Author: Dan DeGrendel
Regardless of industry or discipline, we can probably all agree that routine maintenance — sometimes referred to as preventative, predictive, or even scheduled maintenance — is a good thing. Unfortunately, through the years I’ve found that most companies don’t have the robust strategies they need.
Typical issues and the kinds of trouble they can create:
1. Lack of structure and schedule
In many cases, routine tasks are just entries on a to-do list of work that needs to be performed — with nothing within the work pack to drive compliance. In particular, a list of tasks beginning with “Check” which have no guidance of an acceptable limit can have limited value. The result can be a “tick and flick” style routine maintenance program that fails to identify impending failure warning conditions.
2. Similar assets, similar duty, different strategies
Oftentimes, maintenance views each piece of equipment as a standalone object, with its own unique maintenance strategy. As a result, one organization could have dozens of maintenance strategies to manage, eating up time and resources. In extreme cases, this can lead to similar assets having completely different recorded failure mechanisms and routine tasks, worded differently, grouped differently and structured differently within the CMMS.
3. Operational focus
Operations might be reluctant to take equipment out of service for maintenance, so they delay or even cancel the appropriate scheduled maintenance. At times this decision is driven by the thought that the repair activity is the same in a planned or reactive manner. But experience tells us that without maintenance, the risk is even longer downtime and more expensive repairs when something fails.
4. Reactive routines
Sometimes, when an organization has been burned in the past by a preventable failure, they overcompensate by performing maintenance tasks more often than necessary. The problem is, the team might be wasting time doing unnecessary work — worse still it might even increase the likelihood of future problems, simply because unnecessary intrusive maintenance can increase the risk of failure.
5. Over-reliance on past experience
There’s no substitute for direct experience and expertise. But when tasks and frequencies are too solely based on opinions and “what we’ve always done” — rather than sound assumptions — maintenance teams can run into trouble through either over or under maintaining. Without documented assumptions, business decisions are based on little more than a hunch. “Doing what we’ve always done” might not be the right approach for the current equipment, with the current duty, in the current business environment (and it certainly makes future review difficult).
6. Failure to address infrequent but high consequence failures
Naturally, routine tasks account for the most common failure modes. They should however also address failures that happen less frequently, but may have a significant impact on the business. Developing a maintenance plan which addresses both types, prevents unnecessary risk. For example, a bearing may be set up on a lubrication schedule, but if there’s no plan to detect performance degradations due to a lubrication deficiency, misalignment, material defect, etc then undetected high consequence failures can occur.
7. Inadequate task instructions
Developing maintenance guidelines and best practices takes time and effort. Yet, all too often, the maintenance organization fails to capture all that hard-won knowledge by creating clear, detailed instructions. Instead, they fall back on the maintenance person’s knowledge — only to lose it when a person leaves the team. Over time, incomplete instructions can lead to poorly executed, “bandaid-style” tasks that get worse as the months go by.
8. Assuming new equipment will operate without failure for a period of time
There’s a unique situation that often occurs when new equipment is brought online. Maintenance teams assume they have to operate the new equipment first to see how it fails before they can identify and create the appropriate maintenance tasks. It’s easy to overlook the fact that they likely have similar equipment with similar points of failure. Their data from related equipment provides a basic foundation for constructing effective routine maintenance.
9. Missing opportunity to improve
If completed tasks aren’t reviewed regularly to gather feedback on instructions, tools needed, spare parts needed, and frequency; the maintenance process never gets better. The quality or effectiveness of the tasks then degrade over time and, with it, so does the equipment.
10. Doing what we can and not what we should
Too often, maintenance teams decide which tasks to perform based on their present skill sets — rather than equipment requirements. Technical competency gaps can be addressed with a training plan and/or new hires, as necessary, but the tasks should be driven by what the equipment needs.
Without a robust routine maintenance plan, you’re nearly always in reactive mode — conducting ad-hoc maintenance that takes more time, uses more resources, and could incur more downtime than simply taking care of things more proactively. What’s worse, it’s a vicious cycle. The more time maintenance personnel spend fighting fires, the more their morale, productivity, and budget erodes. The less effective routine work that is performed, the more equipment uptime and business profitability suffer. At a certain point, it takes a herculean effort simply to regain stability and prevent further performance declines.
Here’s the good news: An optimized maintenance strategy, constructed with the right structure is simpler and easier to sustain. By fine-tuning your approach, you make sure your team is executing the right number and type of maintenance tasks, at the right intervals, in the right way, using an appropriate amount of resources and spare parts. And with a framework for continuous improvement, you can ultimately drive towards higher reliability, availability and more efficient use of your production equipment.
Want to learn more? Check out our next blog in this series, Plans Can Always Be Improved: Top 5 Reasons to Optimize Your Maintenance Strategy.