Maintenance management legends

There are many paradigms and legends surrounding maintenance management in plants. Often, the legends are known to be untrue, but people live with them because it is politically correct, or simply convenient. To be successful in improving equipment reliability and maintenance management, plants must break the legends that exist in their organizations.


There are many paradigms and legends surrounding maintenance management in plants. Often, the legends are known to be untrue, but people live with them because it is politically correct, or simply convenient. To be successful in improving equipment reliability and maintenance management, plants must break the legends that exist in their organizations. Some of the legends will be addressed in this article. You may find that these legends are uncomfortably close to describing how your plant operates.

Legend 1: Maintenance cost must be reduced quickly

Plants should reduce maintenance cost. But there are many variables that can be affected by lowering the maintenance budget. It is therefore important to consider how the cost cut is implemented.

Most of us can cut maintenance costs in any plant in the world very quickly by 40%. We simply get rid of some people and stop doing certain maintenance jobs. If you get the opportunity to take a job like this, don't plan on staying more than a year. The consequences of short-term maintenance management will most likely be devastating to the total cost, and problems will start to show after a year or two due to ill-maintained assets.

Mandating a plant to lower maintenance costs quickly can be compared to asking a hockey team to increase the average number of goals per game from two goals to four without any coaching or guidance. The team can most likely produce four goals per game, if no other variables are considered. Obviously, we want the hockey team to win, not just score four goals per game. There is a balance between goals scored and goals given up. It is a mystery why many plants don't pick up on this simple concept of balance. It is not uncommon to see an organization completely focused on cost without considering the total picture.

If we lower the maintenance budget and don't change other aspects of the business practice, the results will most likely be very poor.

Changes in maintenance cost are inter-related to product quality and production output. A reduction in maintenance cost will not lead to improved quality and production output. But an improvement in equipment reliability will most likely improve production output and quality. Improved quality and production output will reduce maintenance cost.

Maintenance cost cannot be reduced quickly because it takes time to improve equipment reliability. Improved reliability will reduce cost, but reduced cost will not improve reliability.

Legend 2: People don't like change

I often hear that people don't like change. In my experience, people love change — they just don't want to be changed by someone else. People are often very receptive to change as long as they are part of the change process. The problem is when a project improvement plan goes through the usual number-crunching, while the involvement of people is often forgotten.

For example, people in the plant typically can identify planning and scheduling improvement opportunities, yet most of us are reactive by nature; we don't want to work to strict guidelines, such as planning and schedule exactly what to do three days from now. Improving planning and scheduling requires a culture change together with detailed, agreed- upon processes and procedures. Even though we know this, plants sometimes try to improve planning and scheduling by talking over a cup of coffee, or at best sending a couple of planners on a two-day planning and scheduling course.

Production and operations changes are often 80% to 90% dependent on technical solutions including process automation. An equipment reliability and maintenance change initiative is 95% dependent on changing peoples' behavior. Management must address the issues of involvement and acceptance while encouraging the few enthusiastic souls in a project. Project success can be expressed as R = Q x A x E (Results = quality of actions x acceptance for change x enthusiasm for change).

Legend 3: People are our biggest asset

If you work in plant management or as a corporate officer, it is politically correct to say "people are our biggest asset." Most managers would agree to that statement. I don't agree. People are not a company's biggest asset —the right people are a company's biggest asset, and the wrong people are liabilities.

I confirmed this opinion during a recent seminar for a group of supervisors and craftspeople. One of the discussions started with the question, "Isn't it true that if any given crew in this plant would lose its poorest performing people (about 10% to 20% of the total), the loss would hardly be noticed?" After the laughs and pointing had subsided, several people confirmed that there were always a number of people in any given crew who had "never accomplished an honest day's work." These people destroy morale, and in some cases, even slow the rest of the crew down.

Management must deal with underperforming people. If you have a decent relationship with your union or your nonunion workforce, they are usually receptive to discussing these matters. Poor performers are a big problem for them as well. It is also true that people cannot be more effective than the system in which they work allows them to be. Management can minimize the amount of wasted time and energy by implementing good maintenance and reliability processes.

Legend 4: Having more maintenance people on shift reduces downtime

If you have many problems in your plant, operations typically requests more people on shift to fix the breakdowns. If this is the situation in your plant, you are going down the wrong path.

If you have a multitude of problems in your plant, you need to find out why and fix the source of the problems. What is the solution for your plant? Most likely you don't have enough time to repair all equipment problems found in your area, and you don't always find the problems before a breakdown. So we need more people, right? In the short run possibly, but not necessarily. Definitely not in the long run. Here is a checklist of possible problems:

  • Do operators perform detailed equipment inspections? If not, make sure operators know how to inspect a bearing, motor, coupling, hydraulic motor, fluid coupling, etc.

  • Do your maintenance people have detailed inspection lists, take readings, and analyze trends in order to identify symptoms on equipment?

  • Do you use your craftspeople by having well-planned jobs for them? Do you schedule maintenance jobs in coordination with operations? By executing high-quality inspections, we can make sure that we know about most symptoms.

    • Legend 5: We can't motivate maintenance craftspeople to improve reliability because they make more money when things break down

      Maintenance people typically do make more money when things break down. A perceived "Catch 22" by maintenance management is that crews can't be motivated to improve reliability and maintenance because higher equipment reliability will reduce the amount of overtime.

      However, the answer to the question goes back to Legend 3. Only a minor percentage of people don't contribute as well as others; the rest of us want to be good performers. The key word is pride. Pride matters more than overtime pay. Pride drives a relatively low-paid U.S. Marine to risk his or her life for months at a time. Pride drives a maintenance craftsperson to spend an extra hour or two to align a pump to one thousandth of an inch even though few will notice.

      Management can instill pride in an organization by developing clear expectations for reliability and maintenance, and by training and supporting people long term in achieving these expectations. For example, develop a clear definition of preventive maintenance and develop an action plan and training initiatives on how to improve inspection routes, lubrication, cleaning practices, operating procedures, alignment, and other preventive maintenance practices.

      Since money also is a motivator, provide incentive pay for equipment reliability. One of the fastest preventive maintenance program setups we have seen was at a car manufacturing plant in Europe that offered its crews (operations and maintenance) a bonus on each percentage over 97% line efficiency. The results appeared on reports just weeks after the announcement — the actual equipment reliability improvement probably started hours after the announcement.

      Legend 6: New computer software (CMMS) will improve reliability and maintenance performance

      It is not unusual to see a maintenance organization implement a new CMMS with the hopes that this new computer software will improve plant reliability. In truth, new software can be a great help, but it is only a tool.

      If plant performance improves following a software change, it is not the software itself that contributes the majority of improvements. Improvements will be a synthesis of the implementation and execution of better work processes, behavior changes, and higher-quality data from the software. The obvious question then becomes, "Can't the plant improve work processes, behaviors, and data quality with the old CMMS?"

      Sometimes maintenance software updates become so cumbersome that a plant disregards obvious fundamentals due to work overload. For example, the bill of material for equipment isn't always up to date in the old system, and it will not be up to date in the new system unless an effort is made to improve the data. It is a common argument that it costs too much to update the bill of materials, yet we accept the cost of having each craftsperson use a significant amount of time every day looking for parts.

      In some plants, training is reduced to a minimum and often performed several months before the system is put in use. The result is that, at best, about 30% of the CMMS functionality is used and that only 30% of the people know how to use it effectively. This results in a 9% usage of the system.

      If your organization is ready to implement a new CMMS, make sure you update the bill of materials, standard job plans, equipment numbering, and asset numbering in the old system. Also, ask yourself if you plan and schedule jobs well today. If not, the problem is usually not the software. People will blame the software because it can't talk back, but the real problems are lack of discipline in backlog management, prioritization issues, and the inability of operations and maintenance to coordinate production and maintenance schedules.

      Legend 7: Equipment criticality decides inspection frequency

      It is common to see plants base component inspection frequency on a criticality analysis study. At first, it may seem sensible to base inspection frequency on criticality of equipment, but let's illustrate the misconception with an example.

      Let's assume we are setting the inspection frequency for a very simple component such as a bolt. Let's assume the bolts in question are holding a mechanical seal on a pump. The pump and seal are very critical according to the criticality study. The inspection frequency for the highest criticality score is often recommended to one inspection every shift.

      Intuitively, you notice that it doesn't make any sense to inspect a bolt every shift. Why? Because the inspection frequency must be based on how long, on average, it takes to develop a failure in a component. The bolt in our example will not fail from one shift to another unless there is a completely random event. The most likely failure is that the bolt comes loose over a 2-6 month period. We should therefore set the inspection frequency according to the Failure Developing Period (FDP), by estimating the FDP, and set the inspection frequency to FDP over two. In our example, we estimate an FDP of 4 months and set the inspection frequency to 2 months.

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      Author Information
      Tor Idhammar is a Partner and Vice President with IDCON, Inc. and has been with the company since 1997. He has worked in more than 50 plants in nine countries in several industries. His primary responsibilities at IDCON, Inc., include training and implementation support for preventive maintenance/essential care and condition monitoring, planning, and scheduling of maintenance work, as well as root-cause problem elimination. He can be reached at 919-847-8764 ext 105, , or visit .