Optimize your maintenance team

May 27, 2010   by Richard Kunst

Organize your maintenance team by applying 5S+1.

Photo: iStockphoto


Okay, I probably shouldn’t generalize, but I am convinced many organizations aren’t optimizing their maintenance groups. When I visit most companies the plant tour normally bypasses the maintenance shop, likely because they would be embarrassed by what I may see.

In other cases, the group is secluded in a back part of the facility shrouded behind a tarp or curtain, supposedly to shield employees from welding arcs. 

Here’s what I think: maintenance folks tend to have the following common traits:

• They have a valued skill set.
• They like to keep everything, just in case, which means a lot of dollars.
• They’re always busy…just ask them.
• They’re doing stuff, but what stuff? We’re never entirely sure.
• They never travel alone anywhere in the plant.
• They’re like paramedics ready to administer first aid to equipment.

How do we make the department more pro-active and of value to the organization? Get them organized through the application of 5S+1. This may seem basic but if you think it’s a difficult task within the plant, getting maintenance people organized is 100 times more so. Remember, they’re always busy. But if a machine suddenly breaks down, how much search time is consumed while they walk back to their maintenance cave searching for replacement parts?

When equipment breaks, the accountability of expense controls is put aside to get equipment up and running.

Categorize their MRO supplies and place them on a kanban system or VMI program. All of the fittings, fasteners and other gadgets used for equipment first aid will quickly consume a lot of cash. Most companies remain focused on just getting the employees to complete daily TPM tasks. Get your mechanics to be more pro-active. If a TPM program is already in place, have them conduct daily audits of specific machines and operations. This is a great opportunity for enhancing the training of team members who are running the equipment.

Schedule your mechanics to run a machine or operation for an extended period of time during the week. They’ll find areas of opportunity and have the ability to enhance and improve the process capability of the machine and/or the process. Be prepared for push back since they will claim not to have time to run the machine… because they are busy doing stuff.

Richard Kunst is president and CEO of Kunst Solutions Corp., which publishes the Lean Thoughts e-newsletter. Contact him at

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