Preventive and Predictive Maintenance Best Practices

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

Do You Live 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 who knock 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. Is it possible to have a proactive maintenance mindset in a reactive world? Here are some stand-out predictive and preventive maintenance best practices.

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

In order for any type of culture change to occur, leaders must re-design their key work systems.  Reactive behavior is a cultural addiction, no matter which department in the company displays this behavior.  Before you can begin to address this addiction, you must admit you have a problem. You have understand the magnitude of the problem.  Once you admit that you have a reactive maintenance culture, you can begin to change those work systems that currently reinforce the reactive behaviors.

Example systems that often need an overhaul include compensation systems that reward throughput over downtime reduction or firefighting over successful process improvement efforts. Other examples include 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.

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Which work systems require the most attention to escape from ‘reactive world’?

The work systems that require the most attention to escape from ‘reactive world’ are your job design and leadership work systems. These work systems define how we should be spend our limited work time. They also define how we assess leader accountability as they spend that time.  Too often, we allow our leaders to let others improve their processes for them. Instead, require each leader to demonstrate successful process improvement personally as a leadership expectation.

Many organizations preach of the need for process improvement and proactive efforts. Unfortunately, only a small percentage actually allot the necessary project time or resource time for process analysis or new project development and implementation.  In a high performance organization, leaders don’t limit project work to the Engineering department. The project resource needs are too great.  These organizations realize that each person with project development responsibilities must be taught to use available work time effectively.  Many organizations make a mistake when they require a variety of people to work on projects before these people can hone their project management skills.

EXPLORE MORE: How to Measure and Improve Your Job Design Work System

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

The short answer here is to organize your maintenance team around processes instead of problems.  You made need to increase your headcount levels, at least in the short term, to address all of the PM backlog issues that exist. After you do so, you can assign line responsibility to each maintenance team member. This helps you give each team member sound process feedback information and help ensure they have the resources to address the problems in their areas of responsibility. Also, empower them to make changes in partnership with the production personnel.

In general, their goal should be to keep the line running safely and produce quality product at a low cost. This is not the norm most practice – fix problems as quickly as possible. The set of daily performance measures the maintenance is accountable for often defines what is important. Focus on failure rate reductions and downtime duration per failure more than you focus on the downtime percentage itself. Report on daily PM practice successes, such as percent completed on time or to standard.

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 first need to quantify the true costs of your existing reactive strategies.  Too many organizations don’t know what their current process failures cost them.  They also often accept equipment failures, lost customers, and the need to work overtime as ‘just the way work is.” These problems are not seen waste streams that should be reduced over time.

An organization can compound this ‘lack of waste understanding’ in two ways. First, the organization’s trend analysis line of sight may be too short. Second, leaders may simply be content to perform at a level that stays under budget.  Most organizations actually combine both of these practices to help keep themselves stuck in reactive world.  In other words, they don’t analyze performance over time via trend lines with the intent to achieve consistent, albeit sometime slow, improvement. Compensation work system designs reward people that stay under budget in the short term.  Unfortunately, the norm becomes to avoid growth investments in favor of existing expense management. Key processes can contain a lot of waste, even though the organization does not look at such waste.

DISCOVER MORE: Process Improvement Strategies

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

Because these tools tend to be relatively costly to purchase, if not to use, we must justify their potential ‘need for use’.  I prefer to begin with a basic downtime tracking and analysis system that captures all key downtime problems in database form.  Once set up and in use, I can use this database on a regular basis to perform trend and Pareto analysis. Such analyses help me spot and prioritize my problem areas.  After I triage my problems, I can search for their root causes.  You can use these same tools to collect information and search for root causes either reactively or proactively. These tools will not eliminate the root cause 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.  My preference is to use lower cost data collection and analysis tools prior to try to solve a problem with fancy equipment. I recognize that certain types of equipment will help you spot problems before they become big enough to shut down a line. My goal is to find my performance problems and ‘paths to failure’ first. I want to identify and remedy all potential human error through sound root cause analysis before I spend lots of money.

What percent of assets would typically benefit from a time-based preventive maintenance plan?

I prefer to use risk management and asset health to make this type of decision.  The typical risk management matrix has two dimensions – failure severity and failure likelihood.  To begin this process, I first draw a blank risk matrix. Then, I write the names of my key assets or asset types at their appropriate place in the matrix. The higher risk-ranked assets would be the ones that benefit most from an effective preventive maintenance plan. Use asset health, versus time, to determine when a given piece of equipment needs preventive maintenance.

Because of time resource constraints, I first assign PMs to those assets that present the greatest risk to work process effectiveness when asset health is poor.  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 audit the performance of craftspeople as they conduct preventive maintenance inspections?

For all audit approaches, I teach people to use what I call the ‘audit triangle.’ The audit triangle helps them design their audit strategy. Good audit design consists of three components – documentation review, work practices observation, and interviews.  The intent of the audit triangle is to design an audit that detects consistencies and inconsistencies between these three components as we execute the audit of a given procedure or job.

If I want to audit a preventive maintenance inspection, I first look at the PM plan (what needs to be done). Then, I review the company’s process description for the PM itself (how the work should be done).  Also, I perform documentation review, both before and after the work occurs.  After my up-front review, I am ready to watch the person do the work. I can better gauge the degree that their work practices are consistent with expectations.  Finally, I ask several questions of the PM performer to better understand their knowledge of the job. Common questions include “Why do you the job this way?”, “How do you know if you do the job correctly?”, and “What happens if a given requirement is not done correctly?”.

Use a standard form you can score for trending purposes to conduct all audits.  Note inconsistencies between the documentation, the practices, and the question responses. For each inconsistency, capture workplace factors to help define possible root causes and corrective actions.  Also, define the standard types of PMs people perform. Doing so helps develop the different audit forms and define audit frequencies. Finally, create a schedule to conduct the audits themselves.

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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, leaders favor these approaches over traditional equipment maintenance approaches for two reasons.  First, when front line personnel help with equipment maintenance and performance measurement, it helps increase the degree of ownership they feel in its successful operation.  Secondly, this approach helps free up maintenance resources. Maintenance resources normally command a higher hourly wage rate, as the work itself requires a higher level of skill.

When we increase the level of ownership a front line person has in equipment reliability, that person is more apt to inform maintenance if they have production problems. Also, more ownership means they are less apt to do things that will damage equipment.  They may even fix problems themselves if they are not too complex in nature.  Plus, the use of these approaches requires a much higher level of partnership between the production and maintenance teams. In turn, their successful use helps break down what is a traditionally adversarial barrier between operations departments.

Personally, I would not want to manage production and maintenance groups in any other way.  Maintenance skills are too scarce to allow the ‘waste’ of such time on bearing lubrication and other lower skill PMs. I know that I cannot be successful if my production people do not feel that I value their input. They must share their equipment challenges with their maintenance counterparts on a regular basis.

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

Would you like more information about the predictive and preventive maintenance best practices I have to offer? If so, please send me an e-mail at!

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