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When I was working as a maintenance supervisor about 10 years ago, the company was developing a team approach philosophy. The plant manager warned us that because of all the changes that were taking p...


November 1, 2000
By John Lambert

When I was working as a maintenance supervisor about 10 years ago, the company was developing a team approach philosophy. The plant manager warned us that because of all the changes that were taking place in the manufacturing industry, we also had to change or we would follow the Titanic. The system we were going to use was the Total Quality Management (TQM) System (the team approach), which was in vogue at the time. We developed a vision statement, a mission statement, and a goal for just about everything.

I was one of the three trainers who were responsible for implementation of the system. I had to train the maintenance and engineering departments, a group of about 50 people. At the same time I had just finished some training in Reliability Centred Maintenance (RCM) and thought this would be a good opportunity to start to implement this system, combining it with our team approach philosophy.

By this time almost everyone had been told that the world was changing, and that we had to get used to change, to embrace change, and even to be challenged by change. This, of course, included the world of maintenance.

But has it changed? The basic systems in the world of maintenance are still the same. Conveyors still move products and pumps still move fluids. Compressors, steam generators, gearboxes, etc., are all basically the same as they have been for many years. It’s true that the way we control and monitor their performance has changed a great deal, but the basic nuts and bolts of the equipment are still the same. If a production line goes down because a pump has failed, it does not matter how sophisticated the controlling system is; it will still take X amount of wrench time to replace that pump.

Our maintenance department was responsible for the operating efficiency of the production line and to do this we had to work within our own operating budget. In those days of limited manpower, you had to be very careful just how many cross-functional team meetings you could send your maintenance team to. You had to make decisions regularly on where to get the best bang for your buck.

The fact is that the greatest causes of change that have affected maintenance departments have been those made in the production department, because it is under pressure to deliver. Production needs the maximum plant capacity available or it cannot produce the maximum amount. So the pressure is on, and it’s put on maintenance.

Capacity is maintenance’s product

As a result, you can say that maintenance now has a product, which is capacity. Supposedly, maintenance is now an equal partner with production, although they don’t have the equal budget. They are charged with eliminating downtime and guaranteeing uptime by maintaining the company’s assets. This is very hard to do without adequate budget money.

I realize that I’m making general comments and that there are some maintenance departments which do have a decent size budget, but sadly they are few and far between. I have seen thousands of dollars spent on items in the hope that they might improve one of production’s processors. I have also seen maintenance departments unable to purchase a needed tool because they did not have the time to do the complicated justification of a small capital item.

There is a cost to maintaining a company’s assets and we all use some sort of maintenance strategy to do it. However, it’s economics that controls which strategy you are using, not choice. It’s what you can afford. It takes time (and time is money) to do it right the first time. It takes even more time (and more money) to have to redo something.

The trick is to balance what you need with what you can afford for the best result. This is not easy to do when you have to follow the company rules and set up more training, more teams, look after your customers (production), and keep the maintenance shop well stocked with tools, hardware and spare parts. By default or design you choose a strategy to help.

Maintenance strategies

I won’t bore you with an in-depth description of all the strategies we use in our industry but I will make some comments on some of them.

Reactive Maintenance: It also can be called Run-to-Failure maintenance, Why Me? maintenance, Oh-No-Not-Again maintenance, or Hysterical maintenance (I call it Adventure maintenance). Unfortunately, this is the system that the vast majority of companies use today, although not by choice. This is where the equipment controls you and you react to the breakdown.

Strangely enough, the truth is that many of the guys in the shop like this form of maintenance. They get to be a hero for the day. If it’s a call-in, what the heck, it’s at premium time. There may even be a note placed on the notice board thanking maintenance for its fast response in getting Line One up and running. But this is a very expensive form of maintenance. I can understand one or two machines being run this way. For instance, if production simply cannot give up the machine for maintenance and a conscious decision is made to run it to failure because the end justifies the means, then it is a good decision. But it’s not wise to run the whole plant this way.

Preventive Maintenance: PM is designed to prevent failure by using routine inspections. One benefit is that you can compile a history of your equipment. If done properly, you will know its condition. If not, you find you are still in Reactive Maintenance. I can remember when we had a maintenance office clerk who kept meticulous PM records. Today companies don’t have people like this–they don’t have the resources to maintain record keeping. Nor do all companies have a top-drawer CMMS.

Predictive Maintenance: The concept behind PdM is based on the fact that most machines give some warning of their impending failure. Predictive Maintenance is based on measurement, and this is good because to measure is to control. Using measurements of vibration, temperature, contamination, etc., you can control–and schedule–downtime. This obviously is good, but I have a concern with the way it’s usually done.

Pro-active Maintenance: This method is at the top of the pile. It requires a full toolbox of top-of-the-line predictive maintenance technologies, such as vibration spectrum analysis, to name one. The goal is to completely eliminate Reactive Maintenance. It entails continuous monitoring of some equipment using online sensors. By using multifaceted technologies, you can perform root cause analysis on any equipment failures. With this knowledge you can re-engineer equipment to remove any inherent flaws. This is like maintenance Utopia. You can now wrap all of these strategies together in the form of a systematic approach such as RCM or a team approach such as TPM.

Getting to the basics

If you get to this point, I assure you everyone will live happily ever after. It seems quite simple, doesn’t it? But is it simple? I think that in truth there is another form of maintenance called Reality Maintenance. I believe that the vast majority of maintenance departments are still operating somewhere between the reactive and preventive modes of maintenance. There are some that have developed strong programs in the predictive mode, but not many, and even fewer have moved into the pro-active mode.

The reason for this lack of implementation is economics. Back in the good old days, before downsizing and organizational cutbacks, companies were able to buy expensive equipment such as vibration analysis instruments. But what they could not afford was the high cost of training their staff to the level of expert and that’s what you need to get the full value from this type of instrument. It’s a Catch 22 scenario–if you are short of firefighters and have a lot of fires, it’s very costly to send the ones you do have to a team meeting or to training, even though you want to.

I believe there is a simpler approach to maintenance. Just like the old coach who likes to return to basics, I believe the world of maintenance should do the same. It seems that we have over-complicated the issues and ignored one
of the most critical aspects of maintenance, which is the initial installation of the equipment. This is the key to a successful maintenance program.

You must ensure that V-belts are aligned, that sheaves and sprockets are installed with no runout, that shafts are precision-aligned, thermal growth is compensated for, and soft foot is corrected in all your equipment. This includes cylinders, air motors, bearing housings, and more. With the help of simple, low-cost monitoring systems, such as vibration meters, ultrasonic inspection and oil monitoring, you can track trends and react to the condition of your equipment. Then you will be taking a pro-active approach to maintenance. You will be preventing a failure rather than waiting to do a root cause analysis after the fact. Why should you spend time predicting when a bearing will fail? If it is the right size bearing and it is installed correctly and lubricated properly, it won’t fail.

I firmly believe in prevention and in doing work right the first time. I’m not opposed to the World-Class Maintenance ideas that I read about, but I’m convinced, that if this is where you want to go, you should have a very strong foothold in preventive maintenance techniques before you make the leap.

During the past 30 years, the cost of maintenance has increased from near insignificance to the top cost-control priority. For example, the DuPont Company says plant maintenance is its single largest controllable cost. The best way to control costs is with prevention.

In the old days mechanics didn’t like doing PMs because it was boring work. Basically they were just putting a check mark into the appropriate box. Well, with all the new maintenance tools and technologies available, PMs can be exciting. I know that sounds corny, but with the use of simple instruments you can begin to take measurements. You become involved in monitoring the condition of the equipment.

It also helps to set some simple goals. Mine was to get the full life expectancy from every bearing in our plant. Ask your bearing supplier about the life expectancy of a bearing–you may be surprised at the answer. Here’s an example: In one of the critical areas of our plant that had four high-speed fans using 4-in. fan shafts supported by pillow block bearings, we went from replacing the eight bearings every year to once every five years. This was the direct result of our alignment and balancing program. The reason we replaced them in the fifth year was due to the plant scheduled rebuild.

Before your next Total Based Goal or Centered Reliability Mission meeting, think about a simple ounce of prevention that may save you a pound of frustration.

Maintenance specialist John Lambert operates Benchmark Maintenance Services in Toronto.