Take credit for maintenance improvements

July 10, 2012
Stanton McGroarty explains why broadcasting maintenance success is good for the company.

Old time maintenance types will tell you that one of the frustrating things about good maintenance is the lack of credit it generates. "Do great things, and then wait for nothing to happen," seems to be the world view for a lot of practitioners. Then, when nothing happens, nobody notices.

This kind of reward system, or lack of it, is very dangerous. It tends to get budgets shrunk below sustainable levels. It demoralizes preventive maintenance practitioners and seems to reward the firefighters. After all, they still get to be heroes, pulling off the dramatic saves when things break. This is the environment in which production people tend to view preventive and predictive maintenance (PM and PdM) as irrelevant, while emergency work seems essential and exciting.

Of course, we all know about establishing baselines for equipment uptime, production losses, and overall equipment effectiveness (OEE). But these things are usually done on a plant-wide basis, leaving individual improvement, and heroics, unmeasured on a departmental or system basis.

If it’s 2012 in your plant, PM and PdM tools are being used routinely. Hopefully, a reliability engineering function has been established.  Here are the things you need to do to ensure that the gains made by these functions are measured, so they can be recognized and rewarded. The time to start is now.


Get strategic! A part of every annual budget should be maintenance and reliability projects to eliminate equipment failures among the top 10 equipment headaches in your operation. You should know which assets these are.  You can be sure your plant manager does. The efforts should be organized as projects, with resource, investment, and benefit budgets or business cases. Expected results should be quantified so that next year’s budget can reflect the improvements. The maintenance department’s annual budget should reflect the cost of the effort, as well. This is the foundation of continuous improvement in maintenance, fixing the biggest problems so next year’s big problems are smaller than last year’s were. It also helps establish the relevance of reliability, PM, and PdM operations. These plant-saving functions must be established as strategic partners in manufacturing. This will have happened when the plant manager says so. “Thanks, guys,” he’ll say,”2012 was a winner. What evergreen problems are you going to cure for me in 2013, and what resources do you need to do it?”

Eliminate squirrel stores! You know the little cribs full of maintenance parts that get stocked by maintenance at the end of the year and when projects close with some extra money? Bulldoze them and put the material in proper MRO stores. Squirrel stores are malpractice insurance for the materials or procurement group that is funded by the rest of the organization. As long as squirrel stores exist, the materials in them are not attributed to the equipment or work orders on which they are used. Repair costs are hidden from the accounting system, and material availability is in the hands of an unofficial network that cannot ensure reliability. As long as the procurement operation doesn’t receive material requests connected to work orders, it can maintain a perfect order fill rate while not doing its job. At the same time, the commodities in the squirrel stores are not protected against deterioration or obsolescence. Correcting the squirrel-stores situation is an improvement that often shows a negative cost of implementation. The parts that are brought back into the stores are usually undocumented assets. They can sometimes be added back into MRO inventory, which is an asset account. Getting maintenance material back on the books can also help prevent duplicate purchases for the coming year.

Use work orders! Work orders give the organization a place to gather the labor and material cost of work on assets. In a proper CMMS, they also collect the history of downtime so that the production impact of lost equipment availability can be assigned to failures and corrections. They are the primary vehicle for planning and executing repairs and improvements. From a practical standpoint, it’s nearly impossible to take credit for any improvements that are not carried out under a work order.

Many organizations have rules that require work orders for any work that takes more than 15 or 30 minutes or requires tools that are not on the maintenance technician’s tool belt or in the toolbox. Some also require that no more than an hour a day of a technician’s time be attributed to work without work orders. Use of work orders also helps encourage the reporting of maintenance needs by everyone in the plant. This is the main way that non-production-related orders, often safety related, start to flow. Finally, make sure that work orders are closed promptly and accurately, with all necessary data in place. The sum of closed work orders provides the answer to the question, “What did you do with all the money you spent this year?”

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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Keep the KPIs coming! When you started getting control of maintenance, you should have designed a set of key performance indicators (KPIs) that demonstrate the reduction in things, such as the percentage of emergency work and the amount of unplanned maintenance overtime. They should also demonstrate the degree of timely completion of all maintenance work and of PM and PdM work in particular. The size of the maintenance backlog, expressed in weeks or months, should be a regular feature. The KPIs should be issued weekly and in a granular enough format that readers can see the performance differences among departments or systems. That way technical performance can be correlated with financial data later.

As effective maintenance and reliability processes are instituted to improve OEE and safety, maintenance professionals owe it to themselves and to their organizations to demonstrate the value of the new ways of working. Improved maintenance can contribute excitingly to the bottom line, but the improvements are not usually connected to the work by standard accounting systems.

There is a danger that improved OEE can be mistaken for a reduced need for maintenance and reliability services. The result can be maintenance budget reductions that may actually improve the bottom line for a short while, but they can also spell the end of strategic maintenance improvements and even of PM/PdM programs. Some reduction in maintenance work will usually follow successful PM/PdM implementation, but the savings can often be absorbed as reductions in overtime and contracted work. This means that the knowledge and experience of the maintenance staff can often be preserved and applied to further improvements.

Given today’s shortage of trained maintenance professionals, this can be an important benefit of planning and taking credit for maintenance and reliability work.