downtime, for example. Other forms of waste relevant to a maintenance department are as follows:

  Time spent waiting (for parts, tools and machines to become available).
  Time spent transporting equipment and parts needed to complete a repair.
  Inappropriate processes (duplicate data entry, generating unread reports).
  Inventory or queue problems (obsolete inventory, hidden inventory stashes).
  Motion of people and machines (non-standard and unnecessary repair techniques).
  Defects or errors (incomplete CMMS data entry, poor workmanship on repairs).
  Overdesign (excessive repair, such as an engine overhaul when a tuneup is adequate).
  Poor use of space (tools and parts in the aisles, space taken up by non-repairables).

A maintenance department can become more planned, even predictable, by eliminating waste and applying lean principles and tools. The tools most relevant to maintenance are described below. Lean also requires a good understanding of why previous improvement initiatives succeeded or failed, and how to apply appropriate change-management principles to this one. To this end, 10 tips follow the description of the lean tools.

Value stream mapping
A value stream map provides an overview of the activities that comprise a process. Its purpose is to help identify waste and opportunities for improvement. Analyzing the data collected for each activity in many cases from the CMMS can determine areas for further study or improvement. The data include:

  Time (cycle time, touch time, delay time, queue time, lead time, setup and changeover time).
  Errors (data entry, repairs, operators).
  Distances traveled (by people, parts, paper, tools and equipment).
  Queues (number, length, duration).
  Key issues (Pareto analysis on problem, cause and action codes from the CMMS).

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A maintenance department should map its processes, such as work management, spare parts inventory management, capital projects management, planning and scheduling, budgeting, preventive and predictive maintenance management and other end-to-end processes. Once a value stream map is completed, data analysis leads to improvement opportunities by asking key questions:

  What is the total active or touch time for the process?
  What is the total value-added time and what can be done to bring the touch time in line?
  What is the total cycle time for the process and what can be done to bring it more in line with the total value-added time?
  What is the longest activity time (the bottleneck)?
  Where do errors occur?
  What activities are most variable?
  Where are the biggest pockets of waste?

Workplace organization
'Five S' is the first step in improving the workplace. Its goal is encapsulated in the old adage, 'a place for everything and everything in its place. This applies to the shop floor, maintenance cribs, inventory storage areas and other locations over which the maintenance department claims dominion. Improvements typically come from reduction in movement, poor work positions, harmful environmental factors, excessive fatigue and safety hazards. The Five S philosophy focuses on:

1. Sort (organized) Clearly distinguish needed items from less needed items, and eliminate the latter.
2. Straighten (orderly) Keep needed items in the correct place for easy and immediate access.
3. Sustain (discipline) Maintain procedures and make Five S part of daily operations.
4. Sweep (cleanliness) Keep the workplace swept and clean.
5. Standardize (control) Make each of the above accepted standard practices. Note that the CMMS can be used to document standards.

Setup/changeovers
For some companies, the areas for greatest potential improvement under a lean initiative are reducing the time needed for setups and changeovers. Clearly the maintenance department can play a key role in analyzing the process and eliminating waste. Typical improvements involve jigs and fixtures, setup carts, quick-release fasteners and so on. A video camera is an excellent tool to study a process in detail and analyze improvement attempts critically.

10 tips for management
The 10 tips below assist line employees and their immediate supervisors in understanding and fully embracing the changes required for a lean implementation to be successful.

1. Develop a shared vision as to where maintenance, operations and engineering are headed in the long term, and make it clear how the lean initiative supports that vision.


2. Make sure there are strong signs of top management support, such as showing up for meetings, allocating adequate project funding, demonstrating the project's high priority and ensuring actions are consistent with words. This support should, in turn, translate into equivalent commitment by middle and front-line management, such as change-management training and involvement in project planning and communication.

3. The implementers of the change maintenance technicians and operators must understand and embrace the change. This requires input from every stakeholder at each stage of the project. Test the understanding and readiness for change at key project milestones through formal interviews and surveys, as well as informal channels, such as meetings with supervisors.

4. Senior people with solid leadership skills should be removed from their regular duties to focus on implementing the lean program. They should be well trained in lean techniques and given adequate support with internal and external project resources. Thus, when they go back to their regular line position, they will feel like they have ownership of the expected results and also have the authority to make it happen.

5. Allow sufficient time for implementation, typically six months to several years. This lean initiative should not be confused with the short-term focus of a 'Kaizen blitz' , the concentrated period of improvement for a specific process. Instead, lean should be thought of as a long-term change in thinking about how maintenance, operations and engineering conduct business.

6. Establish performance measurement targets to define what a successful lean implementation looks like. Then, establish monitoring procedures to track progress. The CMMS can be used for planning and tracking against your plan.

7. Institute a communications plan that provides regular updates to stakeholders and provides a feedback mechanism for those managing the initiative.

8. Provide education and training for each stakeholder group to announce the nature and benefits of the anticipated changes.

9. Anticipate resistance to change, especially if there is a history of poorly implemented initiatives. Develop a plan for managing that resistance. Make sure the pain of properly implementing a lean program is seen to be less of a pain than the status quo.

10. Offer rewards for the early adopters of the lean philosophy and consequences for those who resist. Rewards can be as simple as pizza brought in for lunch when performance targets are met. Consequences, such as peer rejection or isolation, can be effective when someone doesn't try to make a change work. 

Contact Contributing Editor David Berger, P.Eng., at david@wmc.on.ca.

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