MRO Magazine

Routine Maintenance on Production Equipment

Who Should Do It?

July 27, 2020 | By Peter Philips

Photo credit: pankration / Getty Images

Photo credit: pankration / Getty Images

When equipment needs maintenance, we naturally think about the tradespeople in the maintenance department. However, not all equipment servicing is done by maintenance people. For many years, we have had production operators perform many of the routine inspections, commonly called clean, inspect, and lubricate (CIL).

CIL tasks are often assigned to production staff. CIL duties have been transferred to machine operators for many reasons. Outlining the key elements that must be considered, provides guidance for this maintenance transition.

While writing this article, I looked in my office library for some reference material. I found two books on total productive maintenance (TPM), bought back in the early 1990s. The concept of operator maintenance has been around for a considerably long time. TPM combines the North American practice of preventive maintenance with the Japanese concepts of total quality control, and total employees’ involvement. The result is an innovative system for equipment maintenance that optimizes effectiveness, eliminates breakdowns, and promotes autonomous operator maintenance through day-to-day activities.

Then, as now, the name given to production employees’ maintenance is autonomous maintenance (AM). TPM, WCM, and other related improvement programs all have an element of AM as a maintenance strategy, where machine adjustments and minor maintenance are performed by operators who are deemed to have unique knowledge about the equipment and manufacturing process.


With the proper skills, knowledge, and attitude, an operator can easily carry out routine maintenance on the equipment. The skills and knowledge are the easiest of the three ingredients. Skills and knowledge can be taught to operators, and we have our in-house experts, our maintenance staff, to provide both of these elements. It will take more time for the attitude and the cultural change to take place in the mind of the operator. An operator needs to be convinced the added duties of inspections and minor maintenance will have worthwhile benefits for them. From the operator’s perspective, the basic question is “What’s in it for me?”

To ensure operators succeed, they must have the proper training, documents, and follow-up.

Key elements of the AM program for operators
They will need:
• To know the reason they are being asked to perform minor maintenance on the equipment that has been historically done by the maintenance department;
• To know the role they play in equipment reliability;
• Technical training to perform the maintenance, and how to recognize when the equipment needs repairs;
• Specific checklists and other documents to support their AM tasks;
• Time to carry out the maintenance; and
• Support and follow-up from maintenance and production management.

AM is driven by the maintenance department. They can provide everything the operator needs to perform successful CIL and perform minor repairs. AM is normally driven by the company’s continuous improvement initiatives, and because AM is driven by the maintenance department, the technicians fill an important role in the design, delivery, and execution of the AM program.

To achieve this, maintenance techs need these key elements
• Why operators are performing maintenance on the equipment;
• How operators can help improve equipment reliability;
• How to design the technical lesson plans they will need to train the operators;
• How to design the checklists and other documents for the AM;
• Training on how to be a trainer; and
• Time to design and deliver the AM training to the operators.

These are the critical elements for both parties to ensure AM will succeed. There are many ingredients needed to support the AM activities. Each item must be in place to ensure a smooth transition from technician to operator maintenance.

AM training and execution requires detailed lesson plans to deliver the training and a Train the Trainer program for the technicians. People do not always possess the skills to be trainers. A person who has the detailed knowledge of what needs to be done may not be an effective trainer. On-the-job training (OJT) is the type of training the technicians will deliver. Typically, an OJT training course teaches the person how to design and deliver one-on-one training. OJT programs ensure every operator receives the same AM training. They allow any trainer to effectively deliver the AM training simply by using the lesson plan. Consistent training is the key to AM success.

AM Duty Sheets: Duty sheets are the detailed daily checklists the operator needs to perform. The duty sheet identifies the checks to be carried out on the equipment or area. Operators sign off to verify they have completed the inspections. Signatures also add a sense of equipment ownership by the operator.

AM Standards: These standards contain the specific information the operator needs when performing maintenance. This include pictures and instructions that must be observed or physically completed. If problems are encountered, corrective actions are included in the standard.

AM has been around for decades, and has had its share of failures and successes. One thing is clear, though, when properly implemented, it has contributed to a significant improvement in equipment reliability. Equally important, it has given operators more meaning and responsibility in their jobs. It has given technicians more time to focus on important equipment issues that need to be solved, which uses their expertise and skills.

Operator maintenance is not complex; it simply needs commitment to follow the steps to implementation and adjust course when necessary. MRO


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