Leadership in Maintenance: Where Do We Start?


One interesting part of being a consultant is that you get to see a lot of similar reliability and maintenance management projects being launched in different countries and industries.

At IDCON, we are currently working with seven paper companies, two gold mines, a bakery, a municipal water facility, a corn processing company, several different chemical plants, an engineered wood company, a port, a PET bottle recycling plant, an airport, and a pharmaceutical plant. Our clients are in the US, Canada, Mexico, Peru, Sweden, Israel, South Africa, Austria, New Zealand, Chile, and France. As you can imagine, the culture and technical variation is a quite large span.

The question of how to start the improvement in reliability and maintenance management comes up in all of these projects. Many hope there is a simple list of the best order to do things. Unfortunately, it is not quite that simple. A number of factors influence the starting point for a reliability improvement process in a mill.

Let’s divide the different factors into two aspects: “technical” and “cultural.” By technical, I mean improvement of work processes and actions in areas such as lubrication, alignment, planning, scheduling, condition monitoring, etc. By cultural, I mostly refer to change management and people’s behavior.

Improving maintenance comes down to doing two things in a cost-effective way: reducing the amount of repairs; and executing the repairs more effectively.
Item 1 is done by prevention of failures through better lubrication, alignment, balancing, operating procedures, quality repairs, doing root cause elimination of problems, and other preventive techniques.

Item 2 is achieved by better work management (including planning and scheduling). To be able to manage work, we need to have condition monitoring, and a good bill of material to easily find our spare parts, etc.

Work management must come early in the mix for the simple reason that all maintenance work—including lubrication, repairs, and improvements—should go through that process. If we don’t have basic work management, the team will be too disorganized to find time to work on improvements. The team will be reactive. We also need condition monitoring; otherwise, we have no lead time to manage the work (plan and schedule it), so basic condition monitoring needs to be established early in the project.

Make sure you have basic work management and condition monitoring (look, listen, feel, smell) in place first. If you have a dedicated lubrication team that is left alone to do its work, consider adding lubrication to the early mix.
Where you start is highly dependent on where you are today. So, while the advice here may or may not apply to you, it makes sense to ask yourself if you have the first pieces in place. If so, you may move on to improved condition monitoring and work management “Level 2”—in other words, start looking at Bill of Materials, Spare Parts Management, and Root Cause.

The cultural factor is more important and it is often overlooked. The projects that are successful have the following:

1. A plant management team (mill manager, operations manager, and maintenance manager) that DRIVES the improvement of work processes forward with a constant purpose.
2. A mill team that accepts the direction of leadership and implements the direction on the floor.
Thousands of leadership books explain how to do this better than I can explain it in this limited space. Yet the “red thread” that I have seen through all successful projects is employee and leadership involvement from the start. People don’t mind change, but they don’t like being changed. Therefore, it is critical to involve people early in the project, including the decision of where to start the reliability improvement initiative.

For example, if you have buy-in to start condition monitoring, but hesitation around work management, perhaps you start with condition monitoring to get the momentum going. Maintenance is 90 percent about people and their behavior.
In the technical aspect, start with work management and condition monitoring if you don’t have this in place already. Basic lubrication should be improved early on if you have a lot of rotating equipment. Root Cause, Craft Skills, and Spare Parts Management functions are important, but unless you have control over the basics, there will be no time to work on these things.

I believe the cultural aspect is most neglected and I think it is much more important than the technical aspect. The truth is, if you get people involved and willing to improve, you will get the improvement in the end, regardless of where you start.

Tor Idhammar is president, IDCON Inc. Reach him at [email protected].
IDCON, a reliability and maintenance management firm