Real-world operational efficiency strategies

Benefits are being achieved in manufacturing, utilities, and fleets.

By Sheila Kennedy, Contributing Editor

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Leading asset-intensive organizations continuously heighten their operational efficiency. They actively pursue culture, process, and system changes to drive incremental efficiencies, and as a result enhance the cost-effectiveness of their products and services while maintaining quality.

These three organizations, representing very different industries, share their successes, plans and recommendations so that others can learn from their experiences:

  • A manufacturer: Des-Case is a growing, privately-held manufacturer of contamination control products for industrial lubricants headquartered near Nashville, TN. Since its founding in 1983, the company twice moved its manufacturing operations to a larger space and it has established a European presence.
  • ifs4
    The Inland Empire Regional Composting Facility is the nation’s largest indoor biosolids composting facility.
    A utility: Inland Empire Utilities Agency (IEUA) provides regional wastewater service and imported water deliveries to eight contracting agencies in San Bernardino County, CA.  It consists of five regional plants, a water recycling facility, a composting facility, a desalter, and the administrative headquarters.
  • A transit agency: Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) serves approximately 500,000 bus and rail passengers daily across a 3,376-square-mile service area. In addition to extensive transit system assets, there are 176 buildings to manage.

Their stories illustrate how varying paths can achieve a common goal. Teamwork, process optimization, capital analysis, lifecycle management, remote monitoring, mobility, sustainability, and education are among the initiatives that are meeting with success.


The human element is a primary consideration in the pursuit of operational efficiency. A shared vision and positive, cooperative relationships are essential, both internally and with external providers and stakeholders.

“Top performing organizations are ensuring that the manufacturing and design teams work better with the service team to improve product design and serviceability,” says Aly Pinder, Senior Research Analyst at Aberdeen Group. “Capturing and using data from the field to improve the productivity and performance of future equipment and assets has become a best-in-class capability.”

MARTA embodies the relationship-based approach. “Having good relationships between the equipment providers, engineers, and front-line service providers assures more efficient communications and more effective operations and maintenance (O&M),” explains Remy Saintil, Director of Facilities Maintenance at MARTA. “We also identified synergies between the systems, processes, management, and technology used in MARTA’s different groups and branches in order to eliminate inefficiencies.”

One of Des-Case’s successes involved implementing a PLM software system that bridged with its ERP system, which has brought immediate productivity gains along with planned progressive improvements.

“Many companies struggle with communicating executable actions and goals as it relates to their vision and strategy,” says Jack Spitler, Director of Manufacturing Operations at Des-Case. “The strength of many team members focused on one goal makes for a competitive advantage.”

Des-Case’s teams recently generated a Hoshin tool to align their goals, objectives, actions, and metrics. It serves as a “compass” for the entire organization. “We began establishing this by adopting―as a team exercise―a method of generating strategic planning objectives (SPOs), which were then used to populate and build-out the Hoshin,” adds Spitler. “Not only has this had a tremendous effect on overall communication and a sense of ‘heading in the same direction,’ it has also enhanced the delivery of the metrics and alignment of their appropriate accountability.”

PM optimization

One of IEUA’s most effective system and process changes was its Preventive Maintenance (PM) Optimization Program completed in January of 2014. The program had four target goals, according to Larry Vanderpool, Deputy Manager of Maintenance Planning & Materials Management at Inland Empire Utilities Agency:

  1. Significantly reduce the volume of PM work orders.
  2. Move from equipment-based maintenance to system-based maintenance.
  3. Set up a review and approval process that would scrutinize future PM task changes and additions for validity and consistency with optimized PM tasks.
  4. Identify equipment, systems, and processes where condition monitoring technologies (e.g., vibration analysis, motor circuit analysis, lube oil analysis, thermography, and ultrasonics) could be leveraged for predictive maintenance, and shift PM tasks accordingly.

“As a result of the PM Optimization Program, we reduced our PM volume from ~26,000 work orders annually to ~7,000 work orders annually,” says Vanderpool. “By utilizing process/system-based and object-based work orders, it logistically focused work on a single area, minimizing travel and virtually eliminating low effort work orders (e.g., less than 30-minute operations). This also simplified time tracking and entry within our enterprise resource planning (ERP) system.”

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