Machinery Lubrication / Software

How do you define maintenance work?

David Berger says simplify and manage the way work is initiated.

By David Berger

There are many different types of work done in a typical plant or facility, including operations work, preventive maintenance, demand work, reactive maintenance, capital projects, corrective maintenance, inspections, and janitorial services. Indeed, maintainers and technicians are asked to do a wide variety of tasks. They’re cross-trained in multiple disciplines, across multiple departments, and for many bosses. However, there are ways to simplify and, in turn, better manage how work is initiated for maintainers.

Work is work

There’s no doubt we’re moving toward a world where “work is work,” especially for highly automated and asset-intensive operations such as oil and gas, process manufacturing, and utilities. Operations, for example, is becoming less about operators actually touching the product and more about monitoring and adjusting the equipment that handles the product. Why not have this work done by maintainers, as well, especially given a technician’s superior understanding of the consequences of incorrectly operating the equipment? As well, an operator/maintainer can react immediately to an off-spec situation or equipment downtime, thereby maximizing asset availability.

Although work is work, it’s still useful to characterize work as either maintenance or non-maintenance work. These are further subdivided as described below, each with a different mechanism for work initiation. Note that 100% of work done by maintainers and contractors should be planned, regardless of work type. The percent breakdown of work types is critical to understand and optimize.

Maintenance work

Most maintenance work can be anticipated, and therefore work plans on the CMMS can be created well in advance. Work plans outline work procedures, performance and quality standards, spare parts and special tools required, safety procedures, and relevant technical drawings. Once maintenance work is initiated, the most appropriate work plan can be attached or a work request can be auto-filled for approval and scheduling. If necessary, the work request can be edited to fit the current situation.

There are only three ways maintenance work is initiated as listed below. Work plans can and should be created for all of them. Work can be executed by maintainers or external contractors, and both should be tracked separately using the CMMS.

1. Fail-based maintenance (FBM): Work is initiated as a result of deliberately running an asset to failure. Although it isn’t certain when failure will occur for a given asset, there may be sufficient work history on the CMMS or from the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) such that failure can be forecasted with a reasonable degree of accuracy. When failure occurs, ideally a work plan is available on the CMMS; otherwise a one-off work request is initiated.

2. Condition-based maintenance (CBM): Work is initiated when a given condition exhibits a specific pattern or hits an upper or lower control limit. With CBM, inspections are required to assess the asset’s condition constantly, from on-line real-time inspections using plant automation equipment to visual inspections by maintainers at regular intervals. Work plans are appropriate for both the inspections, and any actual maintenance work is triggered. In some cases, work plans can allow for a reasonable expectation of maintenance work to be done during an inspection. For example, a route work order for inspecting 30 fire extinguishers in a building can also include a work plan that anticipates adjusting or topping up at least one of them, based on work history.

3. Use-based maintenance (UBM): Work is initiated based on usage, including a time period, such as monthly; meter reading, such as every 3,000 miles driven; or event, such as every snow storm. Once work is triggered by usage as defined in the CMMS, the pre-defined work plan is automatically pulled into a work request and queued for approval, or scheduling if pre-approved.

The three simple terms, FBM, CBM, and UBM, replace the myriad buzzwords that circulate throughout industry, such as preventive, proactive, predictive, reactive, and elective maintenance. There is little consensus on what these expressions mean, thereby causing considerable confusion regardless of your industry. For example, one of the most common expressions is preventive maintenance (PM). Try this simple test in your company to gauge the level of understanding of what is included in the definition of PM. Ask people whether the following would be considered PM:

  • taking your car in to change the oil every three months
  • when changing the oil, conducting a 30-point inspection that covers lights, brakes, tire pressure, and fluids
  • when conducting the 30-point inspection, the mechanic replaces your brake pads
  • asking the mechanic to replace one of the lamps that you know is out, while your car is in for the oil change and inspection

Some will say all of this is PM, some just the first bullet, and some all but the bulb replacement. However, with more simplified terms, the first bullet is UBM since it is maintenance triggered by time. The second bullet is clearly an inspection, which is a necessary component of and precursor to CBM. The third bullet reflects the result of an inspection — brake pads are worn down to a lower control limit triggering condition-based maintenance work to replace the pads. The fourth bullet is FBM triggered by the failure of the light bulb.

Non-maintenance work

If maintainers or contractors aren’t doing the maintenance work above, then, by definition, they must be doing non-maintenance work. Sample categories for non-maintenance work include the following.

David Berger, a Certified Management Consultant (C.M.C.) registered in Ontario, Canada, is a Principal of Western Management Consultants, based in the Toronto officeDavid Berger, a Certified Management Consultant (C.M.C.) registered in Ontario, Canada, is a Principal of Western Management Consultants, based in the Toronto office. David has written more than 200 articles on a variety of topics such as maintenance management, operations management, information technology, e-commerce, organizational design, and strategy. In Plant Services magazine, he has written a monthly column on maintenance management in the United States, as well as three very extensive reviews of maintenance management systems available in North America. David has done extensive work in the areas of strategy, information technology and business process re-engineering. He can be reached at
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1. Capital projects: Maintainers can be asked to create, modify, or install assets, thereby initiating a capital project. Although this isn’t maintenance of an asset, the CMMS work order system or project management functionality should be used to plan, execute, and report on the work.

2. Demand work: Sometimes maintainers or contractors are asked by management, engineers, or others to help with a number of non-maintenance tasks that are too small to be considered capital projects. For example, suppose a production supervisor asks a maintainer to move a fixed work station from Point A to Point B. A work order should be initiated to ensure the job is appropriately planned and managed.

3. Cases: One of the most often overlooked categories of non-maintenance work is handling cases, also known in some industries as anomalies, events, incidents, or simply surprises. Although work is 100% planned, it is not always easy to forecast what maintainers will face day to day, especially anomalies such as accidents, unexpected failures, near misses, and jobs that took much shorter or longer to diagnose and repair. Work that stems from cases, such as cleaning up an environmental spill or repairing a safety railing that failed to prevent an accident, are initiated as usual through the CMMS work order system. However, they should also be linked to the case and managed accordingly.

4. Operations work: If work is work, then time should be tracked for maintainers doing operations work, such as equipment setup, or for operators who do maintenance work, such as minor lubrication and adjustments. Standing work orders can be used to simplify the administrative hassle, as long as you identify the asset, person doing the work, type of work done, labor hours consumed, and parts used.

5. Non-productive work: There are other significant activities done by maintainers that may be useful to track, such as attending meetings, travel time for a mobile workforce, and setup and cleanup. These activities can be planned and better managed using standing work orders on the CMMS.

Read David Berger's monthly column, Asset Manager.