MRO Magazine

Failure & Success in maintenance operations

MRO Magazine   

As we get close to the end of another year, I thought it was a good time to review the ups and downs of the past months. In our business, we've seen some great success stories and experienced a few di...

As we get close to the end of another year, I thought it was a good time to review the ups and downs of the past months. In our business, we’ve seen some great success stories and experienced a few disappointments. There have been challenges along the way and some people have overcome them, while others have struggled.

Every location we visit is different, yet they tend to have the same issues. Many of our customers say, “Bet you have never heard this problem before.” We generally nod and smile, not wanting to say that we’ve heard it 10 times this month.

We don’t want to minimize their problems in any way because these problems and issues are real to these people; they deal with them every day. The solutions are often different at every location because of manpower, budgets, etc. However there are times when we can transplant solutions that worked elsewhere. Sometimes the solutions are simple and easy to implement, other times they require a lot of effort and dedication.

So lets take a few minutes to examine some highlights from this past year.


Challenging stories

As I said, there are some facilities that have struggled with their CMMS solutions for one reason or another. Usually it happens when the solutions are time-consuming to implement and require that extra effort and commitment. We have seen world-class storerooms that are still in the early stages of development, even though it’s been months since the re-organization plan has been set. In these cases, the level of commitment and the time needed are in short supply. Not realizing or believing that a storeroom reorganization can take six to nine months, they fall behind in the project.

Several of our customers face this problem and continue to plug along at a snail’s pace.

Why is this so bad? Well, it’s mostly because of the frustration level it creates. The storeroom is in turmoil; parts are everywhere as the re-organization slowly moves forward. Craftspeople complain that beforehand, they knew roughly where to look for a part, and now they can’t find anything. Of course this adds to the downtime and doesn’t paint a very rosy picture in the eyes of the production department.

I bet everyone reading this article has seen storeroom re-organizations that were started and never finished. I’ve had craftspeople tell me they’ve seen this happen two to three times and still, the storeroom project was never finished.

My advice for those places that struggle is this: please persevere. Follow the plan, commit to it, and get the storeroom done as soon as possible. Then determine how to keep it organized. We’ve seen beautiful stockrooms completed, then later fall back into their previous state because no one looked after them.

Success stories

A bakery we work with in Nova Scotia that produces loaves of bread and buns continues to be the model for the rest of this large organization.

Two years ago we re-implemented its CMMS and turned its parts storage into a world-class storeroom.

The CMMS was re-introduced and we helped this company develop workflow and processes to manage its PMs, work orders, inventory and purchasing.

The storeroom, which previously caused a scavenger hunt every time someone needed parts, is still in pristine condition. After two years, the staff can still find the parts they need in approximately one minute.

This plant’s PM work order completion rate is the highest in the company, boasting nearly 100%. Work order backlog is held at a very low percentage and items are rescheduled promptly. A work order staging area still acts as an integral part of the work order planning and scheduling activities. The teamwork approach to getting work completed on time still lingers on and is a success story all on its own, thanks to the efforts and commitment of the maintenance staff.

With a second year under their belt since the changes were made, they know there’s no turning back. They’re at the top of the heap and want to stay there.

A wallboard plant in Wyoming stands out to me as another plant moving ahead and not looking back.

Since a new maintenance manager took the helm just over a year ago, the maintenance team has brought a whole new meaning to customer-focused maintenance.

This lady — yes guys, a lady, one of the very few female maintenance managers I know of — has worked extremely hard to cultivate a customer-focused approach to maintenance.

Many maintenance departments seem to want to dictate what their staff will work on, unless, of course, it’s a breakdown. Maintenance days, when a production line is down, usually focus on what the maintenance department feels is the highest priority.

But not at this plant. A meeting is held several days before the actual maintenance day, and believe me it’s customer focused.

On a large whiteboard, the maintenance planner records what each production department would like to see done during the downtime.

Every item is placed into a slot on the whiteboard, along with the estimated time and man-hours needed.

After — and only after– the non-maintenance departments have their concerns recorded, does the planner reveal what the maintenance department would like to schedule during the same period.

If there are conflicts or more work than available time and man-hours, then the group negotiates and makes compromises to ensure that the work plan is the best for the plant.

Mary, the maintenance manager, says it took her considerable time to let go of complete ownership of the equipment. “I had to realize that the production department is our customer and they actually own the equipment. Months ago it was difficult to get the other departments to participate in the planning meeting. Since we took the new approach to equipment ownership, it’s a whole new discussion. Everyone has equal ownership and equal say in what happens during maintenance days. It’s all about communications.”

As you can see, this plant has found the key to teamwork. with everyone involved, where every person takes responsibility and with one goal in mind: Make our plant the best it can be.

One of the most exciting developments in the past year is the shift in emphasis to the maintenance department and all of its activities. In many manufacturing sectors there has been money made available to update and develop the craftspeople and maintenance resources.

The purchases can include CMMS software as well as the organization of storerooms with new shelving, bins and labelling. PM instructions are being reviewed and updated. Equipment is being studied to identify critical components and ensure they are on the PM list — and making sure these parts are in stock in case of an equipment failure.

Time-based replacement of parts is being adopted where parts are changed before they fail. Trend analysis and mean time between failures (MTBF) are studied so recurring problems are identified and corrected. Craftspeople are being trained in new maintenance technologies to help troubleshoot more sophisticated equipment.

Root Cause Analysis is done on each and every breakdown to repair it for forever. This alone has improved equipment reliability tenfold. Finally, many companies are realizing that, in the maintenance departments where money is spent, money is saved in equipment uptime and productivity. The return on this investment is very impressive in all of the cases I’ve seen.

So there we go. It was a great year overall. Those who have struggled have the next 12 months to focus on their issues, develop corrective actions and monitor their progress. And maybe next year they will get to be in the success column.

Peter Phillips of Trailwalk Holdings, a CMMS consulting and training company, can be reached at 902-798-3601 or by e-mail at


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