Maintenance Predictive Maintenance Preventive Maintenance Reliability

Achieve Results from Your Improvement Initiatives

EP Editorial Staff | August 14, 2018

What’s keeping your reliability and maintenance efforts from delivering the desired returns?

By Christer Idhammar, IDCON INC.

Depending on how good you are when you start, successful reliability and maintenance (R&M) improvement initiatives can help increase quality production throughput by 1% to 5% while reducing maintenance costs and boosting safety by 15% to 20%. There are many reasons why such initiatives may not live up to their potential. Among the most common are:

• lack of long-term, consistent leadership
• focusing on support tools as opposed to integrating them into an overall system
• devoting more time to development of a plan than its implementation
• concentrating on technology rather than people and processes.


Figure 1 reflects the fallout from lack of long-term, consistent leadership. Consider the following real-world example of an organization that embarked upon a Planned Maintenance program several years ago.

The referenced initiative lasted a couple of years and was followed by a Predictive Maintenance (PdM) implementation, which lasted about as long. Those efforts were followed by implementations of Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) and Condition Based Maintenance (CBM). Then came Reliability Centered Maintenance (RCM), which is a tool and not a complete process, followed by Asset Management (AM) Total Productive Reliability (TPR). Fast forward to today, and we find the organization embracing Lean Maintenance.

Fig. 1. Why some initiatives fail (Image IDCON INC.)

While nothing is wrong with any of these initiatives, at some point, people in an organization begin to suffer from “New Program Fatigue.” In turn, it becomes increasingly difficult for subsequent initiatives to attract enthusiastic followers beyond the “Happy Islands” of those who introduce them.

Surveys have shown that more than 60% of plants have had more than three plant managers, production managers, and maintenance managers in the last 10 years. Alas, progress in R&M can stall when incoming managers promote new initiatives without truly evaluating present and previous improvements. Those types of improvement initiatives, though, are not one-time projects, but rather processes that mostly deal with people and behaviors. Just like safety, such initiatives must be constantly reinforced and measured.

In his 1982 book Out of the Crisis (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Center for Advanced Educational Services, Cambridge, MA), W. Edwards Deming pointed to management mobility as one of the “deadly diseases” in American companies. That’s because frequent changes in management lead to lack of a long-term implementation of well thought-out, documented, communicated, and executed strategies.

Sadly, very few maintenance organizations have a strategy—and if they do, it’s executed poorly, if at all. One reason can be the frequent change in managers and the new programs they often introduce. Best-in-class organizations, however, have a good strategy, coupled with a clear mission and a measurable vision (Future State). This strategy is executed and performance is measured annually through audits. Regular and repeatable audits are vital to sustain and drive the improvements achieved through the execution of the strategy.

The holistic reliability and maintenance-management system can be described as follows:

  1. The market drives the production plan.
  2. The maintenance plan (here described as Work Management, including Planning and Scheduling) is the hub of the system. This is where decisions are made regarding what work will be done, priorities of that work, planning the work, and then scheduling it
  3. The technical database includes, among other things, Bills of Materials (BOMs), drawings, and histories. A good technical database enables efficient planning of work.
  4. If planning and scheduling is done well, the craftspeople who perform the work are enabled to execute work more safely and efficiently, with greater precision (see Fig. 2).
  5. After work is performed, details of what was done and other important information regarding the activity are to be recorded in the history.
  6. The recorded history is one of the inputs used to carry out good Root Cause Problem Elimination (RCPE) and continuously improve.
  7. If this circle is executed with a minimum of interruptions, there is continuous improvement. If it’s disrupted because of urgent work, the circle of continuous improvement is broken. While personnel must react on real or perceived urgent work, a circle of despair can take hold.
  8. When a site’s reactive work is more than approximately 10% of total maintenance hours, maintenance personnel probably aren’t disciplined with regard to priorities, meaning they may not be executing preventive tasks well, including such things as lubrication, precision alignment, balancing, operating practices, filtration, justified Fixed Time maintenance. It is also common for preventive maintenance (PM) tasks, including basic look-, listen-, feel-, and smell-type inspections, and PdM activities, including, for example, vibration analysis, wear-particle analysis, and oil analysis, are not done well, nor completed 100%.

The point is that best-in-class organizations never stop improving execution and continuous improvement of this holistic system. But how do they do it?

Fig. 2. According to a 2015 study of 100 companies by the University of Tennessee Reliability and Maintainability Center (UT-RMC), more safety incidents were seen in those with reactive maintenance cultures than those with a proactive approach. (Image IDCON INC.)


There are many excellent tools and supporting processes that a plant can leverage to enhance performance of a holistic reliability and maintenance system. Granted, most organizations have gone through a multitude of improvement programs over time. Many of these initiatives aren’t completed or sustained. In many cases, if a new tool is introduced, people tend to think of it as just another “program of the month.” Thus, it’s crucial to explain how any new tool fits into a holistic reliability and maintenance system, and that, just like safety, performance indicators for reliability and maintenance performance will continue to be reinforced to drive continuous improvements. Some common tools/processes include:

Computerized Maintenance Management System (CMMS). Without a CMMS, it is virtually impossible to efficiently manage reliability and maintenance in today’s plants and facilities.

Single Minute Exchange of Die (SMED). Used to develop standard job plans, SMED separates what is to be done before, during, and after a job is completed.

Reliability Centered Maintenance (RCM). As a tool, NOT a complete system, RCM methodology can help determine the right tasks and frequency of maintenance for components in very complex systems.

Kaizen. Referencing the Japanese word for “continuous improvement,” a kaizen event can focus on one task to improve.

Six Sigma. Leveraged to improve the quality of the output of a process, Six Sigma identifies and removes the causes of defects and minimizes variability in manufacturing and business processes. It uses a set of quality-management methods, mainly empiricalstatistical methods. Every Six Sigma project follows a defined sequence of steps and has specific value targets, i.e., to reduce failure rate, reduce shutdown time, and prolong electric motor life, among others.

Five S. Short for “sort, set in order, shine, standardize, and sustain,” the Five S method can be used to organize a workshop, stores, workplace, and the like.


Over the years, I have seen countless great, well-documented improvement plans introduced in colorful Power Point presentations by highly enthusiastic employees. Yet, while plant managers showed strong support in kick-off meetings, after six to 12 months, many of these initiatives were still not implemented. I call it “Rocking-horse management” (a lot of rocking, but not much progress forward).

Over the years, I have seen countless great, well-documented improvement plans introduced in colorful Power Point presentations by highly enthusiastic employees. Yet, while plant managers showed strong support in kick-off meetings, after six to 12 months, many of these initiatives were still not implemented. I call it “rocking-horse management” (a lot of rocking, but not much progress forward).

In such cases, a plan might have been very good, developed by very capable people, who, unfortunately, ended up on “Happy Islands,” i.e., very enthusiastic for their mission, despite the fact that their efforts languished. We have to understand that developing an improvement plan is quite easy. So is communicating the plan. Implementing consistently over a long period of time, then sustaining and continuously all elements all of such plans is much more challenging and time-consuming. Successful reliability and maintenance improvement initiatives has shown that:

Time and effort to develop plan is about 5% of the total time.
Time and effort to communicate plan to employees is about 10% of total time.
Time and effort to implement plan is about 85% of total time and effort.

Most organizations underestimate the time it takes to change an organization from reactive to a high performing organization that delivers Reliability and Maintenance Excellence. Results in better safety, faster quality volume product throughput, and lower costs will be among the results as improvements are implemented. Break-through results take two to seven years, because the improvements come through changing culture and people.  


Technology is good—and necessary. And maintenance personnel like technology. Accordingly, it’s common for improvement efforts to focus on technology instead of processes and people.

Many engineers are used to working with facts in designs and specifications. In a maintenance organization, however, we also have to manage people with different opinions and all that comes with those varied viewpoints/perceptions.

Acquiring new vibration analyzers, handheld data collectors, or online condition-monitoring systems (all good and valid technologies) is a noble pursuit. But, if those technologies aren’t used by qualified people—in well-defined, well-executed processes—desired improvements could be lacking.

In addition to bringing in new technologies, it’s important to enlighten personnel on the right methods and frequencies of application, as well as how to prioritize, plan, and schedule corrective actions for failures found using these technologies. This should include education and training of people to achieve awareness, understanding, and skills. But that may be the easy part: Instilling a culture to execute work in these processes takes more effort and time.

To sustain craft skills for performing precision-maintenance repairs, it is important to first implement the basic processes of inspections and work management to reduce reactive work. When that’s done, personnel should be trained in precision maintenance repairs.

If not done in this order, those who have been in this manner will fall back into reactive maintenance modes. For example, too much work will be urgent, and there won’t be time to perform precision alignment. In the end, the skills acquired during training will be lost and people will be disappointed.

In summary, most people know what to do, but cannot find the time to do it. Too many conflicting priorities are common reason for this. If that’s the case in your operations, if you lead, on-the-job coach, and empower your personnel to implement and execute basic R&M processes well, you will help them improve and free up time to complete what they previously couldn’t do.

Christer Idhammar is founder and executive vice president of IDCON INC., Raleigh, NC. For more information on a wide range of workplace/workforce issues and solutions, email and/or visit



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