MRO Magazine

Calling in on the Maintenance Doctor

By Carroll McCormick   

I met Peter Phillips in 1999 while profiling a maintenance team in a Nova Scotia food processing plant. He had been parachuted in for a few months to bring the plant's maintenance practices, as one em...

I met Peter Phillips in 1999 while profiling a maintenance team in a Nova Scotia food processing plant. He had been parachuted in for a few months to bring the plant’s maintenance practices, as one employee put it, “from the Stone Age to the modern world.”

By that time Phillips had been a full-time maintenance consultant for five years: After 20 years with Michelin Tire Canada Ltd. in Nova Scotia, he had set up shop in 1994 under the name of Trailwalk Holdings Ltd. in his hometown of Windsor in the same province.

He earned his certified industrial mechanic ticket in 1982 at Michelin’s school in Granton, near New Glasgow, his certified industrial electrician papers in 1985 and a diploma in adult education in 1993. While with Michelin he consulted part-time, taught the industrial pneumatic course at the Kentville Community College and taught needs assessment training in an extension program at Acadia University. By the time he left, he was the preventive maintenance co-ordinator in Michelin’s Bridgewater tire plant.

Phillips runs Trailwalk with his wife Linda, who does the bookkeeping and logistics, and Sherrill Spicer, a maintenance training consultant. His consulting work has taken him to every province except Saskatchewan, most of the U. S. states and on many trips to England. “We are hired by a lot of companies who have us assess their needs, pick the right computerized maintenance management system and help them launch it,” he says.


I caught up with Phillips in Nova Scotia this summer for a chat about the world of machinery maintenance.

Carroll McCormick: Why do so many maintenance teams struggle with the basics?

Peter Phillips: One of the biggest things is that maintenance teams have always been seen as a cost centre. They are struggling because they haven’t had upper management support and haven’t had the money. As long as equipment is running to a certain degree, companies are happy.

CM: But isn’t maintenance really a profit centre or profit enabler?

PP: Companies are starting to clue in to the fact that the maintenance department is where the money is … that if they want to save money and increase production, they have to start spending more on maintenance.

CM: What neglected areas of maintenance departments have you been focussing on recently?

PP: Storekeepers are coming back, because well-organized storerooms save thousands and thousands of dollars. This is why we are getting so involved in storerooms these days. Companies are also doing more maintenance planning. I say that planners are free. They pay for themselves over and over.

CM: I have visited plants where there are no storekeepers.

PP: I bet that storerooms without storekeepers are disasters.

CM: I visited a plant where it used to be faster to fetch a part from Canadian Tire than try to find it in the storeroom.

PP: I’ve seen it right up to last week. The day before a scheduled maintenance, they are still trying to find those parts. A typical storeroom looks like a garbage truck has come in and dumped some trash — old and new parts mixed together. One plant manager couldn’t see the value in revamping the storeroom. But after about halfway through my consultation work with that company, he admitted, “I was wrong.” You can’t do anything without parts. You can’t repair, do PM or plan a job without parts.

CM: A maintenance department decides it needs your help. How do you approach a new case?

PP: First, we give the company a launch kit — an invention that we developed — that outlines and instructs companies on about 30 days worth of work they must do before we ever come in and help them. There is nothing we hate worse than going into a place and not being used effectively. The kit requires a company to go through the process of what it wants to do and how to do it, to start organizing their storeroom, to name their parts, and to review and commission PMs. Equipment, parts and PMs are the three big things they must cover. Before we go anywhere, we produce a full agenda of what is going to be happening every day. We want to use our time and their time as effectively as possible.

CM: Do you go in with ‘both guns-a-blazin’?

PP: We seldom dictate. We ask them what they think the best way is to do it. Ninety per cent of guys are gung-ho for this kind of stuff. They will say “It’s about time.” We make sure the maintenance guys are in the mix.

CM: Is this a one-day thing?

PP: At first, we will visit every month over several months, and then maybe quarterly … we have a fairly long-term relationship with our people. For one company in Ontario, we put together a two-to three-year plan and a budget.

CM: Does the cure always take?

PP: Sometimes an implementation falls apart. Many places do not do their homework. Many places say “Maintenance is too busy to help.” You need support from the plant manager.

CM: I have heard about culture clashes, where guys resist buying into modern maintenance practices.

PP: A lot of old-school guys are nervous about ‘fix it forever’ maintenance. They think they are there for reactive maintenance. “If it doesn’t break, we won’t have a job!” they say. Some of the guys are scared to death you will take their jobs away. But this is the furthest concept from the truth that you can imagine. Most guys will say, “We have so many projects that we want to do, but we don’t have the time.” They don’t like to be running out, fixing things, with someone breathing down their necks, asking “Is it ready yet? Is it ready yet?”

CM: Are there maintenance problems or themes that come up over and over?

PP: One of the biggest things we see is work order planning and scheduling. We will walk into a place and there will be 300 open work orders, and they will have no idea where they are with them, who is working on them, or if they are completed or not. This all comes down to work order management. We would just delete the work orders. You know what? Six months later they were right back there again. Over the years we saw that 40-60% of companies had no idea where they were.

CM: I’m getting a headache. What do you do?

PP: We help them develop the work order management flow. We sit down with our customer to figure out work order flow or process flow of where the work order goes and who is responsible for it. We teach them to ask questions like: “Does the work order make sense? Does it need parts or planning? Who is going to get these parts? Do you have the parts? Who receives the parts and connects them to the work order? How is the work scheduled?” We work all the way through that. You make them decide who is doing what. Once everyone knows what their part is and how work moves along, it gets done. It is phenomenal what this does for our customers.

CM: Do you still find good-sized companies with no CMMS?

PP: Oh my God yes! We are working with a company with eight facilities in the Maritimes and it has no CMMS. One of our biggest customers has 38 plants in Canada and we just have had a CMMS put in eight of them in the past two years.

CM: Do you think that there is no manufacturing plant too small to have a CMMS?

PP: If not, they are missing out. In many plants the maintenance plan is in people’s heads. There is no maintenance history. Even a small company can use a CMMS. If someone retires or gets hurt, the information is all in the CMMS. You can buy a program for $3,000.

CM: Do you think PM is sometimes overemphasized?

PP: I was at a plant th
at ran 24/7 with a 12-hour maintenance day each week. But for the past year, they have cut back to three to four production days a week. Yet they were still doing their PM as though they were running 24/7 — doing 100% of their PM while running 50% of the time. A lot of PM frequencies could be halved.

CM: Aside from increased uptime and productivity, what can a maintenance team with a smooth-running department look forward to?

PP: Predictive maintenance is a lot more fun than reactive maintenance. Once the department and equipment are running well, there is always more work to do, such as scheduled improvements to make equipment more reliable and improve machine processes.

Montreal-based Carroll McCormick is the senior contributing editor for Machinery & Equipment MRO.


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