Evolution of a Maintenance Department

EP Editorial Staff | January 2, 2004

An organization moves from disrespect to world-class status.

Over the past eight years, Dunlee, a division of a subsidiary of Philips Medical Systems and a world leader in the design, manufacture, and distribution of CT and radiographic x-ray tubes, has made significant changes within its organization to become world-class. The company’s evolution was initiated by high-level changes that filtered down to the maintenance department. Through this experience, Dunlee learned that changes in the maintenance department can, in return, have a high-level impact on the organization as a whole.

No respect for maintenance
Prior to 1994, Dunlee’s maintenance department was organized only by craft zones (plumbing, electrical, mechanical). Personnel consisted of an electrician, an electrician’s assistant, a general mechanical worker, and a janitor. Since Dunlee did not have many computer-controlled devices, the required skill set was basic. If a job was not routine, quality would slip.

In many cases machines repaired by maintenance workers had to be revisited two or three times before being fixed properly. Many employees viewed the members of the maintenance department as glorified janitors and did not have confidence in them. As a result, it was not uncommon to hear heated debates about work prioritization, and much of maintenance was outsourced. Resources other than the maintenance department were used for challenging tasks, and manufacturing engineers and production supervisors performed most of the repairs on production equipment.

The maintenance department was not viewed as a critical business contributor, and other business functions took priority. Evidence of this viewpoint was the maintenance department’s location—a too-small space located in the back corner of the building that prevented easy access to tools and spare parts.

Although maintenance workers reported to the machine shop supervisor, no one was directly responsible for managing Dunlee’s maintenance needs. A public address system was used to page maintenance workers when help was needed, or operators would flag maintenance staffers down as they passed in the hall. The maintenance worker decided whether to interrupt his current job, not a supervisor. Work orders (including a significant number of which the maintenance department was unaware) were never recorded, and status seldom was known.

New plant poses changes
Because Dunlee is a technology company, it places its emphasis on product development. Newer, high-tech products require modern process equipment, and modern process equipment requires space. The current facility lacked square footage and the ability to expand. And because of its location, it was hard to attract good people with technical skills to the facility. During 1994, it was decided that the best way to address these issues would be to move to a new facility.

Dunlee’s parent company approved the project to build a new facility with some key improvements, such as a class 10,000 clean room, computer-controlled equipment and processes, facility-wide air conditioning, positive air pressure, higher ceiling heights allowing for better heat management of processes, and enough space to allow for later expansion.

With the decision to expand came the hiring of a new president to direct the effort. Once the new facility was up and running, it would require $2 million to $3 million every year thereafter for additional assets. A conscious decision was made to ensure that those assets would be well maintained. A new set of standards was created not just for maintenance, but also for the entire organization.

When maintenance was notified that the maintenance organization was about to change, attitudes were mixed. Some employees left Dunlee, while others embraced the change. A move team responsible for transitioning the organization from the old building to the new building and getting the new building up and running was assembled and was thought to be the nucleus for the new maintenance department.

Needs for the new maintenance organization began to emerge. Production was concerned with reducing unplanned downtime, partly through better work planning and inventory control, and wanted to standardize such processes as releasing a new piece of equipment. To support the new facility and its new process equipment, they knew a change was needed in the maintenance group.

Management recognized other important issues. They knew that allowing easy access to equipment facilitated maintenance and allowed production to continue without interruption. In addition, they wanted to place the maintenance department in the middle of the facility to minimize transportation costs. To improve reliability of the utility support system, they saw the need to design redundant recirculating cooling water pumps, air compressor supplies, and distribution means.

Maintenance manager hired
In 1995, key personnel changes occurred with the addition of two skilled maintenance technicians and a maintenance manager who would form the core of the new maintenance organization. It was this maintenance manager who was the driving force behind Dunlee’s current world-class status. A five-year maintenance excellence initiative plan was created and approved by the president.

The plan included developing a maintenance organizational structure, increasing the level of expertise within the maintenance department, and implementing a formalized maintenance system. One of the first work processes changed was the work orders with the implementation of a paper system. Although there was resistance within and outside the department to the changes, the president’s support pushed the effort.

Gradually, the production facility at Bellwood was moved to the new Aurora facility. Maintenance was divided between the two facilities, making it difficult to control quality and implement change, yet improvements were made. Personnel changes continued in order to increase the skill level, communication with other departments was poor but on the increase, and the department was becoming more structured. Although minute, these changes were making an impact on the company, and the value of the maintenance department to the overall organization began to grow.

Work load increases
In 1996, Dunlee’s move to the new production facility was complete. The maintenance department consisted of the maintenance manager, two group leaders, and five maintenance technicians. Numeric pagers replaced the PA system, improving response time; emphasis was placed on root cause analysis; and a preventive maintenance program was started.

With these changes, new problems arose. The biggest issue was the way work orders were handled. Work requests submitted by other departments would sometimes get “lost” or go unrecorded. This caused friction between maintenance and its customers. Notifying all affected parties of the status of work requests was difficult and time consuming, and sometimes not done. So the maintenance department created a work order database, allowing work orders to be sorted and checked.

As the department sought to improve its maintenance practices, its workload increased. Dunlee accepted this result because it knew that in the long run, workload would be optimized. Additional personnel were approved for the department, reconfirming the growing value of maintenance to the organization and continuing senior management support. The organization of available material and spare parts began, and the department began to track its first performance indicator: downtime. The desire to reduce the amount of reactive work and increase the amount of preventive work began to grow.

Although work order handling had improved, it was very time consuming to create, log, analyze, and update the database even though critical information such as labor, parts, and downtime was not being recorded on work orders. Because an approval process for work requests did not exist, the status of work requests was communicated verbally or by sending an e-mail to the person requesting the work. The maintenance department had changed dramatically but was far from achieving its goal of becoming a world-class organization.

This is the point where many organizations attempting to change either pause, stop, or go back to the old methods. The work load was increasing, not going down; internal customers were dissatisfied; improvements were not documented; and day-to-day activities were overwhelming, making it difficult to work on process improvements such as setting up PMs or doing any root cause analysis.

Getting an outside assessment
In 1997, upper management approved a request to bring in an outside consultant to review the operations of the maintenance organization. The consultant was to assess the current maintenance organization and how it interacted with the entire organization, identify gaps, recommend corrective actions, and develop cost justifications for any improvements. See accompanying section “Recommendations from Outside Consultant.

Most of the consultant’s recommendations already were part of the five-year maintenance excellence initiative plan, reinforcing that Dunlee was on the right track to achieving world-class maintenance status. With the backing of an expert, obtaining upper management support for further changes within maintenance was facilitated.

The changes recommended and planned required time and financial commitment. Because hiring a maintenance planner was thought to have the greatest impact, it was the first recommendation implemented. With this addition, the maintenance department consisted of a maintenance manager, two group leaders, seven maintenance technicians, and a maintenance planner.

Although significant changes had been made in the maintenance team over the past two years, there was no supporting data. Collecting and analyzing data manually was too time consuming for the number of personnel in the department. It became obvious that a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) was needed. Therefore, it was the next recommendation implemented.

Within 3 months of being hired, the maintenance planner had defined the requirements for a CMMS and researched various software packages. The CMMS capital request was submitted and quickly approved. The vendor installed the software, gave an overview of the system, and performed initial training for the maintenance department.

Rather than use consultants, Dunlee used internal resources for the input and setup of data. While this reduced initial implementation costs, the duration of the implementation stage was extended. Despite using internal resources, within 6 months of the maintenance planner being hired, a CMMS was set up and operational. Immediately, Dunlee recognized the labor hours saved in tracking work orders and began to track other maintenance data key to world-class status.

During this time, department objectives with specific targets were set. Every member of the department had individual goals, which directly supported the objectives of the department. To reach these interdependent goals, the department had to work together as a team to be successful. The department goals and results were posted each month, and workers had to respond to the objectives for which they were responsible. Objectives were reviewed regularly to determine which ones needed additional attention or further improvements.

Improvements seen
In 1998, the fourth year of the plan, improvement was seen in unscheduled production equipment downtime. Preventive maintenance activities had increased. Production personnel began to perform some of the PM activities, freeing up maintenance manpower. The CMMS was used to track objectives, freeing up even more manpower. The increased maintenance manpower was redirected to resolve root causes of problems and perform project work.

Since no work was to be done without a work order, 100 percent of work performed was being tracked and a clear picture of actual workload and cost was being painted. Most of the other objective results, however, were unsatisfactory.

Some training had begun; however, a formal training program still was not in place. Additional work was being scheduled but a significant amount of the work was still reactive. As the maintenance department value grew, so did the demands on its manpower. Priorities were being set and work scheduled. Some customers were dissatisfied because they did not get immediate action. Resistance to change still existed within the company, slowing progress.

Although an e-mail-based work order request system sent notification of work order status changes, no other information about the work order was available. Weekly work order reports showing status, scheduling information, comments, assignments, and constraints had to be created and distributed manually. This improved communication between the maintenance department and its customers but was very time consuming. Also, complaints about the weekly report existed because the report was quickly outdated and not always reliable with work order information changing so quickly.

In 1999, the fifth year of the plan, some of the most dramatic changes occurred. Downtime was moving toward world-class levels. The amount of work scheduled jumped from 50 percent to 80 percent. Meetings were held with the appropriate upper management to establish maintenance priorities. This reduced customer dissatisfaction with how maintenance manpower was allocated. Ninety percent of work orders were consistently completed on time, improving the credibility of the maintenance schedule.

Resistance to maintenance within the company was diminishing. The amount of training had increased. The implementation of a web-based work order request system began, allowing real-time viewing of work order information such as status, comments, and date scheduled and eliminated the last major barrier to change (outdated and unreliable work order reports). The value of the maintenance department to the organization continued to grow.

Goal reached by plan’s end
In 2000, when the plan was complete, the results neared world-class levels. Over 90 percent of work was scheduled, and over 90 percent of work was performed on time. Training became a major focus. Downtime consistently surpassed the world-class target. Communication with customers was performed electronically. The demand for maintenance manpower continued to be strong. Past due work orders were nearly eliminated. Requests for equipment reliability and history data started since the CMMS was instituted proved it to be a resource of valuable information. The maintenance department had accomplished its vision within its target date.

In 2001, six years after the changes began, improvements continued, but much of the effort was placed on maintaining world-class results. Production equipment downtime continued to drop. On-time completion was consistently over 95 percent. More than 90 percent of the work was scheduled. Training continued.

Improvements on the spare parts/inventory system continued with the hiring of a person responsible for inventory improvements and accuracy. Communication within the department improved as the numeric pagers were replaced with alpha-numeric pagers. Technicians now could receive information (equipment and problem descriptions) about new work orders without logging into the CMMS, saving time and money. The skill level of the department had increased, expanding the type and complexity of work requests and indicating that the value of the maintenance department to the overall organization remained high.

Commitment to world class
Today, Dunlee maintenance receives support from the whole organization, including production. The production mindset has changed from “there is no time available for PMs” to “time will be made available in the production schedule for PMs.” Various departments request reports from maintenance, including downtime reports, work order history, and other reports showing process control, times, and root cause analysis. Equipment improvement projects are scheduled when maintenance manpower is available.

Dunlee is committed to world-class maintenance and knows that it calls for continuous improvement. The company’s future goals are to fully utilize its CMMS, improve equipment spare parts lists and PMs, auto-generate requisitions to reorder stocked items, increase inventory accuracy, implement barcoding to automate work order data collection, increase predictive maintenance where appropriate, and continue the focus on root cause analysis.

Dunlee’s advice is to expect that the road to change is not always smooth. If you encounter resistance, don’t lose sight of your goals. MT

Ruth Olszewski is the president of CMMS data group. She can be reached at 25 E. Washington St., Suite 1465, Chicago, IL 60602; (312) 863-6501. Tom Carlson is a manager at Dunlee responsible for manufacturing equipment and facility maintenance. He can be reached at (630) 585-2617.


The consultant made several key recommendations to improve efficiency and reduce overall costs:

• Procure a CMMS package. This would allow Dunlee to move away from a manual maintenance management system to save time and reduce costs.
• Hire a maintenance planner. This would allow Dunlee to get a better grasp of its work load, increase the number of planned vs unplanned work orders, expand the PM program, and improve communication between maintenance and its internal customers, mainly production.
• Establish goals and benchmarks. This would assist Dunlee in verifying that progress was being made and targets were being hit within its maintenance organization.
• Hire an inventory clerk. This would allow Dunlee to track inventory and reduce inventory handling and procurement costs.
• Establish a technical skills training program. This would improve the skill level of maintenance workers, increasing efficiency.

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