Don't let your lean maintenance department hold you back

Downsizing has become so prevalent, it's hard to remember a time when we had sufficient staff to accomplish everything that we all know really ought to be done. Don't let people kick sand in the face of your skinny maintenance department.

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Downsizing has become so prevalent, it's hard to remember a time when we had sufficient staff to accomplish everything that we all know really ought to be done. By definition, those who have survived the decimation constitute a de facto lean work force. We find ourselves cutting so many corners, it's like turning a cube into a sphere. One thing is for certain, life in a competitive economy certainly isn't going to get any easier.

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There must be some coping mechanisms out there. Join me for this month's dive into the morass we call the Web in search of zero-cost, non-commercial, registration-free resources aimed at providing practical information about lean operations and lean maintenance. Remember, we search the Web so you don't have to. It's our contribution to your lean situation.

Lean overview

You'll have much smoother sailing with the lean concept if you start with the overview Susan J. Larson and Craig W. Habakangas from The Boeing Co., Seattle, presented at the Shipbuilders Conference on April 2, 2003. These people are leaders in Boeing's Lean Office, Commercial Airplane Services, so they should know what they're talking about. The duo's 12-slide presentation offers a strategy for achieving a lean maintenance initiative and highlights the personal characteristics maintenance technicians will need if they are to succeed. Sail over to to start the journey.

5S defined

Larson and Habakangas make reference to something called 5S, a concept that underlies a successful lean initiative. However, their slide show doesn't explain 5S very well. To learn more about this important penta-detail, you'll need to refer to "Lean Manufacturing -- 5S Philosophy Explained," which is found in Volume 1, Issue 2 of the online newsletter published by The Leading Edge Group, Cork, Ireland. If you click you way over to, you'll be rewarded with a terse explanation.

The skinny on maintenance

In the beginning, the term lean was reserved as a descriptor for an idealized manufacturing operation functioning at minimized cost. But it requires maintenance to keep those manufacturing assets productive. It's not much of a stretch to believe that if one lean thing is good, two are better.

"What is Lean Manufacturing and how do we make it Lean Maintenance?" a slide presentation by Lee A. Peters, C.P.E., F.ASCE, explores the principles of lean manufacturing and shows how they might apply to facilities engineering and maintenance management. Aim your lean and mean desk rodent at, scroll down to "Current Events" and click again to access Peters' 59 slides. You'll learn that 5S is just one of 13 lean concepts and that there are ways to deal with maintenance management process failures, a problem that a lean environment must address.

Inventory control

Shedding excess maintenance inventory is a relatively easy initiative that supports a lean back-room operation. While there are many approaches to clearing the shelves, how one goes about it determines the success of the effort. The good folks at Life Cycle Engineering Inc., Charleston, S.C. have posted a case study that compares the inventory-reducing effects achieved by creative accounting to the more difficult approach of actually doing something about the goods on your storeroom shelves. Mouse on over to to read how one company achieved some remarkable gains. Although the scope of this "how-to" article is limited to bearings and O-rings, it can be extended to whatever drags your operation down the rathole.

Digital assist

Lean maintenance, however, means much more than merely minimizing the amount of material in the back room. Becoming lean involves a continuous, day-to-day effort to streamline the entire maintenance process, from gathering predictive data to supply-chain efficiency to the diligent application of wrenches right on to final task closeout. Being successful at the endeavor involves, to a great extent, the software you're using, whether it's a standalone CMMS or something more fully integrated into the enterprise-wide computer system.

Advanced Manufacturing, a magazine from CLB Media Inc., Burlington, Ontario, published "Fine-tuning the Lean Enterprise," a collection of more than 30 articles that treat the topic. This glittering treasure trove is buried at If you decide to send your desk rodent to dig north of the border, however, I'd like you to direct its attention to two particular gems. The first is "Building the lean machine" by Todd Phillips (January 2000 issue) and "Maintenance software plays vital role along lean journey" by Leo Scire (November 2000 issue).

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