Improving the Image and Perception of Maintenance

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How to improve the Image and Perception of Maintenance by clearly stating what Maintenance ‘Best Practice’ can bring to the Operational Excellence agenda.

I strongly believe that one of the biggest problem facing today’s Maintenance Function, and hence its Managers and professionals, is one of poor image and perception.

Let’s imagine you are the Engineering Director of a significant ‘Manufacturing Plant’, you go into the Boardroom for the monthly Site Leadership Team meeting and mention the word ‘Maintenance’. The Chairman will look at his watch and tell you that you have just three minutes to talk about this (frankly boring ) subject?

Does the Sales and Marketing Director simply look out of the window, because it’s nothing to do with him or her? Does the Finance Director scowl at you as he or she sees it as an unnecessary evil and damaging cost burden, and does the Production Director get ready for a slanging match because he or she sees Maintenance (or the lack of it) as the root cause of most of the Company’s production problems?
Is this an exaggeration? Well may be so, but sadly in far too many cases it may ring some bells.

cartoon of a man using oil can with the punchline Do you think our maintenance programme is keeping abreast of our new technology?

So why is there this poor perception?

Maybe it’s because the ‘Engineering Director’ has never sat down with the Maintenance Manager and thought long and hard enough about:

  • Who is our Customer?
  • Who are our Key Influencers?
  • How should we go about changing these existing poor perceptions?

The first two questions are relatively easy to answer:

The customer is Production (or Manufacturing) and the key influencers are your ultimate sponsors – the Production Director and the Finance Director – and ultimately the Managing Director.

The essential first step to change these perceptions is for the Maintenance Function itself to reflect and define its own purpose / objective and hence contribution to the Business Drivers of the particular plant within that Plant’s Operational Excellence / Lean Transformation Intentions.

These outputs then need to be clearly articulated to the above 3 x key ‘Influencers’- NOT just in terms of Maintenance Efficiency (Cost Down) but also Maintenance Effectiveness in terms of what it can deliver via the elimination of waste in all its forms (typically the OEE’s classic 6 x equipment based losses, plus Energy, Environment and Safety Performance) to the BUSINESS (By aligning Maintenance’s contribution to the Company’s Lean Manufacturing /Operational Excellence Model.

The key point is that you can be apparently very efficient in your Maintenance Revenue Budget (cost management) but totally ineffective in its relevance to delivering the business drivers (lean waste elimination) –You have to be excellent at both!!

Before developing this theme further I feel I need to define the true meaning of ‘Lean…. As in Lean Thinking, Lean Manufacturing, Lean Maintenance and so on.

Lean is NOT about doing the same with Less- whether that is less  people, money or time – It’s simply about doing MORE ‘Value adding’ with LESS waste -whether that is a waste of material, energy, space or time – If we start off by sending out the wrong message we are not going to get too far with our Lean Transformation journey!!

However, all is not lost !! We still have many Lean Believers & Practitioner’s who know Lean Manufacturing is Not going to go away, and that the Maintenance function needs to get proactively involved NOW.

Lean Manufacturing and Maintenance

So, let us first take a look of what Maintenance can bring to the Lean Transformation Party.

Firstly, Lean Manufacturing’s impact on the Maintenance Function and its Delivery:

  • Traditional manufacturing (in theory) made it easier to release equipment for maintenance.
  • However, Lean Manufacturing requires equipment to be available on demand – so the successful adoption of Lean will lead to the revision of the traditional maintenance process.
  • The Maintenance function needs to implement plans to integrate and evolve its methods to meet the new demands placed on it by Lean Manufacturing.
  • Lean Thinking can help the Maintenance Department to deliver improved performance, lasting change and raise the profile of Maintenance as a value adding function rather than an overhead/cost.
  • As such, Maintenance practices must change & respond to meet the challenge of Lean as illustrated here:

table showing the impact of Lean Manufacturing

Lean thinking and practice recognises there are three main categories of work as follows:-

  • Value adding activities (Activities which, in the eyes of the customer, make a product or service of value). The Maintenance Response needs to be directed at stabilising and extending component life by controlling contamination and causes of human error.
  • Non value adding activities (Activities which do not provide product or service features which the customer uses – this includes the 7 classic wastes) The Maintenance Response needs to promote Focussed Improvement to analyse and remove unnecessary PM’s, waiting time, and other equipment based wastes.
  • Necessary non value adding activities (Non value adding activities which are difficult to remove but are essential to the running of the operation). The Maintenance Response needs to engage Operators in routine, front line Asset Care and early problem detection. Also to improve ease of inspection and reduce time to repair.

Secondly, let us now consider the Impact of Maintenance on Lean Thinking in terms of those same three categories of work as illustrated here:

table 2 showing the impact of lean manufacturing

  • Value adding activities -The Maintenance Response needs to define how it can contribute to Improve Quality, Cost and Delivery Capability.
  • Non value adding activities – The Maintenance Response needs to focus on Stabilising Process Performance.
  • Necessary non value adding activities -The Maintenance Response here concentrates on how to Optimise Process Performance.

The Key Message to recognise in all this is that Lean Manufacturing and Maintenance are both Essential and Tied Partners

Maintenance must improve its ability to improve the value adding capability by delivering:

  • Stabilised process/ equipment performance to reduce unplanned events and waste.
  • Optimised performance to reduce quality defects, cost and delivery lead times.

Lean Thinking can help Maintenance by the application of its proven tools and techniques to target the reduction of waste and non value added maintenance activities by:-

  • Stabilising and extending component life through controlling contamination and minimising human error.
  • Analysing and removing unnecessary maintenance procedures.
  • Developing standard countermeasures to common problems.
  • Reducing the time to respond and repair.
  • Engaging operators in front line Asset Care.
  • Improving ease of inspection and early problem detection.

There is no question in my mind that if the Maintenance Leadership Team redefine their traditional thinking to one of aligning effective Maintenance to the Lean Transformation Agenda, then present it to its customer (Production) as an essential ‘Partnership for Change’ then ‘I operate you fix ‘mentality and the implied ‘I add value ,you cost money’ will be consigned to history books once and for all!