Maintenance – Building the Basic Capability

October 13, 2015 8:13 am
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We are all used to hearing about the Preventative Maintenance and Autonomous Maintenance pillars under TPM, but do they really help us identify what a maintenance organisation is here to deliver? Or, indeed, how to build a maintenance organisation from scratch?

Many TPM programmes assume a level of capability within the maintenance organisation that is not able to be released, despite the best intentions of the maintenance team.

What organisations need is to build basic maintenance capability first, so that future activity in the AM and PM arenas has a solid foundation to build upon.

Early last year, a colleague and I were stranded at an airport waiting for a delayed flight, and, given that we were both maintenance engineers, we started to give some thought about what a maintenance organisation was for, what it delivered, and what supporting infrastructure it needed to deliver. Fortunately, despite the fact that we were separated from our laptops, we did have the back of a placemat to work on, so we set ourselves the challenge of capturing this on a single page.

The first question we challenged ourselves on was “What is the maintenance organisation for?” We had asked this at a recent training course of the maintenance team at one of our sites – a team that was recognised as delivering a good service to the site. After an hour, they were still struggling to articulate for themselves what they did – so it was unsurprising that there was a high level of conflict with their operational colleagues over what could be expected from the maintenance team. After some discussion around the place mat, we defined the aim of the maintenance organisation as:

“Keeping operational assets fit for purpose in the hands of the user, at best cost”

Maybe not perfect, and I’m sure it can be improved upon, but we have tested this in a number of environments – and it’s holding up so far!

This simple sentence throws up a number of issues that maintenance professionals need to consider:

  • The user is at the heart of this aim, not the maintainer. It is only the user that can define what constitutes “fit for purpose” as only they generate wealth with the asset
  • The asset needs to be in the hands of the user. An asset taken down for maintenance is not delivering the task it was purchased to do
  • All decisions about maintenance need to consider “best”” cost – but what constitutes “best”? This has to be driven by the operating context. A new asset with 30 years of life left if likely to be maintained proactively for many years. For an asset due to be replaced in 6 months, run to fail could be the best solution. Best cost decisions are driven by the operating context of the asset – what the asset owner wants it to deliver

The next question we posed ourselves was “what does the maintenance organisation deliver?” In its simplest form, maintenance teams do reactive and planned maintenance, but we split this down a little further into:

  • Fix – Corrective work to restore a failed asset back into use. The area where far too many maintenance organisations focus all or most of their effort
  • Solve – The much harder piece of activity of identify why an asset failed in the first place
  • Develop – Using the problem solving above to develop new maintenance tasks, or operating methods, that reduce the likelihood, or the impact of, future failure
  • Schedule – Ensuring that the right skills, tools, spares and resources are available at the same time as the asset is out of use, to complete any planned maintenance work
  • Execute – Perfect execution of all planned tasks to ensure right first time every time of the maintenance task. Underpinning this is constant shop floor coaching of the maintenance technicians
  • Review – Following up post the maintenance execution to understand if what was experienced on the asset was what was expected

Considered next was what are the underpinning systems and processes that are required to ensure that you can deliver the activities above brilliantly? These key enablers we identified are:

  • Maintenance Organisation – You achieve the results your organisation is designed to deliver. If all your technician resource is on shift, you will never break out of a reactive culture. If you have no maintenance planners, you will never effectively schedule tasks. If you have no maintenance development engineers, you will never understand the reasons for component failure and the actions required to mitigate these failures. If the asset owner is not at the heart of the process, you will never meet his needs or fully understand the operating context.
  • Maintenance Workflow – How do you want to log, escalate, address and manage reactive and planned work? How do you manage this on a daily / weekly / periodic basis? Whilst a computerised maintenance management system (CMMS) will facilitate this, a good CMMS implemented at a site without a good workflow will fail
  • Spares, lubricants and special tools – What do you stock? How do you stock it? Financially, all stock is bad, as it ties up working capital but the engineers and operators will want 100% availability of spares. Without a clear view of your stocking strategy, combined with good warehouse discipline, you are destined never to have the right parts when you need them
  • Contractor & service management – In all maintenance organisations, much work is outsourced. A clear strategy on why to outsource is needed. I have always taken the view that you outsource activity that is genuinely cheaper, specialist or where there are large peaks in demand. If you don’t tick one of these boxes, consider doing it yourself. Of course, whilst you can outsource the task, you can never outsource the management – you need to put as much, if not more, effort into managing service providers as you do to managing your own resource
  • Budget Management and the Critical Back Log – All maintenance engineers ask for more money…. But few can back it up with a detailed risk analysis of the back log of maintenance activity, the cost of completing that work and the risk of doing or not doing the work. Maintenance is all about managing risk. This form off detailed risk analysis of the back log makes budget discussions easy, and fact based, and avoids the arbitrary cutting of maintenance budgets that many of will have seen
  • Safety and Compliance – Maintenance work, through its non-routine nature, is more inherently hazardous that operating assets in their standard way. Control of work, risk assessment, permits, machine isolations are all fundamental parts of the maintenance professional’s task. All maintenance professionals should be involved. It is not a management activity. It is everyone’s activity.

Organisations wanting to build their maintenance capability should address each of these enablers, ensuring strength in each area. Once this is in place, the activities the organisation delivers will become a lot easier – ultimately ensuring the maintenance organisation keeps the asset in the hands of the user at best cost!


Written by Richard Jeffers, Business Unit Director