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Beginning a Maintenance Strategy: Proactive Maintenance


There are many organizations that reduced the size of their maintenance organization and focused strictly on a “fix-it-when-it-breaks” strategy during the recession.

Now, as the recession is starting to ease, companies are beginning to review their maintenance organizations and are focusing on implementing a proactive approach to equipment/asset management. 

Unfortunately, they may have found that much of the expertise in the maintenance discipline was dismissed or had retired during the recession. They are now promoting new, talented managers into the maintenance organization who lack the expertise to implement a proactive approach to maintenance. These new managers, much to their credit, are trying to get up to speed as quickly as possible, by reading and attending conferences (such as MainTrain this September in Fort McMurray). However, they are being presented such a quantity of improvement methodologies that it all seems to be confusing, and this confusion has slowed the improvements needed in their organizations. 

In reality, it doesn’t really matter what the three-to-five-year vision for the maintenance organization is — the starting point for all strategic maintenance initiatives is developing a proactive maintenance philosophy. You may ask, “Why do we need to start there?” The answer is twofold:

Don’t be Reactive
It is important to develop a proactive mentality. When an organization has been running in reactive mode for even a short time period, it develops a reward-and-recognition system for reactive behaviors. In a reactive environment, the “Hero” is rewarded. And who is this “Hero,” you may ask? It’s the maintenance technician that can fix any piece of equipment in the shortest time and will insure it runs through the current shift. It doesn’t matter how long the equipment lasts beyond the end of the shift because the operations and maintenance people on the next shift can worry about how to keep it running. The “Hero” is rewarded with extra perks, such as miscellaneous supplies (provided by both maintenance and operations managers) and perhaps an occasional dinner for them and their spouse. This reactive behavior feeds on itself and the entire organization moves down that path.  Reactive maintenance becomes the organizational culture despite the fact tasks performed in a reactive mode will cost anywhere from two to four times more than when done proactively.

It Takes Time to Change Culture
Changing a culture takes time and management focus. When the managers begin to reward proactive behaviors, such as “Do It Right The First Time (DIRT-FT)” and good craft/skill behaviours, the employees begin to notice. Once they are convinced that management is going to “walk the talk” when it comes to proactive maintenance, they slowly begin to change. This change does not happen in a week or month; rather, it may take years.

Any change of management personnel (maintenance, operations, engineering or plant) can easily sidetrack progress. In some cases, organizations that have become proactive have regressed when a key manager was replaced with another, who brought a reactive philosophy with them. In some cases, the maintenance and operations employees have had to educate the new manager on the value of proactive maintenance versus reactive maintenance.

Show Me the Money
With this in mind, what is the financial benefit of proactive maintenance compared to reactive maintenance? What are some of the basic maintenance items that should be included in a preventive maintenance program?

These questions will be topics for discussion in the next two newsletters. Stay tuned.


Terry Wireman is senior vice-president of Vesta Partners LLC. You can reach him at twireman@vestapartners.com.

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