Selling maintenance as a profit center

The best way to change perspectives is to show the entire organization how maintenance provides value.

By Joe Anderson, The J.M. Smucker Company

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Throughout my years in manufacturing maintenance, I have faced situations in which my peers and managers above me have had no understanding of the value of maintenance. For a long time, I blamed them. As I have matured in my management journey, I have come to understand that it is my job to educate everyone, not just those for whom I am responsible, about maintenance's true worth.

The  awareness gap results from management having limited or no knowledge of the maintenance function and its ability to contribute to the manufacturing process; and maintenance personnel, managers included, having limited understanding of the business side of manufacturing. The result is that management and maintenance often are often unsure how they together contribute to the company's success.

Your company's maintenance attitude

When I ask managers or hourly workers what their organization's perception of maintenance is, I tend to get the same types of responses. I hear things like:

  • Maintenance is a cost center
  • Maintenance is a necessary evil
  • Maintenance is the cost of doing business
  • Maintenance personnel are firefighters

When asked to define maintenance, they offer words such as fix, restore, replace, recondition, patch and rebuild. I'd say these are reactive definitions of the word.

What is maintenance? Maintenance is to maintain or the act of maintaining. The basis for maintaining is to keep something in a specific state or condition – that is, to keep it (the asset, in our case) in an existing state or preserve it from failure or decline. There is a world of difference between this definition and the words and functions normally recalled by most people who are “knowledgeable” about the maintenance function.

The best way to change the perspective is to show the entire organization how it is that maintenance provides value. To keep things simple here, let’s focus on three types of value: convenience, process improvement, and financial value.

  • Convenience is sold through a demonstrated or statistical approach to prove that a plant will be safer and will produce higher-quality product, resulting in less rework. Greater production efficiency means lower costs; lower costs gives us marketing advantage; marketing advantage and enhanced competitiveness can promote job security. You empower people to do what they know to do by providing the proper tools and removing obstacles to their getting it done.
  • Process improvement is sold through less downtime. This means running to plan, which makes the production manager look like a superhero. Better asset use improves capacity, which means more volume, more profit, and more recognition. Also, less downtime results in less frustration, raising morale and helping to drive culture change.
  • Financial value is sold through the freeing of cash flow, reduced costs, and higher profits. These all translate into two things: higher stock value and more capital for reinvestment into the company.

Manage in three directions

There are three directions in which a manager has to manage: up, out, and down. Managing up, out, and down means sharing your vision for your department and educating everyone you can on what true, proactive maintenance is.

I have to educate the upper management, my peers, and those I am entrusted to manage. It is your responsibility as well (no matter your title).  As a maintenance manager, I have not just a responsibility but an obligation to educate those around me on the maintenance function and the ways that we add value. So, let’s look at the three ways.

Let’s start with managing those we are entrusted to manage. Although all three of these areas are intertwined and affect everyone, the best way to sell this group is through convenience. Going home to their family with all limbs intact, not having to endure a day of hard labor, and striving to be the best are great ways to motivate this group. Convincing this group takes execution of low hanging fruit for quick wins. The goal is to gain their trust and buy-in into your system with the expectation of becoming world class.

You have to empower your employees to manage programs such as condition monitoring, MRO, planning and scheduling, etc., with you by their side as a coach. Also, one of my goals is always to set the standard for the organization in whatever we do. If you can do this, you will not have someone else determining how you are going to execute your maintenance strategy. The easiest way to get your vision squashed is to have another maintenance manager within your organization determining what your best practices should be, especially when they are contradictory to proactivity in maintenance.

At the peer level, the key is to try to develop a partnership. With that, you show value by showing them what can be if they buy-in to your system and partner with you in driving process improvement. What any production manager wants is process stability with reduced variation. One example would be defect elimination. Offer to train their employees and them as well as to how to drive defects out of the system. Show them statistics and case studies as proof that the system works.

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