Maximize your benefits from MRO costs

Stanton McGroarty says the plan must extend beyond vendor involvement.

By J. Stanton McGroarty, CMRP, CMfgE

Four factors are making it hard to match the skills available in a manufacturing organization to the demands of 21st century asset healthcare. Equipment is constantly becoming more complex to maintain at the same time much of it is becoming simpler to operate. Organizational need for equipment availability has risen dramatically as lean manufacturing has become a fact of life. The emerging science of reliability has raised organizations’ expectations of the equipment maintenance function. As if all this weren’t enough, baby boomers are now retiring, taking about half of many organizations’ practical knowledge with them. The job of maintenance is getting tougher and many plants have unfilled maintenance positions because they can’t find qualified candidates to fill them.

The use of contractors to perform some maintenance functions, once a hotly debated issue, is now a fact of life in many plants. Equipment OEMs and others now provide on-site monitoring services for critical production equipment. The amount of training being delivered to workers, in person and online, is on a dramatic rise, after decades of short-sighted management that avoided the expense of training and apprenticeships. Some organizations are contracting the entire maintenance operation, including MRO purchasing and inventory management. All of this adds up to challenges and opportunities for manufacturing managers. Whenever support people are brought into the plant environment because of their knowledge, a plan should be in place to capture as much of that knowledge as possible for future use.

When contract tradespeople perform normal maintenance functions, their presence is a training opportunity. The in-house maintenance people or equipment operators who work in the area being maintained have a chance to add a new layer of knowledge to their personal capabilities. The same is true when OEM installers and sales engineers bring new equipment into the plant and train available personnel. In both cases, it is in the contractor’s best interest to establish good professional relationships with the people using the equipment. They know the equipment will perform better when operated by knowledgeable professionals, and, should there be a problem, the call for help will go to them directly, instead of someone “telling on them” elsewhere in their organization.

J. Stanton McGroarty, CMfgE, CMRP, is senior technical editor of Plant Services. He was formerly consulting manager for Strategic Asset Management International (SAMI), where he focused on project management and training for manufacturing, maintenance and reliability engineering. He has more than 30 years of manufacturing and maintenance experience in the automotive, defense, consumer products and process manufacturing industries. He holds a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering from the Detroit Institute of Technology and a master’s degree in management from Central Michigan University. He can be reached at or check out his .

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Two good ways to gather information from contractors are to provide helpers to them and to schedule classes with them while they are on site. When existing equipment is under repair, it may be possible to assign the operators or area tradespeople to work with them. Depending on payment arrangements and union contracts, it is often true that by expediting permits or providing hands-on support, this kind of help can shorten the time and cost of the maintenance call. Or the visitors may be willing to spend some of the time saved to provide informal training or Q&A sessions on the shop floor. It’s essential to prepare the helpers in these situations with the understanding that knowledge capture is part of their assignments. It is also appropriate for them to share this fact with the contractors. Those who plan to learn as much as possible from outside experts are usually in for a pleasant surprise. People who possess a truly broad knowledge of their specialties are usually excited to share what they know. Those who hoard “professional secrets” usually don’t have much knowledge to offer anyway.

If formal training is one of the services purchased from visiting professionals, it is also important to make sure that the people who attend the class have an opportunity to operate the equipment immediately after the training. The concepts shared in the classroom become much more real and memorable if they are reinforced by practice in the workplace. This is doubly true of information designed to create culture change. Culture change has no reality at all until it is experienced in the work environment.

When a consultant or contractor leaves, who carries on the work or secures the progress that’s been created? That knowledge must be captured and then shared. At the end of any learning event, managers should debrief helpers and classroom participants to determine what value was gained, both in terms of the work that was done and the knowledge that was shared. Depending on the nature of the new information, it should be stored in process sheets, CMMS entries, blueprints, or wherever is appropriate. Similarly, equipment or operation changes should be identified and steps put in place to ensure that the improvements are locked in to standard operating procedures. If part of the job is information capture, then the job isn’t done until the documentation is complete.

Reliability processes help us to avoid making the same repair over and over. Processes must also be established to help us avoid having the same knowledge repeatedly walk in and out of our plants without taking up residence there.

Read Stanton McGroarty's monthly column, Strategic Maintenance.