MRO Magazine

The importance of support systems in maintenance

By By Peter Phillips   

Machinery and Equipment Maintenance Operations

This month’s column continues an ongoing report about our experiences, assessment and recommendations to improve maintenance and operations at an Ontario food processing plant.

This month’s column continues an ongoing report about our experiences, assessment and recommendations to improve maintenance and operations at an Ontario food processing plant.

If you have been following this column, you know that we have been assisting this plant with its work activities and processes. We are pretty much doing everything from soup to nuts, as they say. We are revamping procedures, checklists, communications, maintenance activities and other areas. We just completed our most recent visit to the plant and once again saw lots of opportunities to help the plant advance its overall efficiency.

I’m going to stray off topic for a moment to talk about a recent assessment we did at a manufacturing plant in Calgary. It bears a close resemblance to our job here at the food factory.

Calgary is one of the hot spots in Canada when it comes to expansion of the Alberta economy. Jobs are plentiful and wages are excellent. This plant, like many others in Alberta, experiences a high turnover of staff because of the many available job opportunities. Skilled tradespeople and engineers can literally leave their job in the morning and have another high-paying job by day’s end.


As we know, these turnovers cause lots of problems. Finding replacement staff and getting them trained in their new position takes time and causes ripples in production and maintenance activities. The longer it takes to train people in their new roles and responsibilities, the longer takes to get their productivity to the expected output.

As we were assisting this Calgary company with its maintenance activities, we realized it had very few support systems in place. Support systems are all the standard operating procedures (SOPs), policies, training and documentation employees need to perform their jobs. With the proper systems in place, a new person should be able to review and study the roles and responsibilities of the new job and learn how to perform the necessary duties. These systems help new employees ramp up their ability to do their job functions much faster.

So this leads me back to the food factory in Ontario. The more we assess and do our research on the plant, the more evident it becomes that it needs detailed support systems as well – not just for new employees but for everyone.

Another example I will give to emphasize the importance of support systems is another project we are working on in the Maritime Provinces. The staff of a federally owned company contacted us and they simply said to me, “Peter, we are broken.” After about a week of assessment of its work activities, we determined that it needed some help. Looking at what it did on a daily basis, it was clear it had very few support systems in place. The ones it did have were vague and were performed differently from person to person.

Indeed, systems for every key position must be developed in such a way that people know and understand the job. Every person doing that job must be able to duplicate the roles and responsibilities as documented in the system. This means having personnel in same work position who are performing their duties in the exact same way. Consistency, consistency, consistency! It is the only sure way to improve.

At the food plant, we are examining every production, quality, maintenance and sanitation position. We must help the plant to develop support systems so people understand their jobs and know what is expected of them so they can succeed every day when they come to work. If they succeed, so will the company, as it will improve and produce more goods at a lower cost.

The road to develop support systems is not a short one. We estimate it will take as long as two years to design and build the support systems this plant needs and to complete the training with personnel. However, this is a road the company is willing to take because it knows the benefits it will bring.

It has been our experience that people want to know what to do when they come to work. They want to know what their job responsibilities entail. They want to come to work in the most organized, stress-free environment possible.
That means we will need to develop their skills, knowledge and attitudes so they can do their jobs successfully. We call this program SKA: S – teach them the skills to do their jobs; K – give them the knowledge to handle the situations they face every day; and A – help them to develop positive and caring attitudes.

People want to have the control and the responsibility to do a good job. Giving them the support systems and tools they need will allow them to perform their jobs to the highest degree of success.

If you look at your organization and see one thing after another going wrong, if you see the same things happening over and over, if you see problems in every department where people are frustrated with their jobs, then you might say, “Yes, we are broken as well.”

That means you need to take the time to develop your internal support systems so you can send your people and your company down the road to success.

Back to the food factory, here is the homework we assigned to various staff, which is to be completed before our next visit. The production lead supervisor was asked to complete a crew leader checklist, complete the roles/responsibilities list for baking; redesign the supervisor shift sheet; and design an end-of-shift production meeting checklist. The plant manager needed to revamp the introduction to the plant for new employees and instruct staff not to make line changes without the knowledge of the production supervisors.

The production manager is to complete a matrix for production changeovers and streamline the morning meeting to 20 minutes by covering only the past 24 hours of activity. The maintenance planner was asked to develop a line start-up maintenance checklist, while the quality and sanitation department has the task of reviewing current sanitation procedures and checklists.

We’ll bring you up to date on their progress in the next column.

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


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