Foundations for maintenance excellence

For most plant engineers, maintenance excellence is an elusive goal.

By Richard L. Dunn, Editor, Plant Engineering magazine March 1, 2001

For most plant engineers, maintenance excellence is an elusive goal. If you don’t have it, how do you get it? How do you know when you’ve achieved it? Just what is maintenance excellence, anyway?

In search of answers to these kinds of questions, Plant Engineering went to the board of directors of the Foundation for Industrial Maintenance Excellence, the group that conducts the prestigious North American Maintenance Excellence (NAME) Award program. During a special focus panel, these experts discussed the concepts of what makes a successful maintenance organization and how managers can work towards achieving excellence.

Panel participants are listed in the accompanying sidebar.

Dunn: Where do you start, if you want to pursue maintenance excellence?

Schmalbach: To me, it involves understanding what the business mission is that you’re supporting. Because, depending on whether your plant is producing a mature product with lots of competition out there, or if you’re making a proprietary product and you’re the only guy in the marketplace, you mix your maintenance practices differently to support those two different ends of the business. In one case, cost is a lot more important to you than maybe uptime and reliability. I think there’s a tradeoff in there.

Williams: One of the things we talk to our plants about is that you need to develop the foundation. Within that foundation you need to define your roles and responsibilities. Maintenance is a business; it’s not a pastime that you do just because it sounds good. You do it because you’re in business to put product out the door, and part of that business requires that you keep your equipment maintained.

We put together a strategic plan: Why am I here, who’s accountable for what, what are we here for, what are our goals, and how can we measure them? We talk about priorities. In every plant you’re going to be resource limited, so set your priorities. Have your business partners explain what’s important to them, and what isn’t important to them. Put those into your strategic plans then make sure you have the different processes in place to be able to manage that business, from your shop work orders to the training of your craftspeople. How do you select your people, how do you train them, what’s important? What are the skill sets required?

That’s got to be your foundation, because if you don’t have the organization and the plan on where you’re going, and then measure your results, you’re probably going to head off in the wrong direction – or not know that you’re going in the wrong direction.

Herold: You have to always be in search of being integral to the whole business plan. You sit on the biggest knowledge base of your company for your equipment. To control things like plant capacity, reliability, uptime, and those types of things, you have to be an integral part of the business plan.

Morgan: And you can’t just do it after the equipment is installed. It has to be up front with the same goals between operations, engineering, and maintenance personnel. You have to understand not just what you’re working on but how does it impact another area. What does it do to the entire picture – the whole strategy that we have as a company. Maintenance has to be part of the big picture. It isn’t just an add-on. It is a part of the business and has to be treated as part of the business.

Blumenshine: If you don’t understand the business plan of the business, you may not understand what’s the right strategy to develop your maintenance organization, because different business plans may dictate different strategies.

I’ve worked for four major companies in my life, and it still amazes me that when you go to the operations side of the business and start asking them questions, they’re just as confused as you are. In fact, I think many times the operations side doesn’t have as good an understanding as the maintenance side, because they’re very short term. That’s why there has to be some agreement between the two sides that this is in fact the goal of the plant, the direction, the mission, whatever. It can’t be just the plant engineer’s or the maintenance manager’s plan, it’s got to be the business plan for maintenance within that organization. So to start, get on the same page as your business management.

Dunn: All right. So you’ve made sure that maintenance is aligned with the plant’s business strategy, and you’re ready to move ahead. How do you get management support for that?

Blumenshine: I think the first thing is to enlist the belief, then the support of the operational management of the business. I’m not sure a fledgling maintenance organization that is trying to take those incremental steps can do it without the support of management. Maybe they can, but without at least the belief of the operational management of the business, I doubt they can.

Mayer: I agree with you to a certain extent. I’ve never worked in a company where upper management was really knowledgeable about the maintenance function. I’ve also never been in the situation where upper management was not supportive of my needs as a maintenance manager. Anywhere I’ve worked, all I’ve had to do was go to management and tell them I was committed to continuous improvement, and I was going to do things to continuously improve the maintenance process. They always supported me.

If you don’t know what you want to do, it’s difficult to get management to support you. But I think that if you go to management and you tell them that you’re going to continuously improve the maintenance process, I can’t see where they’d give you much trouble, because they’re probably as desperate for improvement as you are.

I think it’s important that you sit down and talk to them and make sure you understand whether they’re capacity limited, whether they’re resource limited, or if it’s impossible to get the product out the door because the equipment is not reliable. That’s important to know too.

If the equipment is unreliable, there’s probably a hidden plant there. If they have a profitable business, they may be considering capital improvement in order to increase capacity, and you could provide that increased capacity by maintaining the equipment better. So there’s a tremendous difference on how you would approach the problem depending on where the business it at. That’s why it’s really important that you sit down and talk to your customer and find out where he’s at.

Williams: I think one of the biggest challenges has been that people who are in the maintenance business seem to inherently know that you’ve got to do planned maintenance, you’ve got to do certain things to make sure that that asset continues to run.

We haven’t done a good job of talking to the people in manufacturing and business in their language. We don’t necessarily talk about what is the economic value we’re going to add by conducting planned maintenance; what we are going to do to help you with availabilities; that we can give you predictable capacity by assuring your equipment, if operated correctly, will run at design speeds, at high levels of availability, with 100% quality product.

One of our challenges in the business of maintenance is to learn how to better translate our activities so they sound like business language. One term I got from a paper put out by Penn State is “predictable capacity.” How can we give them predictable capacity? The maintenance business is improving, and we’re learning how to do that.

Dunn: Assuming you’ve got all your alignments and management support worked out, where do you actually start getting organized to execute improvements?

Asmus: The thing I would focus on first from a building block standpoint is to put the PMs first, then put the predictive stuff next. If you don’t have a good lubrication program, if you don’t have equipment balanced, if you don’t have it aligned, you’re in trouble right off the get-go. You have to have those things in place before you can even start talking about the rest.

Hartman: I guess if I wanted to make a change, I might start searching around out there and find somebody who was recognized in doing this particular function pretty well. Then I would arrange to go observe and see how this thing is actually evolving and how it’s working for them. Once I got a picture of what it looked like, the next step might be to come back against some criteria – either theirs or somebody elses – and benchmark myself against where they’re currently at.

Herold: Coupled right with what you’re saying, Don, is you have to look at your skills – the skill levels of people that are doing these things. That education process is not only discovering where you need to go from a benchmarking aspect, but what skills your people need, and whether they have those skills, and what path you need to take to get them from unskilled to highly skilled.

Mayer: You’d be surprised what you can do. If you’re a leader in maintenance, and you set a vision in front of the folks, you’d be surprised how much that can mean to the organization. In most of the maintenance organizations where I’ve worked – and I assume this would hold for most maintenance organizations – the people probably are there because they want to be there. They probably like the work. They probably want to do what they’re doing.

I’m a great believer in engaging the whole maintenance team in designing your process. Where you want to go. Don’t undersell the resources you’ve got. Yea, I think assessing their skill level and assessing their skills is probably important. But they wouldn’t work in maintenance if they didn’t want to be there. And they want to be the best they can be.

You don’t have to know how to get where you want to go. If you just say, “I think we ought to be there in the future,” you’re going to get all sorts of good ideas from people who work with you on how to get there. Then it’s just a matter of putting together the plan to move along in that direction.

Schmalbach: I think there are two extremely important ingredients in this strategic piece of maintenance excellence. One is documentation of your plant – equipment, parts, manufacturer’s recommendations, arrangement drawings, all of those engineering documents that define what the plant is. Second is some means of assessing criticality; not everything requires 100% uptime. So you assess criticality through uptime, reliability, cost, and quality. Once you’ve got those two things, you can start thinking strategically about the right way to maintain this piece of equipment versus that piece of equipment.

Mayer: There are some fundamentals I think we can all agree on. Depending where you are on the developmental curve, on the learning curve, we know that if you’re not planning and scheduling your work, there’s a lot of money on the table to be garnered. We’ve found in my plant that unplanned, unscheduled maintenance is 40% more expensive than planned and scheduled maintenance. And we have the numbers to support that. And there’s a lot of money on the table if you’re just doing reactive maintenance without any thought or any planning process or any scheduling process going into it. Immediately, that can have an impact on business.

The other thing is preventive and predictive maintenance. There’s a lot of money on the table if you’re not doing preventive and predictive maintenance. What we’ve found in our maintenance excellence award is the companies that have the least expensive maintenance operations are the ones that are doing planning and scheduling, the ones that are doing preventive and predictive maintenance, the ones with the well-developed CMMS.

If you can see clearly that you have deficiencies in those areas, those are quick wins that you can get. When you put the effort into them, and you put some discipline into your organization, you can save a lot of money.

Dunn: Many organizations recognize that they have too much unplanned or emergency maintenance, but how can they break out of that mode and start moving toward excellence?

Asmus: That goes back to the question of criticality. Some equipment in your plant you can allow to run to failure, and it’s more cost effective to run to failure. Other pieces of equipment, because of criticality, have to be maintained.

Blumenshine: Fundamentally, every maintenance organization has to start with that discussion, that determination of what have you got and how are you going to maintain it. And if it’s run to failure, it’s run to failure. Maintenance guys inherently hate that. They like their jobs and they like fixing things. They don’t like it when the decision is made to run something to failure. And that’s an educational process within the maintenance organization. You’ve got to tell them that these are the top 100 critical pieces of equipment in this facility. You have to maintain this to 96% uptime or whatever, and this stuff over here, don’t worry about it. We’ll fix it when it breaks.

Williams: One of the challenges many of us run into is the question of what should I do first. What I’ve told people is that if you do nothing else and measure nothing else, obviously you’re going to be held to a budget, and that is a given. But, start focusing on your plan to cut emergency maintenance with the decision to go for 100% on-time completion for your planned work. Once you start getting that in line, you teach people that if we’ve decided to do it, we’re going to accomplish it, and we’re going to do it on time. Getting out of the reactive mode and doing things on a planned basis is critical.

When you do that, you find a hidden resource, because now you’re getting things done when you said you would get them done. Things aren’t breaking down, so you’re not chasing after everything. You have more people to do continuous improvement projects, you have people to get into predictive functions, you have people to look into all those technologies that will bring your equipment back up to design reliability, and you have all those people to be involved in task teams to improve reliability.

If anyone were to ask me what’s the first thing you have to do, I think you have to set your mind that you’re going to do planned maintenance and you’re going to do it 100% on time. And you’ll find capacity in your plants when you do that.

Schmalbach: I agree, but in extreme cases you can’t do planned work in a breakdown environment. Sometimes it’s so bad you’ve got to go get some extra resources or budget for contractors, or something to get out of reactive and breakdown maintenance.

Williams: But you’d be surprised at the innovative capabilities you have in your workforce if you just challenge them. It takes a strong maintenance manager, persistence, perseverance, and trust and belief in your people that they’re going to do the best job they know how to do. You have to keep saying, “We can. I know I’ve got the people here. If they don’t have enough knowledge now, we’ll figure out how to get it for them.” And it’s amazing what you’ll come up with.

Schmalbach: One of the things we ask is, where are you in the maintenance pyramid hierarchy? (See sidebar, “Plant engineering excellence.”) In your plant, what’s working really well, and where does this hierarchy begin to fall apart and things aren’t working so well? That’s probably where you want to start your improvement process. If you don’t know any of this stuff, then you should spend some time getting your documentation in order.

Mayer: I think we all agree that without an effective way of recording what you do and getting info back as to how the maintenance function is working, it’s really difficult to be world-class maintenance. So I think an effective CMMS is critical to maintenance excellence. Managing the materials is also a critical part of maintenance excellence. Efficient procurement methods and making sure you’ve got the right materials to do the job when you need them. All those things are critical to maintenance excellence too.

Dunn: Is it possible to have maintenance excellence without a CMMS?

Mayer: I suppose it’s academically possible. But with the kind of complexity that most industrial organizations have to operate in, it’s practically impossible.

Herold: I think you could say it’s possible, but why would you. There are so many tools in there, why would you want to do that?

Blumenshine: I think it’s possible to have maintenance excellence of some sort without it. I doubt it’s possible to have world-class maintenance excellence without it.

Dunn: Storerooms are an important part of every maintenance operation. What is excellence in maintenance materials management?

Mayer: That you have a minimum amount of investment in materials and yet when you have a need for material it’s there at your disposal. And those are sometimes conflicting demands. The secret of inventory management in a manufacturing facility is that you have to develop a kind of faith in the organization that the material is going to be there when you need it.

An excellent storeroom system does not mean that you’ve got an atrocious amount of inventory. An excellent storeroom system is one that is very frugal with the resources of the company. The only things it stocks are the items needed in order to be successful in the process.

Hartman: Maybe we should talk about materials management. Things I would look for are that I have a good bill of material, that I’ve linked all of my parts that I need for a particular piece of equipment to do a repair – that those are complete.

Then I would look at the descriptions I’ve put on my stores material, so that I don’t have the same things being called by different names by different people. Another thing is the description that we put in our stores systems for how we’re going to communicate with the purchasing folks and our suppliers on the outside what it is that we really want – good materials definition, and accurate quality definition. If we don’t provide the right specifications, we may not get what we want.

To me, there are two time lines. One is how long it takes to get the part from the vendor or manufacturer to the plant. The other is how long we allow planning and scheduling to take place before we actually have to do the work. Now if we’re short-term planning and scheduling, which means I develop my schedule at 7:00 a.m., and I’m going do the work that day, I’d better have that material in the plant, in the storeroom, as close to me as I can get it. If I give the planning function 24 or 48 hr to prepare that job and put it on the schedule, now I’ve got 24 to 48 hr to get that material to the plant. It’s stuff that’s inside that timeline that I’ve got to have in the plant.

Dunn: What I’ve heard here is that maintenance excellence requires high performance levels in all of these areas: customer focus, understanding of the business mission, planning and scheduling, organization, definition of the criticality of equipment, record keeping, schedule compliance, and materials management.

Any other closing comments?

Herold: I want to make the comment that a lot of the time maintenance organizations earn some of the disrespect they get. And I go back to key elements. What are key elements of an excellent maintenance organization? The first place you’ve got to start is organize, organize, organize. You have to know your assets. You have to have a system to do your inventory control. You’ve got to be systematically organized before you can even begin to approach some of the problems in front of you. And you have to think about how the “business” that you’re running needs to be structured.

Williams: One of the things that has struck me in the discussion today is the complexity of the maintenance manager’s job. Not only do you need to understand maintenance, you need to understand business. You have to understand processes, you have to understand equipment, and you have to understand materials management. And you have to understand human resouces management. You have to understand contracting and contractors. The diversity is tremendous.

Plant engineering excellence

Richard L. Dunn

There are many variations of the “plant engineering pyramid” or “maintenance pyramid.” This version was developed by Tom Williams for his use at 3M and is presented here with his permission.

The pyramid illustrates several concepts. First, everything must be built on a solid foundation of environmental, health, and safety concerns. Second, it shows the building blocks needed to move from the fundamentals, through the higher level technologies and tactics, and into the top ranges of plant engineering and maintenance optimization. And third, it makes the point that maintenance organizations must move from independence to interdependence with other plant groups (“business partners,” as Williams calls them).

“You can take any piece of this that you want to and work it,” Williams advises, “but to sustain the total operation on a continuous basis, you really have to build those blocks.”

Focus panel participants

Richard L. Dunn

Don Asmus

Plant Maintenance Manager

Buckeye Florida

Perry, FL

John L. Blumenshine

Vice President – Facilities

S&C Electric Co.

Chicago, IL

Richard L. Dunn


Plant Engineering

Oak Brook, IL

Dennis Hartman



Houston, TX

Rick Herold

Director of Manufacturing Engineering

Harman-Motive, Inc.

Martinsville, IN

David Kittle

Manager – Plant Engineering

Denso Manufacturing

Michigan, Inc.

Battle Creek, MI

Ed Mayer

Director Plant Engineering


St. Gabriel, LA

Ronald H. Morgan

Director Manufacturing Engineering

R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.

Winston-Salem, NC

V. Robert Schmalbach

Chairman, Foundation for Industrial Maintenance


Principle Consultant – Engineering (retired)

E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co., Inc.

Newark, DE

Thomas P. Williams

Manager, North America Plant Engineering

3M Co.

St. Paul, MN