Preventive Maintenance FAQs

By Kevin McManus, Chief Excellence Officer and Systems Guy, Great Systems

Are You Living in a Reactive or Proactive Maintenance World?

We live in a reactive culture. In other words, we wait for the crash – the heart attack, the creditors knocking at the door – before we begin to try to fix a problem. At the same time, we preach the need to be proactive in our organizations, and in particular, our maintenance departments. It is possible to have a proactive maintenance mindset in a reactive world? The following questions represent those that I have been to comment on in recent months relative to best in class preventive maintenance practices.

How do you address the significant “culture” change required in most plants to move from a reactive maintenance state to a proactive state?

In order for any intended type of culture change to occur, key work systems must be changed.  Reactive behavior is a cultural addiction, no matter which department in the company is displaying this behavior.  Before you can begin to address this addiction, you must admit you have a problem and gain a greater understanding of what the problem’s magnitude is.  Once you admit that you have a reactive maintenance culture, you can begin to change the existing work systems that are currently reinforcing the undesired behaviors.  Example systems that often need to be overhauled include compensation systems that reward throughput over unplanned downtime reduction or firefighting over successful process improvement efforts, measurement systems that fail to capture the magnitude and nature of your downtime challenges, short sighted expense and capital budgeting systems, and training systems that fail to teach and require the use of process improvement methodologies.

The work systems that require the most attention however to escape from the reactive world are the job design and leadership systems – the system that defines how we should be spending our limited work time and the system that defines how our leaders are held accountable for spending that time.  Too many leaders are given the option of improving or letting others improve their processes for them instead of being required to demonstrate successful process improvement personally as a condition of remaining in a leadership role.

Additionally, too many organizations preach of the need for process improvement and proactive efforts, but fail to allot the necessary project time or resource time for processes to be analyzed or new projects to be developed and implemented.  In a high performance organization, project work is not limited to the Engineering department, because the project resource needs are too great.  These organizations also realize that each person with project development responsibilities must be taught to use their allotted time effectively.  Many organizations make the mistake of requiring a variety of people to work on projects without ensuring that each of these people has honed their project management skills.

EXPLORE MORE: How Do You Spend Your Work Time?

How have you seen maintenance departments organized to emphasize a proactive approach rather than a reactive approach?

The short answer here is to organize your maintenance team around processes as opposed to problems.  While your staffing levels, at least in the short term, may need to be increased to address all of the PM backlog issues that exist, I have seen much better results come from assigning line responsibility to each maintenance team member, giving each team member sound process feedback information, ensuring they have the resources to address the problems in their areas of responsibility, and empowering them to begin making changes in partnership with the production personnel.  In general, their goal should be to keep the line running safely while producing quality product at a low cost, as opposed to what it is often is – fix problems as quickly as possible.

How have you seen the initial / upfront costs associated with shifting from a reactive to proactive asset care strategy justified?

In reality, these costs are easy to justify IF you have the right information.  Unfortunately, too many organizations don’t.  In order to justify the investments that are required to make the shift to a proactive asset care strategy, you need to quantify what the true costs of your existing reactive strategies are.  Too many organizations don’t know what their current process failures are costing them.  They also often accept equipment failures, lost customers, and the need to work overtime as ‘just the way work is”, instead of seeing these problems as waste streams that need to reduced over time.

This ‘lack of waste understanding’ is compounded if your organization is short sighted in terms of its trend analysis practices or is content to simply perform at a level that is under budget.  Most organizations actually combine both of these practices to help keep themselves in a reactive world.  In other words, they don’t analyze performance over time via trend lines with the intent achieving consistent, albeit sometime slow, improvement, and they reward people that stay under budget in the short term.  Unfortunately, the norm is to avoid making new expenditures in favor of ‘managing’ existing expenses, which are often very waste laden (even though the organization does not look at the degree to which these current costs contain waste).

DISCOVER MORE: Where’s the Waste in Your Work Processes?

Everyone seems anxious to start using high tech “predictive maintenance” tools (i.e. vibration analysis equipment, infrared thermography, etc.).  When is the best time during an improvement initiative to start using these tools?

Because these tools tend to be relatively costly to purchase, if not to use, their potential ‘need for use’ should be cost justified.  I prefer to begin with a basic downtime tracking and analysis system that captures all key downtime problems in database form.  Once I have this database set up and in use, it can be analyzed on a regular basis to perform trend and Pareto analysis, which will in turn help me spot my problem areas.  Once I have triaged my problems, I can begin to search for the root causes of them.  Tools such as those mentioned above are used to collect information that can be used to help find root causes either reactively or proactively – they will not find the root cause for you or fix your problems however.

I am hesitant to spend a large amount of money until I am sure that I need this level of sophistication to help me diagnose and correct a problem.  I prefer to use the lower cost information gathering and analysis tools mentioned above prior to trying to solve a problem with fancy equipment.  While I recognize that certain types of equipment will help you spot problems before they become big enough to shut down a line, I want to be sure that I have isolated my problems to those of a purely mechanical nature (all potential human error has been identified and remedied through sound root cause analysis) before spending this type of money.

What percent of assets would typically benefit from having a time-based PM established?

I prefer to use a risk management approach to make this type of decisions.  The typical risk management matrix has two dimensions – failure severity and failure likelihood.  I would begin this process by drawing a blank risk matrix and then writing the names of my key assets or asset types in the matrix, in their appropriate places.

Because time is limited in the near term, I assign time-based PMs first to those assets that present the greatest risk to the effectiveness of my work processes if the asset does not perform as expected.  As time goes on, I work my way down the matrix towards those assets that present a relatively lower level of failure severity and/or likelihood.  Please note that ‘cost to replace’ would figure into my assessment of failure severity.

EXPLORE MORE: Recipes for Risk Reduction

What are the best approaches to auditing the performance of craftsmen in conducting preventive maintenance inspections?

For all auditing approaches, I teach people to use what I call the ‘audit triangle’ as they design their audit strategy. A well-designed audit consists of three components – documentation review, work practices observation, and asking questions.  The intent of the audit triangle is to design an audit so that consistencies and inconsistencies between these three components can be detected as the audit of a given procedure or job is executed.

If I was auditing a preventive maintenance inspection, I would begin by looking at the PM plan (what needs to be done) and the company’s process description for performing a PM (how the work should be done).  I would then perform documentation review both before and after the work occurs.  After my up front review, I would be in a position to watch the person do the work, and to gauge the degree to which their work practices are consistent with what has been requested and has been defined as proper procedure.  Finally, I would ask several questions of the person performing the PM to gain a better understanding of their knowledge of the job, such as why are you doing this, how do you know if you are doing it correctly, and what happens if a given requirement is not done correctly.

All audits should be conducted using a standard form that can be scored for trending purposes.  Inconsistencies between the documentation, the practices, and the question responses should be noted and recorded for the purpose of defining corrective actions, once the root causes of each inconsistency has been defined.  You will also need to define the standard types of PMs that are performed in order to develop the different audit forms, to define audit frequencies, and to define a prioritized schedule for conducting the audits themselves.

LEARN MORE:  A Brief History of Procedures

How are “Operator Involved Maintenance” and “Operator Driven Reliability” critical to effective asset care?

With both concepts, the front line operator must take significant ownership relative to equipment maintenance.  Like predictive maintenance, these approaches are favored over traditional equipment maintenance approaches for two reasons.  First, having front line personnel help with the preventive maintenance and performance tracking of the equipment they use each day helps increase the degree of ownership they feel in its successful and sustained operation.  Secondly, this approach helps free up maintenance resources, which normally command a higher hourly wage rate, to do work that requires a higher level of skill.

Additionally, by increasing the level of ownership a front line person has in equipment reliability, that person will be more apt to keep maintenance informed if they are having production problems and less apt to do things that will damage equipment.  They may even be able to fix the problem themselves if it is not too complex in nature.  Adopting these approaches also requires a much higher level of partnership between the production and maintenance teams, and in turn, if they are successful, will help break down what is a traditionally adversarial barrier between operations departments.

Personally, I would not want to manage these two groups in any other way.  My maintenance people are too skilled and scarce to be ‘wasting’ their time greasing bearings and performing other lower skilled PMs, and I have learned that I cannot be successful if my production people do not feel that their input is valued and they are unwilling to share their equipment challenges with their maintenance counterparts on a regular basis.

Keep improving! Kevin McManus, Chief Excellence Officer and Systems Guy, Great Systems

If you would like more information about the preventive maintenance tools and systems I have to offer, please send me an e-mail at