MRO Magazine

Believing in pencil and paper

There's an interesting lesson in our cover feature this issue. In Riding Herd (p. 18), a profile of maintenance operations at the Natrel dairy in Quebec, we learn that the company does a great job of ...


December 1, 2000
By Bill Roebuck, Editor

There’s an interesting lesson in our cover feature this issue. In Riding Herd (p. 18), a profile of maintenance operations at the Natrel dairy in Quebec, we learn that the company does a great job of maintenance, albeit with just a pencil and paper system. No sophisticated or costly computerized maintenance management system is used. To some, this methodology might seem to be madness, purely old-fashioned and out of date, but somehow Natrel makes it work. However, the fact that they don’t use a computer doesn’t mean they aren’t using a system.

No-tech maintenance management works for Natrel because there is, in fact, a system in place. That system includes a diligent focus on standard procedures–a set of rules that ensures most maintenance work is planned. In fact, the system is followed with computer-like efficiency. Preventive maintenance inspectors don’t do maintenance–they inspect and report. The key is to get everything written down. That makes sure the work gets done on scheduled downtime, limiting production interruptions.

I’ve heard many stories about companies that have installed the latest and supposedly greatest computerized maintenance management system (CMMS), only to still have maintenance troubles, ongoing downtime and high costs. And that’s after a huge investment in the hardware, software and training required to operate the program.

Why is that? It’s likely that these companies continue to use the same old system for handling maintenance. The expression is so old, it’s trite, but garbage in, garbage out (GIGO) still applies. If you computerize bad maintenance methods, they’re still going to be bad. The computer doesn’t fix anything for you. It’s simply a tool that can execute your maintenance management functions efficiently. But effective and diligent application of a pencil and paper system can do the same, as the staff at Natrel knows.

It’s true that good CMMS systems have helped many, many companies save time and money, and reduce downtime. In this high-tech era, it’s hard to believe you can operate without using a computer, but it’s quite possible and practical.

The lesson to be learned is that, whether you’re computerized or not, if you don’t have a system that works efficiently, you’re likely to have problems with your maintenance operations. Technology is a means to an end, not a solution itself. If, like Natrel, you are very strict about following your system, then it will make maintenance effective and efficient, whether it’s computerized or not.