Is your plant world class?

Maintenance professionals, practitioners, scientists and speakers from around the world gather in Toronto each year for an exchange of ideas and to report on research and effective maintenance practices.

May 13, 2011   by Steve Gahbauer

Maintenance professionals, practitioners, scientists and speakers from around the world gather in Toronto each year for an exchange of ideas and to report on research and effective maintenance practices. The International Maintenance Excellence Conference (IMEC), co-organized by the Centre for Maintenance Optimization and Reliability Engineering (C-MORE) of the University of Toronto, and Applied Technology Publications (US), encourages collaboration between industry and research.

The following ideas presented at the sixth IMEC offer a selection of take-aways from the sessions.

Eliminating waste. Anders Lif, the global director for product and industry marketing of Sweden-based ISF AB and a regular presenter at IMEC, is passionate about eliminating wasteful practices that cost manufacturing and processing plants billions of dollars in lost time each year.

Says Lif: “The idea is to solve the problem before it turns into a full-scale disaster. By feeding your Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) system with information, such as production events, meantime between failure and equipment condition, you can react instantly. All information is gathered in real-time, avoiding costly time lags.”


Organizations could share inventory between similar plants. For this to work, a common naming standard would have to be developed. A shared master data would greatly benefit several locations, resulting in greater availability of spare parts and a reduction in tied-up capital.

A winning maintenance strategy. Guy Delahay, the founder of Holland’s Mainnovation and a principal proponent of value-driven maintenance (VDM), has some workable ideas on how to win the maintenance game.

An important step is aligning VDM with other running initiatives, such as reliability-centred maintenance (RCM), total productive maintenance (TPM), and lean maintenance efforts. Bear in mind that RCM is a very structured approach to find the most effective preventive maintenance action for an asset. Thus, reliability engineering is a crucial competence in any VDM improvement agenda.

Driving VDM
TPM is useful to understand production output and aligning operations and maintenance. However, he warns “zero defects” is not necessarily a logical goal anymore. He says manufacturing techniques have evolved and improved over the last five decades. Now there is Toyota’s total production system (TPS), which combines TPM with Six Sigma, kaizen and other techniques. “Lean” is about reducing waste, reducing redundancies and eliminating non-value-adding activities. But what is and what is not value-adding to maintenance? Here, VDM provides a framework for finding solutions. For a winning maintenance strategy you have to know your dominant value driver, understand how good you are and where to improve, use technology and innovation, and measure your performance continuously.

World-class reliability. Klaus Blache, associate director of the Reliability and Maintainability Center, and research professor at the College of Engineering, University of Tennessee, says what the best plants have in common is standardization, lean maintenance, TPM, Six Sigma, kaizen and 5S. What better plants have in common is numerous small teams on the plant floor wanting to make a difference and being given an opportunity to achieve it.

Create the condition that enables excellence. Live the core values. There are many small improvements happening at varying intervals that are leads to learning. In North America we say that new equipment performs at its best when acquired, and over time performance will degrade. In Japan, the thinking is different: at acquisition, new equipment performs at its worst. Work needs to be done to improve its performance dramatically.

Blache maintains that excellence is a culture value. Benchmarking, flexibility, openness to new ideas, continuous improvement, meeting customer requirements, minimizing the seven wastes in all parts of the business are all good things. But to derive benefits from them requires positive and cooperative employees.

Optimizing performance. Dr. Andrew Jardine, director of the Centre for Maintenance Optimization and Reliability Engineering (C-MORE) at the University of Toronto and the instigator of IMEC, is a strong believer in evidence-based asset management (EBAM) and the role knowledge plays in optimizing maintenance performance.

EBAM presents both challenges – data is limited – and opportunities (taking advantage of tacit knowledge and combining it with hard data).

The best example of this is condition-based monitoring via a predictive maintenance program. However, condition monitoring is not really a precise science, Jardine is quick to point out. There is plenty of data, but he questions how much of it is really informative. He cites oil analysis as a classical example. It’s simple to understand, but there are limitations: the questions of which measurements are meaningful, what are the optimal limits, how does age affect the readings, and how reliable are predictions? What are the real consequences of failure?

A useful tool is the EXAKT software for condition-based maintenance optimization (developed by Jardine et al), which produces charts for optimal maintenance decision-making.

What does it take to become a world-class maintenance organization? A plenary session offered these points: make smart decisions; communicate smart information effectively to stakeholders; understand how assets function and eventually fail; make maximum use of information technology; keep people informed; encourage buy-in; keep employees smiling and contributing suggestions; take those ideas seriously and implement the most promising ones; and work as a team every day.

Steve Gahbauer, an engineer and Toronto-based freelance writer, is the former engineering editor of Canadian PLANT. E-mail

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