Doing the jishu hozen down at the gemba

March 31, 2005
Jishu hozen, or autonomous maintenance, is attainable through free Web resources.

Nobody is an island. It’s necessary for us to interact, hopefully for the common good. When large groups on the world stage start acting in a coordinated manner, it’s an alliance. When smaller groups work together on the plant floor, it’s a team.

The skill levels of team members span a continuum of ability. Only a few are capable of doing the critical, most valuable activities. Every member can do the less demanding activities. A team’s progress peaks when responsibilities, duties and tasks are pushed down the continuum until the next person in the ability lineup can’t do the task. It’s a matter of distributing work in accordance with ability and talent.

This explains why it probably makes no sense for highly trained maintenance technicians to do anything other than the tasks for which they are uniquely suited. That’s the idea behind jishu hozen, or autonomous maintenance to you Westerners out there in readerland. Come along, join me for another dive into the morass we call the Web in search of practical, zero-cost, noncommercial, registration-free Web resources that will help get your operators taking an active interest in the hallowed field of industrial maintenance. Remember, we search the Web so you don't have to.

The respect you deserve
Even though we believe the maintenance function is an important contributor to overall corporate health, sometimes both the belief and the work itself get no respect. Ask around in the plant. See what sort of opinions about maintenance infect the environment where you struggle to do what needs to be done. If you need some fodder for starting a discussion, simply ask if maintenance represents an investment that brings real returns or if it’s merely a cost of doing business that must be minimized. Conquest Business Media Ltd., the UK-based publisher of [i]The Manufacturer[i] magazine, has an article that might be of interest.

“Maintaining an advantage” explains why some people look down on maintenance and reveals how some British plants have responded to that problem. If your desk rodent needs an ego boost, send it to for a bit of well-deserved respite from the constant floggings it endures as it faithfully does your digital bidding.

Doing TPM
A good place to get an overview of the rationale behind a total productive maintenance program and the work that goes into making the program successful can be found in “An Introduction to Total Productive Maintenance” by Venkatesh J, a longish document that covers a lot of territory. For example, it compares and contrasts TPM to a related management concept -- total quality management -– that can work side-by-side with TPM. If your plant ran into difficulties the last time someone tried to bring some TPM in the front door, you might want to investigate the recommended four-step process for introducing the concept into an organization. Instituting TPM isn’t necessarily an easy task under the best of circumstances, so the author also delves into an organizational structure designed to support TPM implementation. You’ll need to reconcile that structure with the current organization chart your plant has in place. Finally, if you let your mouse creep around [no hyphens], you’ll get a detailed explanation of TPM’s eight pillars.

Follow the guide
Bringing a major structural change such as TPM into a company is never an easy proposition. Progress isn’t always smooth and uniform. Interest can flag. Disappointment can reign supreme. You need an anchor to keep the entire TPM initiative from drifting back to the old days and the old way of doing business. You probably should have a master plan at the outset for keeping everyone on track, for setting people upright again when morale goes flat. At least that is what Barry Shulak argues in his “Phillips 66 Creates a TPM Master Plan” that appeared in the March 1997 issue of [i]Quality Digest[i]. Here’s a case study that gives you something to take home. Get the goods at, and don’t forget to investigate the three sidebar links found on the right at the top of the document.

English style
SaferPak Ltd., a British consulting firm, has its main focus on food packaging safety and related training. Besides using its Web site as a tool for drumming up more business, the company also uses it as a repository for a lot of free tools for business, management and quality. Dispatch thy royal mouse to [no hyphens], to fetch the links to seven articles about TPM. In addition, the site holds good material that isn’t directly connected to maintenance issues. You’ll find these treasures hidden under the pull-down menus on the left side of the screen. Space doesn’t permit a complete description of the whole array, so you’ll need to explore on your own. It’s worth the effort.

From the ivory tower
If you look hard enough, you’ll locate research academicians who have an active interest in the plant maintenance and engineering function. Two such folks are Kathleen E. McKone and Elliott N. Weiss, researchers from the Carlson School of Management, University of Minnesota and the Darden Graduate School of Business, University of Virginia, respectively. With typical annual maintenance expenses running between 15% and 40% of production costs, and average machine utilization rates hovering near 50%, the field for research in maintenance is ripe. McKone and Weiss produced “TPM: Planned and Autonomous Maintenance: Bridging the Gap Between Practice and Research,” a scholarly, 17-page PDF that first appeared in the Winter 1998 edition of Production and Operations Management. In it, they explore the maintenance-investment decisions for TPM as they describe the elements of a TPM program and sort out the relevant research on autonomous and planned maintenance activities. They posit a five-phase, nine-step approach to moving maintenance much closer to the machinery and the people who operate it. They explain what is expected to take place in the maintenance department and at the machine during each phase. Finally, they highlight the gaps between your day-to-day needs and academic TPM research and offer suggestions to close the gaps. If you can convince your mouse to scale the heights of the ivory tower at it will come back with an education.

Don’t lean on it
Autonomous maintenance doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Rather, it represents the contribution that operators make to the overall success of a plant’s TPM initiative, which is, after all, a team activity. Operator maintenance is necessary, but not sufficient, for ensuring TPM success. Robert M. Williamson has investigated several TPM program failures and offers more than a dozen reasons why the programs went south. It’s telling that his first reason is an excessive reliance on autonomous maintenance to carry the day. So, before you go off half-cocked trying to make a name for yourself by establishing a successful TPM program, be sure to read Williamson’s article, “Why TPM Often Fails,” which you’ll find at

Bilingual tips
Autonomous maintenance is listed as an element of a TPM program, which implies that your machine operators are being trained as effective partners with the maintenance department. Depending on your geography, it’s likely that English isn’t the operator’s primary language. If that’s the case, maintenance skills can’t improve in the absence of effective communication. This is a potential problem that ushers Enrique Mora onto the scene. He owns, a bilingual Web site operated from Bonita, Calif. An example of his output is Paradigm Movement. Drop by at and scroll down to the article titled “Autonomous Maintenance.” You might want to search the rest of his site for other training material for your Latino workers.

Down and dirty
“Operator Maintenance -- Key to Reducing Breakdowns” by K.R. Iyer, argues that the root cause of any machinery failure has its source in human failings. Also, it’s rare that one major defect causes a machine failure. Instead, it’s the interactions among some number of minor problems that add up to that downtime bugaboo. Iyer puts the burden for noticing these small problems squarely on the shoulders of the machine operators. The article claims that some plants have eliminated nearly all breakdown maintenance after instituting a good autonomous maintenance program. With that point made, Iyer recommends ways to make autonomous maintenance part of the corporate culture and lists the maintenance tasks that operators can perform. You will find Iyer’s comments at, thanks to the efforts of Reliability Center Inc. in Hopewell, Va.

Selling the concept
Gemba. It’s where you’ll find the real action. Jon Miller, president of Gemba Research LLC in Burien, Wash., ought to know. When your plant starts driving for autonomous maintenance, there’ll be action aplenty around the production machinery. Without production-worker cooperation, the initiative will fail. So, to keep your whole team moving in the right direction, Miller posted “Selling Autonomous Maintenance to the Machine Operator” at It’s a short read that provides responses to the two main concerns that operators might have about the change in work routine.

From down under
Sandy Dunn from Assetivity Pty Ltd., Booragoon, Western Australia, operates a Web site dedicated to asset care. Among the offerings coming out of his Plant Maintenance Resource Center is “Symbiosis of Maintenance and Safety in the Process Industry,” an article by Samir R. Kale, Grasim Industries Ltd. In it, Kale discusses the six steps in planned maintenance and the eight steps to autonomous maintenance, both of which lead him to a concept called maintenance prevention. Kale then follows up with two sketchy case studies that show how to achieve this state of maintenance-free nirvana. Meditate in the general direction of, but please overlook the errors in his sentence structure.

How they did it
It’s not easy, but many plants have been able to institute a functional autonomous maintenance program. Knowing how they did it might help your efforts on this front. Fortunately for us, Anadigics Inc., a manufacturer of high-performance gallium arsenide integrated circuits in Warren, N.J., is willing to reveal all. “The Implementation of Autonomous Maintenance,” by James Day, David Troy and Darryl Heller, is a four-page case study that describes how the company convinced its production workers that it was in their best interest to be responsible for keeping their tooling in top shape using basic maintenance measures. The paper details the organizational structure they needed to put in place before beginning the autonomous initiative. The best part is the section that lists the lessons they learned while improving the operations. You can read about it at

Training sources
Printing presses are complex devices. With block-long webs of paper speeding through them, much depends on roll alignment and other variables. If something goes wrong, they generate a lot of scrap in the blink of an eye. As in so many other types of manufacturing plants, maintenance is important to a printer’s success. To that end, “Keep up with up-keep,” an article by Nancy Lowther that appeared in American Printer magazine, offers advice at In the first half, the article covers territory familiar to readers of this magazine. It rehashes the definitions of the more sophisticated maintenance approaches and explains the advantage they offer over having the maintenance technicians wait around for another breakdown just so they can strut their stuff at overtime rates. The last half of the article has the interesting material. There, it offers tips for outsourcing the maintenance function and suggests a few inexpensive sources for training material that can improve reliability. The only objection an enlightened reader of this magazine would have is in Lowther’s recommended reading list.

Without comment

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