MRO Magazine


Overcoming PM challenges

I have the opportunity to visit many industrial facilities in the run of a year and get to see many common problems as I work with their maintenance departments. A common issue I see is maintenance departments trying to find the time to do...

I have the opportunity to visit many industrial facilities in the run of a year and get to see many common problems as I work with their maintenance departments. A common issue I see is maintenance departments trying to find the time to do preventive maintenance (PM).

Why is finding the time for this important task a problem? There are several reasons, however, the top three are: 1. Production is not releasing the equipment for maintenance work. 2. There are not enough available maintenance labour hours. 3. Maintenance is too busy repairing breakdowns. Let’s look at these in order.

1. Production schedules: Although the maintenance department can request to have the equipment released for preventive maintenance, the production department may refuse in order to meet customer demands.

Beyond expressing the importance of completing preventive maintenance, there is little maintenance can do if the equipment is not released. In situations like this, a maintenance department needs to become more creative. Here is a solution for this problem that other North American facilities have used: Break the PMs into two categories – running and downtime.

Running PMs are tasks that can be done during normal equipment operation. Running PMs require attention to detail. Abnormal noises, heat, vibration, etc., indicate problems that either need to be addressed immediately or can wait for scheduled downtime.

Downtime PMs are tasks that need the equipment out of service. When there is limited time available to complete the necessary checks, these PMs need to be very focused. The available time needs to be used to thoroughly check the equipment components that can cause breakdowns.

It is my experience that when these two PM categories are adopted, four things occur:

a) PMs become more focused.

b) The time the equipment needs to be out of service for preventive maintenance is reduced.

c) Production is more likely to release equipment because of the reduced time it takes to do the PM.

d) As a result, the equipment becomes more reliable.

2. Not enough maintenance hours: Everyone will agree about the importance of doing preventive maintenance. Supervisors will develop basic and detailed checklists and determine the frequency the PM must be performed and the labour hours required to carry out the PM task.

However, when everything is ready to implement, maintenance realizes that they do not have enough available man-hours to complete the scheduled PMs. This lack of hours comes from two causes.

a) There are physically not enough labour hours available. For example: there are 100 labour hours of preventive maintenance to do, but only 80 labour hours available to do them.

This is happens quite regularly in non-production environments like universities, laboratories and hospitals, where breakdowns are not a big issue. Therefore, these types of facilities must decide to hire more maintenance personnel or reduce the number of PMs they perform. The latter is usually the case in 90% of these types of facilities.

b) Maintenance procedures and execution of the planned maintenance are ineffective. 

One thing that is very evident is the ineffectiveness of PM procedures. Checklists are almost always out-of-date and vague. Simply having a checklist is not enough; procedures need to tell tradespeople how things are to be checked and what to look for. Then proper scheduling must be developed, making sure labour, parts and materials are available at PM time.

3. Maintenance is too busy repairing breakdowns: There are too many breakdowns, creating a Catch 22 situation – whether to respond to breakdowns or perform preventive maintenance. There are many companies that want to change this culture. Maintenance supervisors and tradespeople get totally consumed just keeping production equipment running. In these cases, the breakdown-to-PM ratio is very skewed. Preventive maintenance doesn’t get put in the back seat but gets put in the trunk and is virtually forgotten. Changing this type of maintenance culture takes a lot of work.

Why do preventive maintenance?

To strengthen the importance of completing maintenance tasks in whatever environment you work in – production or non-production – I want to review the reasons why we must do preventive maintenance. Here are the top six reasons:

1. Legal: There may be federal, provincial or local legislation that requires you to do preventive maintenance. In particular, look into anything where emissions can damage or harm people or the environment. Preventive maintenance on pumps, tanks, or chemical systems that control emissions from the plant, must be maintained to ensure the safety of the public and environment. As well, insurance policies may require electrical substation equipment to be inspected and thermographic scans to be taken yearly.

2. Safety: Protecting the safety of all staff within a facility is the responsibility of the owner of the company. Companies are morally responsible to protect their employees.

Government occupational health safety divisions are given the responsibility to enforce the laws that protect people in the workplace. Failure to do preventive maintenance, where it results in the injury of personnel, will prompt officers to investigate and possibly fine, or charge, supervisors and managers under provincial laws.

3. Operational: Keeping equipment up and running is what maintenance departments are supposed to do. Preventive maintenance is the key to make this a daily reality. No one can dispute that regular, effective preventive maintenance will reduce failures.

4. Economical: There is no doubt that prolonging the life of equipment and maintaining its reliability will save a company money. Reducing the cost per unit helps make a company more profitable.

5. Customer demands: Customers of all types are demanding more quality, better delivery, improved service and lower prices. Therefore, the reliability of equipment is most important to serve these needs. In OEM auto parts manufacturing, for example, the auto companies require the equipment that builds their parts to be inspected at very specific intervals. In other words, if XYZ Company produces OEM parts for Toyota, then the equipment that produces these parts must have regular preventive maintenance.

6. Maintaining certifications: Whether the certification is external like that from ISO, or a customer certification, your preventive maintenance plan will be reviewed in an audit. Both internal and external auditors score the PM records for completeness and for being performed on time. They check for signatures of the maintenance person, as well as the execution of follow-up work orders from abnormalities found during the preventive maintenance routines.

Let’s face it, most of us can do a better job at scheduling and performing preventive maintenance. These six reasons to do preventive maintenance make it clear: PM is no longer an option – it is mandatory. 

Peter Phillips of Trailwalk Holdings, Windsor, NS, can be reached at 902-798-3601 or by e-mail at