Go back to basics

March 18, 2003

My friend, Ricky Smith, offers more pearls of wisdom in the span of an hour than most teachers offer in an eight-hour class.

You remember Ricky from earlier columns of mine he is executive director for maintenance solutions at Life Cycle Engineering, Inc. (LCE), based in North Charleston, S.C. He has many years of valuable and practical maintenance experience and now works with companies to help them improve their maintenance operations.

Ricky is a bit of an evangelist. He preaches the fundamentals of good maintenance. Those fundamentals are basic preventive maintenance, planning and scheduling. And one of his key teachings is "Preventive maintenance doesn't provide reliability, it maintains reliability." In other words, the equipment and systems must be functional with significant time between failures for a preventive maintenance program to work.

Probably the most important group in a preventive maintenance strategy is the planning and scheduling crew. "If you only have one group devoted to preventive maintenance," Ricky explained, "It's scheduling/planners. They need to be working on next week." According to Ricky, the maintenance crew should know this Friday what they are going to be working on next week. "If you know what you're going to do tomorrow, you'll dream about it tonight," he said. The maintenance crew will be ready to run in the morning, and "They'll run hard all day if you give them what they need."

He recently asked a group of plant managers, "Ever inspect something and realize, oh my God, it's a crime scene?" It is critical for managers to develop performance metrics for maintenance staffs. Ricky offers some simple questions to ask:

Are the preventive maintenance procedures working? Take a look at preventive maintenance labor hours compared to emergency repair labor hours.

Are the preventive maintenance frequencies accurate? Check your ratio of work orders preventive maintenance compared to corrective measures.

Where is maintenance spending their energy? Look carefully at the labor hours spent on emergency repairs, preventive maintenance, corrective maintenance and engineering project work. Ricky urges maintenance departments to outsource project work. Any reliability issues require a focus on maintenance. Engineering project work is not within the core competencies of this department, and most likely, not in its budget, either.

Any maintenance initiatives, including a focus on the basics, require management support. "The operators and maintenance guys are ready to embrace this," Ricky explained. "They aren't the problem. Changing the thought process in management is the hard part. They have to set goals, vision and targets."

Ultimately, everyone wants to know how close they've come to meeting goals. "If you post information about how well you are doing, you will improve," Ricky claims. People will drive to those numbers. Think about it, he says. "Football players need to know the score in the game."

What a smart man.

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