Data-driven maintenance

Stanton McGroarty says get maintenance workers to use data to drive their work by following these three steps.

By J. Stanton McGroarty, CMfgE, CMRP, senior technical editor

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Getting maintenance people and their in-house customers to use data to drive their work is a perennial challenge. More data are available than ever before in human history, but using the information to guide maintenance activity is a stretch for most organizations. Maintenance people typically grow up fixing the job that was demanded by the loudest voice in the plant. Their customers are products of the same environment. They’re used to buying coffee for the guy with the loudest voice in the plant. That way, when they have an emergency, he will help them get maintenance service.

If you want to know for sure whether information is calling the maintenance shots in your plant, here’s a three-question test you can use.

  1. Is there a short list of problem equipment that causes way more than its share of downtime and production losses?
  2. Is today’s list pretty much the same as last year’s and the list from the year before?
  3. Have the problems on the list become a part of your plant’s culture, like Murphy’s Law?

If you’re nodding, then something other than data is determining where your maintenance effort is focused. If your maintenance were data-driven, it would be driven to fix perennial maintenance problems. Somebody would have looked at the data that tells how much the problems are costing every year and done something about it.

When the same problems continue, year after year, people come to accept it as normal. Consultants refer to this syndrome as “normalization of deviance.” It’s standard human behavior. Ask about it next time you’re in Washington, D.C.

The good news is that the deviance in your plant is probably much easier to identify and solve than the Washington version. Let’s take it in three logical steps — ready, aim, and fire — a time-honored problem-solving sequence.

We’ll say we’re “ready” to solve a couple of big maintenance problems when we have identified them and quantified what they are costing the organization. The cost information should be adequate to fuel the discussion that will inspire the small, cross-functional team you need to set the two remaining steps in motion.

In the “aim” step we will gather our team and perform a special root cause analysis (RCA) for perennial equipment problems. The team will determine which corrections we must implement to convert our problem assets into reliable production systems. When large, perennial problems are examined, it is almost always true that they are really bundles of related problems with multiple causes. The multiple causes usually require multiple solutions. The multiple solutions usually require help from a variety of functions.

Problems get to be perennial by being complex. The solutions may be complex, too. It is not unusual for improved production procedures, maintenance work orders, new PdM procedures, engineering changes, training support, gauges or inspection procedures, and new shop floor discipline all to be required for a permanent fix. Management support, a change management program, and a communication plan may also be needed. Occasionally the help of marketing or customer contact people may be helpful. The need for a cross-functional team should be coming into focus now.

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