Is a PM program sustainable?

6 steps to get your preventive maintenance program started and stay proactive.

By Randy Quick, Kerry Ingredients and Foods, and John Crossan, Consultant

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In brief:

  • One of the many counterintuitive realities of the maintenance world is that reactive maintenance costs so much more and is so much less effective at maintaining reliable, productive operations than proactive maintenance does.
  • There are leaps of faith necessary to get to the world of proactive maintenance, and it takes strong commitment at all levels in a plant to make those leaps.
  • The first ingredient is preventive maintenance in the general sense — “inspection to identify issues and deal with them, before they develop into actual losses.”

Even though most people in manufacturing and service industries are well aware of the concepts of preventive maintenance, many plants continue to perform maintenance in a mostly reactive “fix it when it breaks” mode. Sadly, some who have implemented PM strategies steadily fall back into these old ways, even after having seen the proactive nirvana of fixing things before they break.

SMRP Conference

Randy Quick, CMRP, engineering manager at Kerry Ingredients and Flavors, and John Crossan, CMRP, consultant, will present “Key Items in Successful, Sustaining Preventive Maintenance Implementations” at the Society for Maintenance & Reliability Professionals Annual Conference in Indianapolis on Oct. 16 at 1:15 PM. The presenters will describe, from their history of maintenance improvement implementations in more than 50 plants, what they have seen work, and not work, in achieving an effective, sustained preventive maintenance program. They will describe typical characteristics of successful and unsuccessful efforts and key essential success mechanisms. Learn more about the SMRP Conference.

Surprising? Not really. The world of manufacturing still has, and probably always will have, daily pressures that tend to drive value for the immediate more than for the longer term. We just seem to need that sense of urgency.

Talking to folks in reactive plants, they typically also understand the concept of preventive maintenance, but they just can’t see how it could fit into the way they normally operate. Many of the reasons are common:

  • “We just don’t have enough people or enough time to be able to get all that PM work done.”
  • “We’re just too busy doing what we need to be doing.”
  • “We live in the ‘real’ world.”

One of the many counterintuitive realities of the maintenance world is that reactive maintenance costs so much more and is so much less effective at maintaining reliable, productive operations than proactive maintenance does. It can be four to 10 times more costly. It takes four times longer. And, worst of all, the work usually has to be done over again the right way. And this says nothing about the cost of the lost production and all the associated risk and cost that goes with that.

Truly, good maintenance takes time and money. Poor maintenance costs a lot more time and a lot more money.

There are leaps of faith necessary to get to the world of proactive maintenance, and it takes strong commitment at all levels in a plant to make those leaps. It’s even harder to stick with them when daily events and pressures are tearing away at the fiber of these commitments.

If we build it, things will get better. Equipment will be more reliable, and maintenance will be less costly. The first ingredient is preventive maintenance in the general sense — “inspection to identify issues and deal with them, before they develop into actual losses.”

The reactive world

If you haven’t been there lately, here are some typical characteristics of the reactive world:

  • Mechanics spend most of their time responding to trouble calls. Without effective PM inspections, the first sign of any equipment issue is usually something pretty serious, an equipment breakdown or a quality or performance problem. Plant-wide broadcast paging systems calling for mechanics used to drive us all crazy. Now the more subtle personal radios only annoy the mechanics carrying them. Things may seem a bit better, but they’re not really.
  • Operators automatically call for maintenance if they have issues. These may be equipment malfunctions or just simply an adjustment. Operators are not expected, encouraged, or trained to be self-sufficient or even to contribute. There is no structured operator involvement in eliminating issues or making improvement. “We tried letting them do it, but there were just too many problems.” But how hard did we try?
  • Repairs are made in a “fix and forget” mode. Permanent follow-up fixes to emergency repair work hardly ever occur, and, unless the event was pretty disastrous, there is no analysis or follow-up action to prevent future occurrences. Sadly, when the analysis does happen, it’s often focused on who’s to blame, rather than what went wrong.
  • It’s always “on to the next issue,” and no one has the time or inclination to record the history of past issues because there are urgent new ones to deal with? “It’s just the paperwork.”
  • It’s difficult to find the time to get PM work done. Typically maintenance personnel are too busy with repairs or operating issues or “high priority” work. To many, at all levels, inspections just aren’t real, tangible work — not like fixing or building actual things — so it obviously doesn’t warrant a mechanic’s time.
  • Only maintenance personnel perform equipment care tasks or inspections, other than general equipment cleaning. Again, operators are not expected, encouraged or trained to perform equipment care and this is simply wasting valuable, capable, resources, both operators and mechanics. Henry Ford was truly a manufacturing genius, but one thing he didn’t get right was his perceptions and use of his workforce. He led the way in paying people more for their work, so they could afford to buy his cars, but didn’t want them to think on the job, even though he was paying for their thinking as well as their physical capability. That was many years ago, and we should all have realized what he got wrong by now. But for some, “command and control” is the only management style they know and believe in. Some still expect people to “just show up and do what they’re told.” The good news is that this is a smaller group all the time. Some of the apprehension stems from looking at the expense of expensive, event-based downtime training, rather than building in training as an ongoing, routine part of the everyday job activity. 
  • Only a small percentage of any scheduled work gets done. Emergency work or poorly prioritized urgent work constantly takes precedence. Unscheduled work is always incredibly inefficient, and is flatly a waste of valuable maintenance resources, and this cuts into resources available to do PMs. Only when needed work is identified before an issue develops, and when the needed repair is planned and scheduled, can maintenance resources be effectively and efficiently used.

Even if our PM inspections do identify needed repairs ahead of time, it doesn’t do us any good if we don’t avoid the issue before it happens. So once we decide to make that leap, how do we go about it?

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