Don't let your lean maintenance department hold you back

April 19, 2004
Downsizing has become so prevalent, it's hard to remember a time when we had sufficient staff to accomplish everything that we all know really ought to be done. Don't let people kick sand in the face of your skinny maintenance department.

Downsizing has become so prevalent, it's hard to remember a time when we had sufficient staff to accomplish everything that we all know really ought to be done. By definition, those who have survived the decimation constitute a de facto lean work force. We find ourselves cutting so many corners, it's like turning a cube into a sphere. One thing is for certain, life in a competitive economy certainly isn't going to get any easier.

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There must be some coping mechanisms out there. Join me for this month's dive into the morass we call the Web in search of zero-cost, non-commercial, registration-free resources aimed at providing practical information about lean operations and lean maintenance. Remember, we search the Web so you don't have to. It's our contribution to your lean situation.

Lean overview

You'll have much smoother sailing with the lean concept if you start with the overview Susan J. Larson and Craig W. Habakangas from The Boeing Co., Seattle, presented at the Shipbuilders Conference on April 2, 2003. These people are leaders in Boeing's Lean Office, Commercial Airplane Services, so they should know what they're talking about. The duo's 12-slide presentation offers a strategy for achieving a lean maintenance initiative and highlights the personal characteristics maintenance technicians will need if they are to succeed. Sail over to to start the journey.

5S defined

Larson and Habakangas make reference to something called 5S, a concept that underlies a successful lean initiative. However, their slide show doesn't explain 5S very well. To learn more about this important penta-detail, you'll need to refer to "Lean Manufacturing -- 5S Philosophy Explained," which is found in Volume 1, Issue 2 of the online newsletter published by The Leading Edge Group, Cork, Ireland. If you click you way over to, you'll be rewarded with a terse explanation.

The skinny on maintenance

In the beginning, the term lean was reserved as a descriptor for an idealized manufacturing operation functioning at minimized cost. But it requires maintenance to keep those manufacturing assets productive. It's not much of a stretch to believe that if one lean thing is good, two are better.

"What is Lean Manufacturing and how do we make it Lean Maintenance?" a slide presentation by Lee A. Peters, C.P.E., F.ASCE, explores the principles of lean manufacturing and shows how they might apply to facilities engineering and maintenance management. Aim your lean and mean desk rodent at, scroll down to "Current Events" and click again to access Peters' 59 slides. You'll learn that 5S is just one of 13 lean concepts and that there are ways to deal with maintenance management process failures, a problem that a lean environment must address.

Inventory control

Shedding excess maintenance inventory is a relatively easy initiative that supports a lean back-room operation. While there are many approaches to clearing the shelves, how one goes about it determines the success of the effort. The good folks at Life Cycle Engineering Inc., Charleston, S.C. have posted a case study that compares the inventory-reducing effects achieved by creative accounting to the more difficult approach of actually doing something about the goods on your storeroom shelves. Mouse on over to to read how one company achieved some remarkable gains. Although the scope of this "how-to" article is limited to bearings and O-rings, it can be extended to whatever drags your operation down the rathole.

Digital assist

Lean maintenance, however, means much more than merely minimizing the amount of material in the back room. Becoming lean involves a continuous, day-to-day effort to streamline the entire maintenance process, from gathering predictive data to supply-chain efficiency to the diligent application of wrenches right on to final task closeout. Being successful at the endeavor involves, to a great extent, the software you're using, whether it's a standalone CMMS or something more fully integrated into the enterprise-wide computer system.

Advanced Manufacturing, a magazine from CLB Media Inc., Burlington, Ontario, published "Fine-tuning the Lean Enterprise," a collection of more than 30 articles that treat the topic. This glittering treasure trove is buried at If you decide to send your desk rodent to dig north of the border, however, I'd like you to direct its attention to two particular gems. The first is "Building the lean machine" by Todd Phillips (January 2000 issue) and "Maintenance software plays vital role along lean journey" by Leo Scire (November 2000 issue).

Body building

Physically fit animals survive hard times in the wild better than their fatter, flabby, weak-bodied peers do. The situation in the world of commerce is strikingly similar. The objective of a lean initiative is to shed the extraneous, which allows a plant to run faster and longer, jump higher and farther, and better endure the outrageous slings and arrows of fortune.

But this applies to the maintenance department as much as it does to the manufacturing side of the business. If maintenance doesn't get with the program, it may well be deemed extraneous, doomed to be shed by the rest of the business as it outsources the work. One of your important responsibilities, asset reliability, is highlighted in "Get Fit with Lean Manufacturing," an article by the Canadian division of Grant Thornton LLP. The piece argues that lean implies more than using maintenance software and predictive tools. Lean is, after all, a philosophy, a way of thinking. Broaden your body of knowledge by clicking your way to for the details.

Maintenance waste

If a maintenance operation wants to bill itself as lean, it should have already jettisoned anything that could possibly belie that venerable moniker. A lean maintenance shop doesn't do anything it doesn't need to do, and everything it does has a direct connection to profitability. That's easy for me to say, but you folks out there in readerland must actually perform.

As food for your typically cogent thought, I offer you "Planning and Scheduling in a Lean Maintenance Environment," an article by Randy Heisler, Life Cycle Engineering Inc., North Charleston, S.C. His examination of the usual suspects PMs, predictive maintenance, parts and tools, planning and scheduling, organization, process mapping and metrics mentions the aspects of each you'll need to address. No doubt you'll find something new at

Get the timing right

Anyone should recognize there's a definite cost associated with under-maintaining and over-maintaining productive assets, with the natural bias being on too much maintenance, "just to be safe." According to Deryk Anderson, Oniqua Enterprise Analytics, Brisbane, Australia, in his article "Reducing the cost of preventive maintenance," in the final analysis, most PM cycles are determined by someone's judgment and the artificial constraints imposed by the calendar or company's fiscal year. Instead, Anderson says it would be better to let the probability of failure be the determinant of the optimum maintenance frequency. He argues there's much value to be gleaned from reducing the frequency of preventive maintenance activities. Send you mouse down under to pick up Anderson's piece at I think you'll find it worthwhile.

Getting buy in

Terrence O'Hanlon, from, authored a "how-to" article, "Lean Maintenance Lubrication-Focused." It explains a way to involve the various stakeholders in the lean initiative and identifies the seven sources of waste in an unenlightened maintenance shop. The good folks at Noria Corp., Tulsa, Okla., have this article is posted at


Lest we get too carried away with the idea of lean maintenance, take a look at, for the purposes of this column, a contrarian point of view. Branding many, if not most, maintenance initiatives as fads, Robert M. Williamson, president of Strategic Work Systems, Greenville, S.C., feels that effective maintenance is a no-brainer. His online article, "Finding the Elephant in Maintenance," argues that too much data and analysis is counterproductive. You don't need better maintenance; you need equipment in better condition. Williamson offers a four-step approach to simplifying the issue. It all starts with finding the elephant, and you don't need a microscope to do that. Your mouse can spook that elephant if it scurries to


The raison d'etre for anyone involved in the maintenance function at large domestic manufacturing plants is minimizing downtime. Fortunately, Business Industrial Network, St. Mary, Mo., addresses this great bugaboo in its richly-linked, online book "True Downtime Cost." Demonstrate your digital prowess and flit on over to There are two ways to access the text. First, you can click the small triangle adjacent to "True Downtime Cost" at the left of the screen to access the table of contents to find a topic of special interest. Or, simply read the first page and click "next page" that you will find at the bottom of each installment.

Getting smarter

Turning your operation into a lean system requires a combination of lean tools and organizational learning. Putting them into practice is a long-term effort. While Peter Senge is credited with being the person behind the concept of the learning organization, Toyota is hailed as the originator of the lean manufacturing concept. You might be interested in learning about the four rules the company uses when designing, operating or improving its production systems, as well as the five principles that help with the people part of the equation. The details are revealed in "Connecting Lean and Organizational Learning," a 3000-word article by Jamie Flinchbaugh that's posted at the Web site operated by Superfactory Ventures LLC, Morro Bay, Calif. This philosophical piece is worth a read. Cruise on over to and scroll down to get to the article.

The military does it

The folks in uniform also know what it means to be lean. Joint Depot Maintenance Activities Group at Wright-Patterson AFB tried applying lean manufacturing principles to its ball valve maintenance shop and it's working. You will find a summary of the results if you march your mouse to and give it orders to scroll to "LEAN Maintenance and Repair Initiative."

When the Aircraft Division of the Process Improvement Office, Hill Air Force Base at the Ogden Air Logistics Center in Utah had to move an entire production operation to a new facility, the approach used didn't focus on making the move as rapidly as possible in a somewhat helter-skelter manner. Instead, the leaders used the opportunity to establish a world-class facility based on lean principles. "Lean practices tied to move," posted at, is a case study that describes how they did it.

Cultural changes

By definition, any major initiative, such as adopting a lean strategy, involves changes to existing operations. The main hurdle to be overcome is that most corporate cultures have a nasty habit of resisting anything that tries to move it out of its established comfort zone, even if it's generally recognized that the change will improve the situation for everyone. According to "Training - The Backbone of Culture Change," an article by Daryl Mather, an Australian maintenance consultant, success requires that the stakeholders in the initiative be educated. The article posits that a three-step training process will serve you well. Although Mather writes about a CMMS implementation, the principles he espouses can apply to the cultural changes that will accompany your lean maintenance initiative. You can get the details at, if you can train your mouse to resist simply sitting there.

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