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Maintenance needs assessment

May 16, 2012
A contracted-MRO-services approach requires teamwork and communication.

This is the first article in a three-part series on developing an approach to contracting MRO services. Part II will deal with development of the timing, planning, scheduling, and communication that shape the maintenance team effort, including examples of how logistics, process flows, and market fluctuations can become part of maintenance planning. Part III will focus on accurate and efficient provision of maintenance parts, services, and supplies, possibly the most overlooked element of maintenance teamwork. Because the set of skills for this often resides in a different part of the organization, this element often goes unmanaged, but MRO materials management effort significantly affects the delivery of a coordinated maintenance effort.

Maintenance is a team sport. For effective equipment healthcare to take place at a reasonable cost, several elements must be in place together, at the right time, every time.

Equipment must be available for service operations. Production personnel must be available as needed to support the maintenance effort. The right parts and supplies must be on hand to meet the equipment’s current needs. The right maintenance procedures or task lists must be available for service technicians. The right skills must be available, including specialty support. The right support equipment must be in place for safe, efficient maintenance operations. And the area must be prepared for safe, efficient maintenance operations with minimal environmental impact.

In addition, the right information must be available regarding:

  • maintenance history
  • equipment performance, including condition monitoring output
  • equipment design and specifications
  • preventive maintenance plans
  • statutory requirements.

Pick any one of these items and consider the effect of its absence. If maintenance history is missing, you don’t know whether you’re looking at the right potential problems. If the parts aren’t there, downtime is lengthened or substandard “temporary” repairs are required, along with another round of permanent repairs later. Take away the proper skills or equipment, and another delay with possible safety and effectiveness problems is invited in. Of course, if the equipment isn’t available, most of the cost of proper maintenance is still spent, but without improving operations at all.

A few years ago, many maintenance professionals would have called this line of thinking unrealistic. Today, the strongest competitors in any industry would be likely to call it self-evident.


When an organization considers contracting MRO services, this level of service should be seen as a starting point. If the organization settles for less-precise teamwork, the contracting process takes an already ineffective system and makes logistics and communication even more difficult, which will result in missing elements throughout the maintenance effort. At best, this will prevent delivery of the benefits the organization is anticipating. At worst, it could turn an already marginal maintenance effort into a disaster.

If work elements are to happen as they should, then production, maintenance, reliability, procurement, and quality assurance personnel, along with vendors, must interact in timely and intricate ways. Each of these functional groups is both a supplier and a customer to other team members (Table 1).

Table 1. When maintenance planning and the computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) are both parts of the maintenance department, these relationships can drive efficiency.

As with just-in-time (JIT) manufacturing, the maintenance functions must support each other based on a real-time, coordinated schedule. Most must be running every day to supply the information and support that’s needed.

Self-assessment of readiness for contracting

Begin with an accurate assessment of the job as it’s being done today. Before contracting MRO services can begin, follow these steps for performing the assessment and prescribing a fix for the elements that need improvement.

Review the maintenance elements and determine who, in the organization, owns them for typical maintenance work orders.
  • Find owners to be responsible for everything that is currently orphaned.
  • After establishing responsibility for each element, select a month and agree that no maintenance work will be performed for that month without work orders.
  • Audit maintenance efforts for the month and check off the availability and quality of each element for each maintenance work order as it’s performed. This will require temporary assignment of a qualified person for the assessment. Maintenance planners are good candidates, as long as they’re working outside their own territories.
  • Determine the quality of the maintenance effort that was performed against each order by answering seven questions.
    1. What kind of job was it — repair, preventive maintenance, condition monitoring, asset integrity/statutory?
    2.  How much lead time was available to plan and organize the effort?
    3. Were all elements in place at execution?
    4. Which elements, if any, were missing?
    5. Was the job done completely and permanently?
    6. Were follow-up orders required?
    7. Was the problem, if any, solved at a root-cause level, or will it be back again?
    • Once a collection of orders begins to accumulate, assign a grade (A to F) to each completed work order.
    • Hold weekly meetings to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the effort to complete each work order, using the same elements to provide a framework for the reports.
    • Try to generalize patterns from the grades and commentary on the orders.
    • After the Week 2 discussion, begin to list improvements to the maintenance team’s effort that could improve the quality of the delivered maintenance effort.
    • What improvements in safety, effectiveness, and cost could be gained by installing the improvements suggested above?

    Once there’s something to discuss, probably after the second week, plant and maintenance management should convene the maintenance team, which would include representatives of every group that owns any of the maintenance elements. Try as a team to explain the results that are taking shape during the assessment month.

    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].

    If possible, discuss as a group the improvements that are being sought from the MRO contracting effort. What are the projected benefits, and how do they relate to the teamwork picture that is emerging from the self-assessment? What is the likely effect the contracting project will have on maintenance teamwork? In turn, what effect will the resulting teamwork changes have on maintenance results?

    If your maintenance team isn’t performing smoothly and delivering elements as needed, address the missing elements before, or possibly as part of, the contracting project. If your team makes this assessment before or during the planning of the project, the organizational structure, maintenance procedures, data support, and MRO materials approach can be tailored to your specific needs. Once the shift to MRO contracting has been made, this customization will be much more difficult to achieve.

    Improved effort

    The effective development of an MRO contracting approach provides the best chance of success in delivering a properly coordinated maintenance effort. By beginning the self-assessment process, an organization can take the first step toward creating and maintaining the teamwork needed for success under the new way of working that MRO contracting requires. Use an assessment to identify opportunities in the maintenance team effort. Then overlay the opportunities on the planning to date for the MRO contracting effort.

    Armed with the knowledge gained in the assessment, you can guide the effort to design and deliver an MRO contracting approach that will help deliver the necessary quality of teamwork.

    View Part II, Communicate with contracted MRO staff, and Part III, Take inventory of your maintenance costs, of this article.

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