Reliability challenge

The Reinventing Maintenance conference provided insights into the value maintenance brings to manufacturing and how it improves plant productivity.

November 4, 2011   by Steve Gahbauer

Times are changing and the adage “reinventing maintenance” has become a peremptory challenge that we ignore at our peril. As reliability-centred maintenance evolves with the emergence of new technologies to more sophisticated and effective levels, there’s a refocusing on maintenance as a business imperative, and measuring has come under renewed scrutiny.

After a two-year hiatus, Federated Press convened its eighth maintenance conference this year in Toronto, appropriately titled “Reinventing Maintenance.” Here are three key points gleaned from the event that make the case for maintenance in today’s manufacturing environment.

It’s a business. Daniel Lawson, a continuous improvement manager, plant services, for Blount Canada Ltd., an industrial chainsaw manufacturer and exporter in Guelph, Ont., stressed the importance of treating maintenance as a business. Production pressures, equipment condition, on-time delivery and quality issues are changing the way we must look at processes and equipment, and Lawson suggests total productive maintenance (TPM) plays an important role keeping unscheduled and emergency activity to a minimum. But it also refocuses maintenance as a crucial part of the business structure rather than the non-profit, “necessary evil” service it’s often perceived to be. It does this by restoring machine uptime, eliminating sources of contamination, improving equipment accessibility, setting maintenance standards, honing inspection skills, educating and training operators, and working to the performance of tasks by the right person at the right time. The end result: a fatter bottom line.

Measure to manage. Cliff Williams, the corporate maintenance manager at chemicals company ERCO Worldwide, raises an important question: do we measure to manage or just measure?


“The purpose of measuring is to gather relevant information to allow more informed decision-making and to drive continuous improvement in support of corporate goals,” Williams says.

So what should we measure?

A good place to start is the effect of good maintenance on output, such as the cost per unit of product, and applying such key performance indicators (KPIs) as:

• OEE (overall equipment effectiveness) – availability output efficiency multiplied by quality.

• MTBF  (meantime between failures – total hours divided by the number of failures.

• MTTR (meantime to repair) – total downtime divided by the number of failures (useful only when root causes of failure are identified).

• Inventory turnover – use computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) capabilities with a failure code field and an area for tracking inventory turnover (in Canada 1½ times per year).

Leverage technology. CMMSs with their many bells and whistles are notoriously underused. Among their many benefits, they facilitate the integration of different levels within and outside an organization for information sharing.

In a recent article, David Berger, a principal with Western Management Consultants who is an expert on CMMS technology, says maintenance departments must ensure basic CMMS modules are fully integrated. As a minimum, this includes work order control, preventive maintenance, spare parts inventory control and equipment history.

Berger points out that one advantage of integration between departments is that each plant can search the corporate database for a given part before purchasing from an outside vendor. This would keep enterprise-wide inventory levels to a minimum and improve lead times. And each plant determines the reliability of a given brand of equipment or component by accessing the history of another plant before purchasing it.

Now most CMMS vendors have built in the appropriate interfaces, Berger says electronic data interchange and the internet will accommodate electronic catalogues, the electronic transfer of quotations, purchase orders and invoices for spare parts, and contract maintenance purchases.

A CMMS package should provide information for fault analysis, root cause analysis, costing, work statistics and guidance for improvement. The quality of information is key to determining reliability.

In a presentation titled “Maximizing the Effectiveness of CMMS,” maintenance management specialist Richard Beer, president and practice manager of TRO Maintenance Solutions in Mississauga, Ont., offered some intriguing thoughts on how to optimize CMMS effectiveness, the challenges, critical success factors, and a fresh look at the golden rules.

Beer reminds us that a CMMS is a useful tool for improving equipment reliability, but it also poses a number of challenges. Among them are understanding what the system is designed to do and training people to use it effectively; combating the sense that using a CMMS is like feeding a beast that takes too much effort and too many people; and getting maintenance people to input meaningful information. Garbage in produces garbage out, so it’s prudent to carefully select and monitor input.

Benefits of a CMMS
If used properly, a CMMS has many benefits that include data collection, processing and analysis, as well as planning, recording and reporting all maintenance activities. A system used effectively is proactive (preventing catastrophic failures), efficient (life-cycle management) and it encourages due diligence.

CMMS rules are consistency, standardization, coding structure, a system that goes from general to specific, keeping it simple, understanding the architecture of the software (parent/child relationship) and recognizing sorting of a database defaults in a natural order.

Beer cites two critical success factors in running an effective CMMS: it has to be seen as a corporate asset (senior management support); and it has to have defined goals and objectives.

Threats to maximizing the effectiveness of a CMMS are changing and uncertain company policies and objectives; frequent staff turnover; lack of, or poor, training; reduced staffing; lack of database reviews and audits; and outdated software. Remember that upgrades are always available.

This “new” approach to maintenance must be aligned to corporate strategy. And there must be adequate feedback and validation. We need a fresh look at how to perform maintenance and at the tools and technologies available to derive the greatest benefits. Without state-of-the-art maintenance nothing will work – something that CEOs are well advised to remember.

Contributing editor Steve Gahbauer, an engineer, Toronto-based freelance writer, and former engineering editor of PLANT, attended the 8th Reinventing Maintenance conference in Toronto. E-mail

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