Condition-based Maintenance Maintenance Predictive Maintenance Preventive Maintenance Reliability

Autonomous Maintenance Gains Acceptance

Klaus M. Blache | April 1, 2023

Overall TPM methodology has been adopted by many. However, autonomous maintenance, one of the eight pillars of TPM, has been implemented far less.

The roadblock in North America stems mostly from operators and maintenance personnel working in silos and limiting plant-floor culture/work rules that prevent more operator involvement.

This is changing as many companies move toward starting or enhancing their autonomous maintenance efforts, also called operator-driven reliability. Interest is growing as companies develop operators who can assist maintenance professionals. It’s often stated that operators are the first line of defense against equipment failure. TPM identifies minor stoppages and speed loss (two of the six big losses) as accelerated deterioration of assets. From 15% to 60% of equipment losses have been tied to minor stoppages and speed loss.

Explaining the steps of autonomous maintenance is beyond the scope of this article. However, it’s important to point out that the foundational steps must be instilled to realize a successful autonomous program. Like all things that can only work with newly acquired behaviors, transitioning to autonomous maintenance is a stepwise journey, not an event.

Companies that understand and implement autonomous maintenance have established a competitive advantage, primarily in uptime and throughput:

• They experience faster response to developing issues. 

• Trades/technicians have more time to work on more detailed predictive and condition-based maintenance, and root-cause analysis.

• Operators become more engaged and better understand operational details and the significance of their role.

While asking an operator to pick up hand tools is still a challenge for many companies, training them to monitor and perform basic checks gets you at least half of the operational/financial benefits. Having operators pick up hand tools, do minor fixes, and lubricate parts gets you the remaining possible savings. The result is as much as 50% of failures tied to equipment operation is eliminated, with an average around 30%.

Like most processes, sustaining is often more difficult than getting there. Operator-driven reliability (ODR) expands knowledge and duties and moves reliability to where it should be (reliability is part of everyone’s job). 

Some think that you need a TPM process to do ODR. That is not the case. ODR can support TPM or be put in place as a separate function. Just like all maintenance, it should be value-added and based on reliability/maintenance data from techniques such as root-cause and failure-mode-and-effects analysis. Companies that achieve the best results have figured out the necessary relationship between operations and maintenance, including shared metrics/key process indicators.

There is no exact formula for implementing ODR, but it’s key that you follow a standardized process in a pilot area. This will help uncover roadblocks that should be removed to gain acceptance before a larger effort starts. 

Once operators perform the agreed-to basic tasks and know when to call maintenance for problems that they’ve identified, you are on the journey to reducing asset downtime and achieving greater operational success. EP

Based in Knoxville, Dr. Klaus M. Blache is director of the Reliability & Maintainability Center at the Univ. of Tennessee, and a research professor in the College of Engineering. Contact him at



Klaus M. Blache

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