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Do you have control of your plant? Use planning and scheduling to be more proactive.

Feb. 11, 2020
Doc Palmer says weekly schedule compliance is the ultimate measure of proactive maintenance.

How well are you in control of your plant?

Now, I don’t mean that you are well organized to fix broken assets quickly. That’s “reactive” maintenance. Many times, you can have a profitable plant by quickly fixing things as soon as they break. But the great profit is in keeping things from breaking in the first place.

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The definition of maintenance itself is to keep something in an operational state. If something broke and you fixed it, you did not maintain it in an operating condition, but rather you restored it back to an operating condition. The great profit comes from “proactive” maintenance which is work to keep things from breaking. The industry rule of thumb is that “every dollar invested in proactive maintenance saves ten dollars on the bottom line.”

Consider the cost of the proactively greasing a bearing versus the more expensive cost of reactively replacing a seized bearing, having possible collateral damage, and most importantly, losing asset availability. How well are you in control of your plant? How well are your maintenance resources keeping things from breaking?

A great boost to my early career in the 1990s came from hearing John Crossan from Clorox (now John Crossan Consulting in Chicago) say that “Weekly schedule compliance is ultimate measure of proactive maintenance.” John explained that if you say what you want to do with all of your maintenance resources next week and then you actually do it, you are in control. If you can’t do it, you are not in control. The degree of compliance to the weekly schedule quantifies exactly how well you are in control of the maintenance of your plant.

This concept really helped me better visualize and work with maintenance productivity and scheduling. Consider a reasonably well maintained plant with about 20% reactive work. At best, weekly schedule compliance could only be 80%. The 20% gap represents opportunities to analyze for improvement. Perhaps some of the current proactive activities aren’t functioning as well as they might. For example, we are doing a lot of greasing, but bearings are still failing. Perhaps there are no proactive activities in an area that experiences a lot of reactive work. Perhaps engineering needs to replace certain assets that are well beyond their useful life. As management takes action to remedy issues that break the schedule, the plant can more successfully predict what maintenance it will actually complete. Schedule compliance should rise. The plant is coming more into control. Schedule compliance can quantify the improvement.

Nevertheless, many plants with a lot of reactive maintenance have almost 100% schedule compliance. How can this be? Sometimes, the plant spends a lot of overtime hours on maintenance (which presents opportunities to analyze for improvement). But more often than not, the plant is not fully loading its weekly schedule with 100% of the available labor capacity.

The plant might reason that it “normally has 30% reactive work and 5% unscheduled absenteeism” so it only schedules 65% of its total labor. Then the plant later achieves 100% schedule compliance. It looks like it is in control. It is completing all the work it scheduled. But that doesn’t mean the plant is in control. (Or you might say that in reality, it is 65% in control.)

Consider a more reactive (but not uncommon) plant that normally has 60% reactive work. If it only schedules 40% of its labor resources and achieves 100% schedule compliance, the plant is still in not in control even though it might think it is. Another practice is to fully load the schedule 100%, but allow reactive work to be “sponsored” and therefore count for schedule compliance. In other words, if a reactive job comes up during the week, a manager can say “This job really should not wait and so I’ll sponsor it” and that job can be put on the schedule to replace another scheduled job. In this way, the reactive work can count toward schedule compliance and the plant can say it has 100% compliance.

All of these practices tend to mask plant opportunities to become better in control and more profitable. (Always be suspicious of scores higher than 90%. You might not be properly scheduling.)

In addition, plants that do not fully load schedules might hope that the amount they can schedule will rise as they come more into control. For example, they are scheduling 70% now, but hope the loading will rise to 75%, then 80%, etc. They reason that the normal amount of proactive work they currently complete will eventually cause reactive work to lessen. This notion might be false reasoning, because if the normal amount of ongoing proactive work is not increasing, why would the normal amount of ongoing reactive work fall?

In reality, most of these plants will never complete enough additional proactive work to lessen the incidence of new reactive work. However, plants that do start fully loading schedules with 100% of their labor capacity will start to complete more proactive work than normal. The full schedules challenge crews to complete more work rather than simply to be busy. The full schedules give a crew a proper goal of, “Let’s see if we can complete all this work and identify all the obstacles in our way,” rather than “Does everyone have something to do?” Crews that start off with a proper goal of work become more productive. And most importantly, any extra crew productivity always goes entirely toward extra proactive work (because plants normally manage to do all the reactive work anyway).

Fully load your schedules to maximize productivity to complete more proactive work than a normal plant. See how much of the work you end up completing. Analyze and work to remedy the reasons for less than perfect schedule compliance. The schedule compliance score represents how well you can predict what maintenance you will do next week. It represents how well you are in control of your plant.
Weekly schedule compliance is the ultimate measure of proactive maintenance!

Reference: Crossan, John (1997). Experiences in a corporate maintenance improvement initiative. Discussion during paper presented at Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals Annual Conference, 5–8 October, Pittsburgh, PA.

About the Author: Doc Palmer
About the Author

Doc Palmer | PE, MBA, CMRP

Doc Palmer, PE, MBA, CMRP is the author of McGraw-Hill’s Maintenance Planning and Scheduling Handbook and as managing partner of Richard Palmer and Associates helps companies worldwide with planning and scheduling success. For more information including online help and currently scheduled public workshops, visit www.palmerplanning.com or email Doc at [email protected]. Also visit and subscribe to www.YouTube.com/@docpalmerplanning.

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