January Management Work Processes

The Plant Manager As Change Agent  

EP Editorial Staff | January 18, 2013


Everything points to the plant manager as the key to maintenance success.

By Paul D. Tomlingson, Paul D. Tomlingson Associates, Inc.

The main objective of maintenance is to assure the reliability of modern production equipment so manufacturing and quality targets can be met on time and under budget. When successful, maintenance practices contribute to plant profitability. But what about when plant operations must withhold equipment in need of servicing because of pressure to meet production targets? Or what if a vendor fails to deliver rebuilt components on time and prevents maintenance from completing its work? In these cases and others like them, it’s clear that maintenance does not control important functions that impact its ability to perform effectively (see Table 1). Few would disagree that if plants are to run efficiently and reliably, a high degree of cooperation and mutual support among all plant departments is essential. But this is not always the case.


Table I is an eye-opener. It shows results of a survey conducted within 21 different domestic and international plant operations. Maintenance managers were asked to rate the relative importance of 15 vital maintenance control elements and list them in an order of priority. Next, they rated the degree of direct influence they had over each element (10 being highest). Then they rated the degree of control (%) that maintenance had over each element. These two ratings were multiplied to yield a control index. The findings of the survey indicated that maintenance could substantially influence only three of 15 control elements (italicized index value of more than 5.0). The remaining 12 elements could only be improved with support from other departments. Overall, in these plants, maintenance  had just 49% control over its destiny.

While maintenance departments by themselves can’t change the circumstances reflected in Table I, plant managers can. Unfortunately, it’s not necessarily easy. As one manager struggling with the task described it, “Getting my arms around this maintenance thing is like trying to separate fly-dung from pepper with boxing gloves on.” This article will attempt to sort through the dilemma and offer suggestions on how your maintenance team can help your plant manager be the change agent you need. Key points to remember are that successful maintenance requires support from the entire operation and that plant-wide cooperation starts with maintenance.

According to our evaluations, plant departments are more likely to work at cross-purposes when the maintenance program is inadequate. Consider:

  • Of 31 maintenance organizations we evaluated, none had a well-documented maintenance program. Only six maintenance managers could explain what the total program was “supposed to do.” Few of their subordinates were able to fully describe every element of their “program.” Many thought a newly purchased information system was the program.
  • Of the 31, 20% attempted self-directed teams staffed with craftsmen. All failed because a properly documented program providing work-control procedures had not been provided. Although these craftsmen were well qualified to diagnose and repair equipment problems, none had been educated on the work-control procedures previously provided by their supervisors. A well-defined program and education about its procedures could have avoided these failures.
  • Of 13 other heavy-industry maintenance clients evaluated, nine did not have a program in place and needed consulting support because they had purchased information systems they were incapable of using. Attempted implementation of those systems led to more confusion and frustration.

Defining and documenting
To alleviate the conditions noted in the above bullet points, a plant’s maintenance program must define and document several plant actions. This must first include how operations and other departments request work (work order system) and how maintenance will identify it (inspections, testing and monitoring). Maintenance must then classify the work to determine the best reaction (emergency or other priority level), then plan all non-emergency work to ensure it is accomplished efficiently. Maintenance and operations should then jointly schedule planned work (and static PM services) to ensure it is performed with minimal interference to operations and makes the best use of resources.

Upon joint approval of the schedule, maintenance must then assign work to supervisors who, in turn, ensure that each crew member has a full shift of bona–fide work. Then supervisors must control the work with direct supervision and by applying work-control procedures to ensure work quality and timeliness. The program would then specify how to measure completed work to ensure timely completion, under budget with quality results. The program would also prescribe a means to periodically evaluate accomplishments to verify satisfactory performance or identify and prioritize improvement needs.

An appropriate information system would complement the program to provide quality, accurate and timely information with which to control the functions of the program, measure cost and performance and assess accomplishments toward goals. Program documentation must be of sufficient quality so that personnel substitutions will result in the same level of performance or quality of work.

This type of program spells out what is to be done, by whom, how, when and why. If these elements are in doubt, maintenance will struggle to determine how to deal with the uncertainty they have created by not defining their program. They will find it hard to select the most effective information system, for example, without knowing what they want it to control. They will also find it hard to implement maintenance strategies (such as RCM) because they have no structure to support it. And returning to our earlier conclusion that maintenance requires all the support it can get from other departments: If maintenance cannot explain to others how to help, it will either get no help or get conflict based on guesswork.

The plant manager leads the way
An effective maintenance program is a byproduct of the plant manager’s production strategy. Its purpose is as much to ensure well-ordered procedures within maintenance as to advise other departments how to help maintenance carry out its services effectively. Sadly, plant managers often don’t understand how to devise and define the best strategy for their operation, and are frequently disappointed with their efforts to correct poor results.

Through numerous discussions with clients, we’ve learned that education is usually needed to clarify the roles of plant managers, their maintenance departments and how all departments must interact. Our first task is often to get the plant managers involved. They soon realize that in order for every department to support maintenance, each department needs to know what is expected of them. They also recognize that ground rules are needed to outline how departments should work together to support the maintenance effort. These realizations should emerge as mutually supporting departmental responsibilities, objectives and policies (see Fig. 1).


Fig. 1. A company’s mission suggests broad guidelines that help a plant manager develop his/her pathway to profitability. This leads to policies and guidelines that clarify how responsibilities are carried out.

As depicted in Fig. 1, the company mission suggests the broad guidelines upon which the plant manager can develop a production strategy or business plan (his pathway to profitability). In turn, the plant manager assigns objectives or responsibilities to each department that conform to this plan. He then states policies or guidelines to clarify how responsibilities are to be carried out, especially in the case of interdepartmental actions.

With these responsibilities and guidelines in mind, each department then develops internal procedures (such as how to plan maintenance work) and interdepartmental procedures (such as how maintenance obtains materials from the warehouse.) The collective procedures of each department then constitute that department’s program. The program is brought to life with the addition of an information system to help control internal department actions and interactions between departments, while plant managers use it to control the total plant operation.

As procedures are being developed, however, departments must communicate with/talk to each other. Concurrently, as the plant manager assembles the production strategy, he/she must assign meaningful objectives to each department. One enterprising plant manager decided to start with operations and maintenance, as their coordination was one of his biggest concerns. Seeking the best advice available to him, he met with the managers of those departments at his plant and asked them to describe how they should interact. After much discussion, Table II emerged.


Using the interactions described in Table II, the plant manager composed the following maintenance objective for his site: 

“The primary objective of maintenance is to keep production equipment in a safe, effective, as-designed operating condition so that production and quality targets can be met on time and at the least cost. A secondary objective of maintenance is to perform approved, properly engineered and correctly funded non-maintenance work (such as construction and equipment installation) to the extent that such work does not reduce the capability for carrying out basic programs. In addition, maintenance will operate support facilities (such as power generation) but will ensure that necessary resources are allocated within its work force and properly budgeted. As needed, maintenance will also monitor the satisfactory performance of contractor support when utilized to perform maintenance or capital work.”

An objective like this links maintenance with other key departments, clarifying their mutual support of the plant production strategy. Primary and secondary objectives are provided to establish precedence: production equipment first, then project work, resources permitting. By providing a clear objective, many unfortunate consequences can be avoided.

At this point, other department objectives can be roughed out for discussion, such as:

Operations…“Operate equipment properly to meet established production, quality and cost targets. Utilize maintenance services to help ensure reliable equipment. Incorporate operator maintenance in conjunction with maintenance. Observe guidelines in requesting non-maintenance support. Follow established work-order procedures in requesting work and utilize them to control work performed by operating personnel. Conduct weekly scheduling meetings with maintenance and engineering to determine the requirement for equipment shutdown for the coming week. Negotiate best shutdown times to comply with needs.”

Purchasing…“Provide support to obtain materials and services as requested by operating departments. Ensure timely delivery of materials and services as specified to permit on-time completion of maintenance or project work. Ensure delivery of quality materials and services by vendors within agreed-upon costs.”

Warehousing…“Stock and replenish specified repair materials, components and consumables to ensure they are available for use as required. Arrange procedures to have selected components rebuilt and restocked in inventory. Provide effective issue and return procedures. Operate tool room to ensure availability and accountability for specified tools.”

Accounting…“Establish a suitable information system that allows operating departments to develop and utilize information to control operations and work while providing plant-level cost and performance information. System should also provide for control of inventory and purchasing activities. Confer with all departments as system is implemented to ensure system emphasizes ease of use and highest capability among field personnel to develop data as a basis for timely, accurate, and complete information.”

The next task for the plant manager would be to develop policies to guide departments as production interacts with maintenance or purchasing, and warehousing supports maintenance. Policy-setting can only be accomplished by the plant manager, whose ultimate responsibility is plant profitability.

Most plant managers develop their policies by simply bringing department managers together and asking each of them what they expect from other departments. Soon, basic policy ingredients are revealed and expressed directly by those affected most. Take, for example, this typical policy for Preventive Maintenance:

  • Maintenance will conduct a detection-oriented PM program. The program will include inspection, condition monitoring and testing to help uncover equipment deficiencies and avoid premature equipment failure. The PM program will also provide lubrication services, cleaning, adjusting, calibration and minor component replacement to help extend equipment life.
  • Preventive maintenance will take precedence over every aspect of maintenance except bona-fide emergency work.
  • No major repairs will be initiated until PM services have established the exact condition of the equipment and elements of the repair have been correctly prioritized.
  • Equipment operators will perform appropriate PM services to help ensure the reliable operation of equipment.
  • Compliance with the PM schedule will be reported to management and supervisors controlling “no show” equipment identified.
  • The overall PM program will be assessed annually to ensure that it covers all equipment requiring services and that the most appropriate types of services are applied at the correct intervals.
  • The performance of the PM program in reducing equipment failures and extending equipment life will be verified.

Coming up
There’s much more to this discussion. It continues in the February 2013 issue of MT with the author’s detailed description for how to define a maintenance program. MT

Paul D. Tomlingson is the Principal of Paul D. Tomlingson Associates, Inc., based in Denver, CO. 82-years-young, he’s been working as a worldwide maintenance consultant for almost 45 years.  Email: pdtmtc@msn.com.





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