MRO Magazine

Moving from Reactive to Proactive

By Cliff Williams   

Human Resources Machinery and Equipment Maintenance Operations

This article is part of an ongoing series. The introduction appeared in Machinery & Equipment MRO’s February 2005 issue and the series has run in every issue since. Previous instalments are archived online at This...

This article is part of an ongoing series. The introduction appeared in Machinery & Equipment MRO’s February 2005 issue and the series has run in every issue since. Previous instalments are archived online at This month, we pick up where we left off in the September 2011 edition, as maintenance manager Bob Edwards begins to see new efficiencies from ideas brought forward by his maintenance team and also has a chance to celebrate a new milestone.

We were into the second week after we had taken one millwright off-shift and there didn’t seem to be any problems. This meant I had to ensure that we made the best use of the extra guys on the dayshift, which brought me to a problem.

Pete, a millwright, had commissioned the hydraulics for the mill and was acknowledged as being the ‘expert’. One of the prompts for bringing the guys off-shift was his commitment to develop troubleshooting hints and training for all of the group. He also had been heavily involved with John, the vibration consultant, from the beginning, and he was just about to go on a training course with Ivan, another millwright, with a view to taking over John’s role of interpreting the online vibration readings and taking hand-held measurements. There was no way he was going to have the time to do both, and we had four extra guys who were looking to take on more responsibility.

I talked with Pete and asked what he thought.


“I think this is simple, Bob. Even though I really enjoy learning with John, Ivan also works with him and – as we’re just starting to take over his role – it’s easier for someone else to get involved now. On the other hand, I had great training and experience when I was commissioning the mill hydraulics with the manufacturer’s reps – and that can’t be gained by anyone – so I guess I’ll take on the responsibility for developing new hydraulic training and troubleshooting guides.”

“Thanks, Pete. That makes it easier. Now I just have to figure out which of the guys I should send on the vibration training with Ivan.”

I went down to the workshop where most of the day millwrights were gathered. I explained what Pete and I had talked about and asked if anyone had a particular interest in taking over the vibration role. I was quite surprised when Terry, who rarely said anything unless specifically asked, volunteered.

“I’ve been taking some online courses on vibration – I find it really interesting – so if possible I’d like to take this course.”

The other millwrights seemed okay with this and in fact, some of them seemed relieved that Terry had volunteered, so I asked a second time.

“Anyone else interested?” and when nobody replied, I asked, “Why is nobody else interested in this?”

It was Steve, Terry’s ex-partner on shift, who spoke up.

“We know that vibration is important, Bob, but some of us still want to take pride in our trade skills. Remember when we talked about taking people off-shift, I mentioned that we could do the major gearbox rebuilds in-house, instead of sending them out? With just a little bit of investment in some tools, I’m sure we could save the company quite a bit of money. Those are complex rebuilds and we’d get great job satisfaction out of it, as well as help the cause.”

Again, I thought about how people were different and needed different types of motivation and that made my reply an easy one.

“That’s a good idea. Steve, will you make up a list of what you need? I’ll do the rest.”

That seemed to take care of my first issue of the day and as I made my way over to see Carol in the reliability engineer’s office, I thought about how things had changed for me. Without realizing it, my workload had become less pressured; I seemed to have more time to think about the future and how we wanted things to be. It suddenly dawned on me that we had made the change – or at least had started to – from being reactive into being proactive.

When I reached Carol’s office, I asked if she had the most recent gearbox rebuild reports. When she laid them out on the desk, we saw that the cost averaged $25,000 each.

“Steve was right; this will save us around $100,000 a year, as we usually send out four of the 12 that we have in service. Another benefit is that we will still have the gearboxes in-house, since when we send them out, it usually takes a week each way.”

“Have you seen this, Bob?” Carol showed me a sheet that listed several questions:

• What component failed?

• What signs were there before the failure?

• What specific repair was required?

• What was the failure mode?

• Were there checks/PMs in place to identify this failure mode?

• What root cause was found from asking the 5 Whys?

“No I haven’t. Where did you get it?”

“Ben asked me to set something up. He said he’d mentioned it to you.”

“He did mention that he’d been thinking about breakdown analysis, but I didn’t think he’d actually formulated something. This looks as if it might work.”

“It’s actually very good, as he also suggested that the analysis be carried out by the operators and the tradespeople. That way, we’d get better information in answer to, “What signs were there before the failure.” We can then set up some way of monitoring the signs. He also made sure that there was a tie-in to the failure codes we have in the CMMS, so we could pull out some meaningful reports.”

“Well, let’s get this set up and we’ll have Ben do some training for the guys. Can you help him with that, Carol? You know – how to tie it in to the CMMS and such.”

As I sat in my office, I thought about how Corporate would be happy with what we’ve achieved and I was certainly proud of what the guys had done. I started to wonder about how the guys felt about it all – how they felt about the changes, how they felt about what I had been doing, and how they felt about the way I’d been doing it.

I realize that I hadn’t really had a structured way of giving feedback. We had held meetings, but that meant that they had to bring up the subject in that setting, and that didn’t happen, so I then thought of how I could get their comments.

I decided that I would give them a questionnaire that they could fill out, and then I would set aside 15 minutes with each of them to go over their answers. After a while, I settled on the questions.

• What are the biggest challenges you face because of the changes in how we work?

• How can I help you with the challenges?

• What am I doing that I should do more of?

• What am I doing that I should do less of?

• What three things are we going to work on? (This was to be developed at the meeting.)

I decided to call it the ‘15 Minutes of Fame’, as I wanted them to understand that this was the time for them to be in the spotlight, the 15 minutes was theirs, and that they should feel free to bring up anything they liked.

I scheduled a big meeting for the following Tuesday so that I could roll out the concept and explain what I was trying to achieve, which was making sure we carried on in the direction we were already going. There were some curious looks when I posted the notice of the meeting and they saw the agenda was about ‘15 Minutes of Fame’, but I didn’t give anyone any hints as to what was involved.

The weekend came and went with no upsets at the mill, so I was more than curious myself when I arrived at work on Monday morning and found a message in my voice mail from Joe, the plant manager. “Bob, please make sure you’re in the meeting room 15 minutes early. There’s something important I need to talk about with everyone.”

When I did get to the meeting room, there was a qui
te a buzz as everyone tried to figure out what was going on – all except Fred, the production manager, who just sat there with a hint of a smirk on his face. This helped me relax a little, as there was no way that Fred would be so calm if there was a major problem. I wondered what he knew that we didn’t.

When Joe arrived, he was carrying a large box, which he set on the table.

“I asked you all to come a little early so I could talk about our progress on Project 600.”

He stopped talking and quickly opened the box, pulling out a large cake.

“And what I wanted to say was, we did it! Last week we averaged 600 tonnes per day! Congratulations!”

Everyone started cheering and shaking hands as Joe cut the cake.

“I’ve already let Corporate know and they’ll be sending some communication through later today,” Joe added. “There are cakes for each department and one for each of the shifts. You should all be proud of what you’ve achieved, but you also need to remember that this must be the first of many accomplishments. We’ll work on that together, but for now, enjoy your achievement.”


Cliff Williams is the corporate maintenance manager at Erco Worldwide in Toronto, ON, and a consultant with TMS – Total Maintenance Solutions Inc., Markham, ON. He can be reached by e-mail at


Stories continue below

Print this page