Podcast: How to make time for planned maintenance while keeping production running

Podcast: How to make time for planned maintenance while keeping production running

March 2, 2024
In this episode of Great Question: A Manufacturing Podcast, author and YouTuber Joe Kuhn says don’t wait to start PMs. There is no better time than right now.

Joe Kuhn, CMRP, former plant manager, engineer, and global reliability consultant, is now president of Lean Driven Reliability LLC. He is the author of the book “Zero to Hero: How to Jumpstart Your Reliability Journey Given Today’s Business Challenges” and the creator of the Joe Kuhn YouTube Channel, which offers content on starting your reliability journey and achieving financial independence. In our monthly podcast miniseries, Ask a Plant Manager, Joe considers a commonplace scenario facing the industry and offers his advice, as well as actions that you can take to get on track tomorrow. This episode offers insight into the four truths you need to believe when beginning planned maintenance (PM).

Below is the transcript of the podcast:

PS: You bet. So last time, we talked about reliability ownership in manufacturing plants and why that distinction is important. If you missed that episode, be sure to go back and check it out. Joe, you have some very strong opinions on that topic. That's all I'll say. But I bring it up, because what we're talking about today, I think is somewhat related. So last month, the topic was very big picture. And if you don't know who owns reliability, be sure to listen to that last podcast. But today, we're going to take that topic and drill down to the nitty gritty of actually starting that reliability program at your facility.

Plants that often want to start a real reliability program are too swamped with emergency work and those reliability initiatives get pushed down the line. So how do plants keep production running, perform unplanned maintenance work that's needed and still find time for PMs? On top of that, how do we time find time for PM optimization? Where do they start?

JK: Yeah, excellent question. And one of the things that I discovered since I retired, my 32-year career with Alcoa, was how common this problem is. It's 100% reactive maintenance. We have no idea where to start. We can't even keep up with our production. How are we going to do PMs, it is extremely common, I would say 85-90% of the clients I've worked with have this situation. So take comfort that you're not alone. But this is solvable. Okay, this is solvable. And I've had to do it a couple of times myself, with my team over my years as a practitioner. And then as a consultant, I've helped several plants as well. 

There are a couple truths that you have to believe going into this, and one of them is not, tomorrow is going to be better, when things calm down, when we get caught up on our emergency work, things are going to get better, and we'll start doing PMs. Things are going to be worse next week, worse next month, if you don't start doing some PMs. That brings me to truth #1, which is the only way to break this cycle is to start doing planned work. That's the only way I have found. Now somebody may have another one, but I've only found that you have to execute planned work. That can be an outage, that could be a PM. That can be problem solving, but it's actual work that you plan to do. 

The second thing is significant waste exist sin your plant. And if you're 100% reactive, I promise, you have overwhelming waste in your plant. Okay, trick #3: the only way to know the waste in your plant is to go out and do something called chalk circle observation. That was derived from Taiichi Ohno out of the Toyota Production System. In simple words, this is go and see, go out and observe. That’s the only way to know the waste in your plant. And I'm talking observations of four hours, eight hours, 24 hours by your leadership team. Sitting around in a conference room with your KPIs and opinions will not reveal what current state is and the real waste that's in your plan. It will not reveal that. But observation will reveal simple free actions you can take in days, if not hours, definitely within a few weeks, under 30 days, a huge list of things you can do in under 30 days, most of the time, that are absolutely free. 

So those are the truths that I have found, and I've documented before and some of my writing. What's interesting to me, is this question around where do we start? We’re 100% reactive maintenance. Where do we start? That only gets asked by people that have not done observation. Once you do observation, so let's say, for example, you and your lead team or maybe you're an engineer, maybe you're a planner, supervisor, if you go out observe your crew, a crew of two mechanics for one full day, and then a second full day, you will have a laundry list of things you can do simply that can improve the efficiency of those two people. 

After you've done some observation, you say, here's what we can do. I have 15 mechanics at my plant, and let's just say for an example, I have nine on day shift, three on afternoons, three on at midnight, 15 people. You’ve done some observations, say there's a lot of sitting around time, a lot of wasted time for these people. What if we pulled one of the day shift people and I've done this a dozen times, two dozen times. You take one of those nine people, and you say, we're just going to pluck them out just like they were on vacation, just like they went out on medical, you're going to pluck them out of the organization. And that person is going to do planned work full time, and you cannot pull them off planned work without the lead team approving it. They're off the table. What do they work on? Well, historically, what are the problem areas in your plants? So maybe you get the 15 mechanics together, a couple supervisors, a couple planners, and you say, what are our recurring problems? And it may be every year, it's lubrication. Every year, we have our number one root cause of our pump failures are motor failures or gearbox failures. We just don't do a good job of lubrication. Okay, now this person, we plucked out, let's say her name Diana. And we say, Diana, we want you to spend eight hours a day, five days a week, doing lubrication routes. That's all you're going to do. All you're going to do is find opportunities, whether planned or say there's an unplanned downtime, where production is going to be down for four hours to make a product change, jump in there, Diana and do these lubrications. So we're going to try to go from 0% compliance on our lubrication PMs, maybe we'll get to 30% this month. 

So that's an example of something you can do for free. You pull them out of the organization, and then that that 30% of PMs, guess what, you have less unplanned downtime next month, and the month after that and the month after that. So what you do then is you pull a second person out, then you pull a third person, and before you know it, you're getting a lot of your PMs done. Starting small is so powerful, just one person doing lubrication or maybe we're going to start laser aligning all of our shafts. We never do that. We put a straight edge on there, and we're going to start laser aligning our shafts. It could be simple things like that. What are the common problems in your plant that you found through input of the experience of people through observation, and you're starting to dedicate people to planned work. Remember that dedicated people to plan to work is truth #1. That's the only way out of your situation. Hope is not a plan. You've got to start doing some planned work. 

Let's say you can't do overtime, say your plant is down every weekend, you can't do overtime for a month. That cost money. But that may be just the primer, you need to get 50 PMs done this month on overtime. Now we're going to have less unplanned downtime next month. And it's really that quick. A lot of your failures won't be that quick. But some of them will. 

Let's see, you could reduce. I don't like doing this, but I know a plant did this. Say your production demand is 50 million pounds, we're going to dial that back to 45 million. We're just going to force it in and we're going to say we don't have the capacity because we have to get ahead of this, and because I believe, three months, six months, nine months from now, we can have a capacity of 55 million if we get our reliability up. So sometimes people just bite the bullet and say we're going to do this work. 

Another thing that I did is, in a plant, they were a manufacturer of tents, doing a lot of sewing, a big operation. But they had, I think, eight or nine mechanics that were responsible for the different machines. Well, they were 100% reactive, but they had some idle time during their day. And there was disagreement on how to do PMs on different pieces of equipment, different theories on these sewing machines versus these radio frequency welders versus these cutting machines. It was just a lot of ideas going around, but there was no system to improve. Well, one of the things I did is I worked with their leadership team, and we got these eight mechanics and we gave them all specific pieces of equipment. You own sewing machines. You own radio frequency for welders. You own the cutters. And then your responsibility is to write the PMs. We didn't even have PMs, where it's 100% reactive. We didn't have any PMs to do, so they started writing the PMs. And they were responsible for executing the PMs. And we tracked that in KPIs, and they loved it, they loved the responsibility. 

Also, I should have started with this observation I spent probably two days with each one of these mechanics, two days with each one. Half the failures, I mentioned this earlier, 50% of the failures were operator caused. The operators had high turnover. The operators weren't trying to destroy the equipment. They just didn't know any better. So we involve the mechanic, say the guy that was or lady that had the sewing machines, was part of the training package for new people coming on. So they got two hours worth of reliability training specifically on this equipment, when to call the mechanic, when to make an adjustment, when to stop using the machine. And that plant, they're unplanned downtime, the last time I talked to them, was down 78% in a year, in a year. 

So equipment owners is something you could do, but it all starts with observation. You start with observation, knowing you got waste, those observations are going to lead you to some simple actions you can take. Maybe it's pulling one person off, maybe it's training operators, having your mechanics train the operators, maybe it's assigning asset owners to your mechanics, give them responsibility for the equipment. So now they've got the authority to design PMs for the rest of the team. They were given authority in a system. Okay, so that's what I wanted to cover. You have to start with the four truths I mentioned. The four truths again: you're only going to get there by doing unplanned work. Okay, so it hoping for anything else doesn't work. My experience 100%, you have to do some more planned work. You’ve got waste in your plant is truth #2. Truth #3 is the only way to know the waste intimately in your plant is to go out and do observation of several hours. And I've done observation as long as three weeks, and I'm not suggesting that. Most of these can be done in four, eight or 16 hours. And then truth #4 is once you know the waste that's in your plant through observation, the actions get easy. It's not what do I do. It's, I know these are the next 10 steps. That will happen. That's my promise to you.

PS: A couple interesting points you made that I want to reiterate, where you do not start a reliability program is in meetings with KPIs and your opinions. And hope is not a plan. I think that's a good point to make. And you gave people a really great plan today and some really simple small ideas on where to start and how to start tomorrow.

JK: One thing, Annna, that I will add is that, you're saying, gosh, Joe, we want to start a reliability journey, and you're talking about waste. Every single best practice, whether it's planning and scheduling, whether it's PdM, PM, problem solving, you name it, every single best practice and reliability and maintenance is targeting waste. So it's how big of a leap of faith is it to say, if we're targeting waste with every tool, we need to know what waste we have in our plant first. This is how you get dramatic results fast. A lot of people just start implementing tools, they start implementing best practices, whether they're attacking a waste in their plant or not. Prioritize the waste in your plant, apply the tool to get results very fast.

PS: And it all starts with that observation. We've heard that before.

JK: Now, Anna, you did ask about optimization. You want me to cover that, right? So for optimization, you come to expect radical ideas for me. And these aren't just ideas. These are ones that I've been using for decades. And this is one that really I fought a lot of culture on this one. And I've had presidents of the company call me telling me I was wrong. This is like in probably the year 2000 on those. PM optimization. You sit down, you say, how do you do a PM optimization? Well, we're going to look at this pump. And we're going to get a team of engineers and maintenance people together on this one pump that we got and we're going to look at failure mode and we're going to look at what PMs we want to do, what predictive maintenance we want to do when design changes. And we're going to write this procedures up. And it's going to take us four days for that one pump. Okay? I've got 1000 assets. That's a journey I don't want to go on. Because I'm expected to make improvements this month, this quarter. And you just gave me a four-hour, four-year plan or five-year plan, working full time to just start. Okay, that's not going to work. Well, in my experience, I broke PM optimization in two phases. And you can use three phases or four phases. Typically, I've used three, but phase one, and I apologize for this title, but it's really impactful for people. Phase one is eliminate stupid. So that means spend one minute on your each PM, one minute, and look for the really dumb things that you have going on in it. 

For example, it says this is a four-hour PM, and you look at it, you say that there's no way for this to take over an hour, but they put in four hours, just in case there's corrective work. Now, that's not what a PM is for. Just do the PM. Let's put one hour in there. Okay, now, it has three people assigned to it. Three, why three? I mean, two people can do that easily. Okay, that's stupid. And then what we did this PM every week, why every week? Well, that's because we had a quality issue 10 years ago, and the plant manager said I want some mechanic looking at that every week. And we've been doing that for 10 years. Okay, let's change it back to monthly. Okay, so that's PM optimization. Phase one, quickly look at the embarrassing things that just make no sense at all that you're doing. I'm telling you, you'll make a big bite out of your PMs by doing this. I've seen 20-30% of the hours gone, 20 or 30% gone with PM Kaizen, we would call them Kaizen, but PM optimization. 

Okay, now, everybody's a little reluctant to do one, but once you get going you get a little confidence. So you go PM Kaizen/optimization to let's spend five minutes on each one. Let's go a little bit deeper. Let's read. Is there some parts and pieces or equipment that's missing? Steps out of order? Let's spend a little more time on that, and another 20-30% comes out. I've gone through phase one and phase two and have eliminated 50% of the PM hours. This is how you start. 

Then, you go into phase three. You may sit down with your critical assets. You may sit down for a day on each one of those. So it's a critical pump, a critical gearbox. You may want to do that because we don't have a spare or this is a bottleneck for the production centers. Spend a little more time on that. But the meat is in this PM Kaizen one and two, going after it real fast. That's where you get the momentum. And imagine you have 10 people working on PMs now. And then you can get those same number of PMs done with five people. Now, you got five people to do something with. What do you want to do? Do you want to do more planned work? Do you want to add condition monitoring? Do you want to create a lube expert? Do you want to do problem solving? Whatever you want to do with those five people, but again it starts very small. 

Let's eliminate. Let’s just take out PMs that make no sense at all. Sometimes this happens at a lot of plants. They'll have a lubrication route where they're doing oil sampling. This happened at my plant, so we were doing oil sampling every month and we also had another PM to change the oil every month. That makes no sense at all, and I promise they're in your plant too. So that's where I was would start. That's where I'd start with really, really small. Can you dedicate one minute to every PM in your plant? How long is that going to take you to do? I assembled a team of people. We went off-site. We had maybe eight people in a room. We had different tables, two people to a table. Some people have mechanical PMs. Some had electrical PMs, and we were going through really fast, in a day went through PM Kaizen optimization one. And yeah, 20% reduction in hours in a day, that's pretty good return on investment.

PS: Yeah, that's great advice. I think any big project like that can be overwhelming in terms of where do I start? And if you break it down into stages, and then in those early stages, if you're getting that immediate feedback and seeing progress, it's going to fuel the rest of the journey. 

JK: A lot of engineers, I've had trouble with engineers and management people saying, if you're going to do something, you might as well do an excellent job on it. Well, PM optimization one is not doing an excellent job. It's just cutting off the fat. So a lot of people had problem with that. So I expect to have some pushback. But say, hey, let's just do this. Let's see what the results are, and you'll be shocked.

PS: And you’re not alone, Joe’s here to support you. All right. Well, thank you. Joe is always that was wonderful. That was really great, detailed advice for people on how to get started. And as always, we really appreciate you sharing your experiences with us.

JK: All right, I enjoyed being here, Anna, and I look forward to next time.

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About the Podcast
Great Question: A Manufacturing Podcast offers news and information for the people who make, store and move things and those who manage and maintain the facilities where that work gets done. Manufacturers from chemical producers to automakers to machine shops can listen for critical insights into the technologies, economic conditions and best practices that can influence how to best run facilities to reach operational excellence.

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About the Author

Anna Townshend | managing editor

Anna Townshend has been a journalist and editor for almost 20 years. She joined Control Design and Plant Services as managing editor in June 2020. Previously, for more than 10 years, she was the editor of Marina Dock Age and International Dredging Review. In addition to writing and editing thousands of articles in her career, she has been an active speaker on industry panels and presentations, as well as host for the Tool Belt and Control Intelligence podcasts. Email her at [email protected].

About the Author

Joe Kuhn | CMRP

Joe Kuhn, CMRP, former plant manager, engineer, and global reliability consultant, is now president of Lean Driven Reliability LLC. He is the author of the book “Zero to Hero: How to Jumpstart Your Reliability Journey Given Today’s Business Challenges” and the creator of the Joe Kuhn YouTube Channel, which offers content on creating a reliability culture as well as financial independence to help you retire early. Contact Joe Kuhn at [email protected].

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