Maintenance Predictive Maintenance Reliability

Determine The Correct Maintenance Prescription

EP Editorial Staff | October 18, 2018

Adapting best practices from the medical arena can help drive uptime in your plant.

By D. Scott Allen, CMRP, Emerson Automation Solutions

For those outside the medical profession, doctors seem to perform magic, working under tremendous pressure to stave off dire situations. But magic has nothing to do with success in the office or emergency room (ER). Medical successes come from adhering to established, reliable strategies that have been perfected throughout time. The same can be said for plant maintenance operations.

A common example can be found in the lubrication of rotating elements. Rarely does lubricant fail without cause. Common causes of lubrication failures—introduced contaminants, incorrect lubricant, or incorrect quantity—are directly caused by human failures and can be prevented. As the “physicians” responsible for “patient” care, industry technicians can adjust practices to avoid creating a catastrophe when applying routine maintenance.

Like doctors, maintenance teams maintain awareness not only of the characteristics of the “medications” they dispense, but also the right amounts to be used and the symptoms associated with the condition being treated. Successful teams also try to mimic the rigid systems and thorough training doctors employ to ensure that the correct quantity and types of medications are administered to ensure results are accurate, effective, and repeatable.

Organizations that apply medical-grade techniques to lubrication practices will:

identify the correct type and quantity of lubricant required for equipment

train technicians to properly perform lubrication steps

provide the proper technologies to lubricate at maximum efficiency

maintain lubricants for cleanliness and control, mimicking health-care institutions’ storage, inventory control, and documentation methods

use filter carts, ultrasonic lubrication, auto-lubricators, or disposable equipment such as funnels and containers, for correct delivery of quality lubricants

document and audit all facets of the lubrication program to ensure process-repeatability and to provide for periodic review and adjustment of the program as needed.

Staying with the medical vernacular, there are several points to keep in mind when attempting find the right maintenance prescription for your plant’s equipment.


Doctors use electronic medical records (EMR), including questionnaires, forms, and record-keeping systems to gather and store the information needed to perform their jobs. A plant CMMS functions just like an EMR system—but only if it contains high-quality, usable data. High-performing teams will have rules in place for good data entry and hierarchy development and strive to keep information as up to date as possible.

Just as inadequate EMRs result in poor medical care, CMMS systems that have inaccurate or incomplete information will lead to poorly maintained machines. There are a number of steps teams can take to ensure high-quality CMMS data. Among them:

provide adequate training in the use of the CMMS

develop strict rule sets for data entry and data editing

conduct periodic reviews of Master Equipment Lists, Equipment Hierarchies, and Bills of Material (BOMs) to ensure they are up to date

create and use a work-order process that requires all work performed to be recorded and documented

maintain a document-control procedure to ensure that the correct revision of drawings, job plans, work procedures, and Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) are recorded, updated, and available

perform periodic audits and reviews designed to facilitate continuous improvement.

Best practices include recording, reviewing, and understanding the history of equipment. Additionally, teams can improve outcomes by understanding and documenting all factors that affect machines’ performance, including process needs, environmental factors, design limitations, calibration requirements, and throughput expectations.

Similar to medical professionals, when an incident occurs, maintenance teams reap substantial benefits by investigating and documenting causes, actions taken, and results of those actions.


To diagnose a patient’s condition, doctors require a complete and accurate description of symptoms. Follow-up inquiries then facilitate better diagnosis of the condition.

Likewise, the problem statement of a maintenance work request must clearly communicate issues, i.e., a detailed description of what happened, when it happened, and what factors may have contributed to the failure. The only way to achieve this is by training personnel to not only understand the need for good descriptions, but also how to write a detailed work request.

Just as medical professionals have an elaborate coding system to classify ailments and treatments, maintenance has a system of cause codes (most CMMS software provides some version of these). Successful reliability programs include training in how to use them and why that usage is important (see sidebar below).

Emulating medical professionals means using coding to provide a concise, categorized method of recording data and to track trends in “patient” histories.


A key component of good medicine is differential diagnosis: distinguishing a disease or condition from similar ailments. Doctors use differential-diagnostic procedures to systematically eliminate ailment options when multiple illnesses are possible.

Like doctors, maintenance technicians succeed when they have the correct training and knowledge needed to systematically diagnose and eliminate equipment failures. This requires an exacting understanding of how equipment is constructed and how it can fail. When technicians know in advance what failures can befall assets, they will be able to gain a clearer understanding of how those failures can be prevented.

Once differential diagnosis is achieved, maintenance can categorize and codify which diagnoses are most likely and decide if the problems are acceptable in terms of risk and effect upon the organization’s needs. If they are not acceptable, and maintenance plans to eliminate or mitigate them, technicians need to be equipped to perform testing and data analysis to validate the diagnosis and the effectiveness of any subsequent treatments. Using and documenting this data will improve machinery-health plans going forward.


Doctors not only keep detailed files for in-house use, they also share significant findings using professional organizations and publications.

Maintenance professionals also see benefits in investigating and recording failures. While systems such as a mechanical-integrity-tracking software may be used, it’s critical that all maintenance information be captured or linked within the CMMS. Consistent use of the organization’s CMMS coupled with formalized machinery care and inspection plans and standardized reporting will allow trending and tracking within the organization. Use of standardized data capture and condition monitoring will allow the use of predictive technologies to get in front of problems, and deal with the issues before they become epidemics.

To improve as a facility—as well as to improve within a particular industry—technicians commonly document, trend, and share information. Just as doctors wouldn’t share personal patient information, neither should maintenance teams share anything that would reveal proprietary or trade secrets. Still, when maintenance professionals look outside their own organizations, they often find unique solutions to improve functionality.

As it is in the medical arena, regular participation with professional organizations and groups helps personnel learn best practices and see new and novel implementations of technologies. Just as doctors rely on continuing education to keep skills up to date, so too should maintenance professionals.


Medical professionals and their organizations represent an environment of precision, purpose, and focus. Like the medical community, maintenance teams will benefit from using a structured and precise approach to maintaining and repairing equipment that includes comprehensive understanding of the facility’s assets and their failure modes, as well as adequate training and documentation to ensure consistent, repeatable results. Teams that successfully perform these tasks continually increase their value to the organizations by helping to deliver reliable operation plant-wide.

As maintenance forges further into the 21st century, teams will achieve greater success when they operate in a manner more consistent with a medical facility—rather than that of an old garage. Improving accuracy, efficiency, repeatability of practice, cleanliness, data quality, and compliance should be on the forefront of every maintenance professional’s mind. EP

Bottom Line: Understand and Prepare for Failures

Technicians, like doctors, have many tools at their disposal to help them stay in front of potential disasters and, if necessary, analyze data after the fact to help prevent future issues. The key to success is understanding and using such tools to avoid being caught unprepared in a critical moment.

Consider, for example, how successful maintenance teams define the failure modes they are trying to prevent and/or the approaches to take in the event of a failure. Some best-practice tools and strategies they leverage include:

• failure mode effect analysis (FMEA)
• structured engineering reviews by subject matter experts (SMEs)
original equipment manufacturer (OEM) literature
industry standards, guides, and publications of relevant professional associations, i.e., SMRP, STLE
strategy/plans analysis or development by SMEs.

If a failure should strike, maintenance personnel must record and investigate it to allow forensic analysis. Teams must identify root causes of failure and modify future actions to prevent the failure from reccurring. Tools that can help with such analysis include, among others:

• root-cause-failure analysis (RCFA)
finite element analysis
machine-health monitoring and tracking software
alarm events within a distributed control system.

In short, the bottom line for maintenance professionals mirrors that of medical professionals: Anticipate potential problems and prepare, in advance, for the worst.

D. Scott Allen is a reliability consultant with Emerson Automation Solutions, Austin, TX ( He gives special thanks to Dr. Guy McClary, MD, of McLeod Family Medicine, Florence, SC, for providing invaluable information and assistance in the preparation of this article.



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