Data-driven maintenance

Aug. 13, 2012
Stanton McGroarty says get maintenance workers to use data to drive their work by following these three steps.

Getting maintenance people and their in-house customers to use data to drive their work is a perennial challenge. More data are available than ever before in human history, but using the information to guide maintenance activity is a stretch for most organizations. Maintenance people typically grow up fixing the job that was demanded by the loudest voice in the plant. Their customers are products of the same environment. They’re used to buying coffee for the guy with the loudest voice in the plant. That way, when they have an emergency, he will help them get maintenance service.

If you want to know for sure whether information is calling the maintenance shots in your plant, here’s a three-question test you can use.

  1. Is there a short list of problem equipment that causes way more than its share of downtime and production losses?
  2. Is today’s list pretty much the same as last year’s and the list from the year before?
  3. Have the problems on the list become a part of your plant’s culture, like Murphy’s Law?

If you’re nodding, then something other than data is determining where your maintenance effort is focused. If your maintenance were data-driven, it would be driven to fix perennial maintenance problems. Somebody would have looked at the data that tells how much the problems are costing every year and done something about it.

When the same problems continue, year after year, people come to accept it as normal. Consultants refer to this syndrome as “normalization of deviance.” It’s standard human behavior. Ask about it next time you’re in Washington, D.C.

The good news is that the deviance in your plant is probably much easier to identify and solve than the Washington version. Let’s take it in three logical steps — ready, aim, and fire — a time-honored problem-solving sequence.

We’ll say we’re “ready” to solve a couple of big maintenance problems when we have identified them and quantified what they are costing the organization. The cost information should be adequate to fuel the discussion that will inspire the small, cross-functional team you need to set the two remaining steps in motion.

In the “aim” step we will gather our team and perform a special root cause analysis (RCA) for perennial equipment problems. The team will determine which corrections we must implement to convert our problem assets into reliable production systems. When large, perennial problems are examined, it is almost always true that they are really bundles of related problems with multiple causes. The multiple causes usually require multiple solutions. The multiple solutions usually require help from a variety of functions.

Problems get to be perennial by being complex. The solutions may be complex, too. It is not unusual for improved production procedures, maintenance work orders, new PdM procedures, engineering changes, training support, gauges or inspection procedures, and new shop floor discipline all to be required for a permanent fix. Management support, a change management program, and a communication plan may also be needed. Occasionally the help of marketing or customer contact people may be helpful. The need for a cross-functional team should be coming into focus now.


In the “fire” step of our problem-solving process, we will prepare and launch the work orders, projects, training initiatives, change orders, and other actions that will actually bring our problem under control. We will also install a steering system that will follow the effort to completion.

If you are reading this in August and your organization’s budget year begins Jan. 1, your timing may be impeccable. Depending on the size of the problems you are tackling and the size of your organization, it may be necessary to incorporate some budget entries into the fire step. If so, our three-step sequence can often be executed at the rate of one month per step, starting now. This will allow the solution time to be built into the budget, which probably gets written in October and November.

So much for the future. Right now, we need the data to identify our problem equipment and enlist help in quantifying its impact. If you have a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) that captures production losses and correlates them to repair tickets, you are well on your way. Too bad almost nobody has that good of a data tool kit. What you probably do have is someone in production or production planning who keeps track of all lost time. This person exists in nearly any plant and provides production numbers and reasons for missed production to plant management, usually daily.

It will also be handy if there is an official top five or top 10 list of problem equipment. This list has the advantage of being the official list of problems that important people would like to have solved. You are looking for problems that qualify in three ways.

  1. They must have financial significance, meaning they must be costing the organization a lot of money right now.
  2. They must be solvable with maintenance-related tools, preferably in less than a year.
  3. They must be annoying enough to top management that some resources will be made available to support the corrective effort, once you have the data to show the urgency of the fix.
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 [email protected] or check out his .
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The final bundle of data you need to demonstrate the importance of fixing the perennial problem is the factory cost of the equipment failures. This will include the costs of corrective maintenance, scrap, wasted supplies, premium shipment of late orders, and other costs that are particular to your situation. If appropriate, also add the amount of capacity lost due to running the equipment slowly to avoid downtime. This may not be allowed as a cost, but it is a missed opportunity.

Think like an owner. What goes wrong for the organization when this equipment lets you down, and what does it cost? An owner who wanted to know how big this problem really is would likely ask sales /or marketing what kind of relationship problems are being caused. The owner would ask production and production planning what kind of disruption occurs in the plant when the equipment fails and would want to know how much extra inventory is being carried to cover the resulting lateness and inflexibility of the production operation. The owner would want to know which market opportunities are being missed due to reduced capacity and flexibility in the plant.

The total cost of the problem is, at least, missed sales + factory cost + waste + lost market opportunities. Each firm has its own rules for cost accounting. If possible, get some help from the plant controller or someone he designates to build your case. If some logical costs are not allowed in standard calculations — supplies and opportunity costs are frequently disallowed — ask how to itemize them, even if they are not in the official total. Remember, think like an owner. How will operations get better if the problem is fixed, and how will that translate at the top and bottom lines?

In the course of the ready phase of the data-driven maintenance process, you will have dealt with a variety of people. Part of being ready should be having an interested manager, a couple of shop-floor scorekeepers and a financial person on your team. Choose the ones whose eyes light up when you talk about fixing top production problems. They’ll be interested in helping and you’ll all have a lot more fun if they’re aboard.