A technical postmortem is a retrospective of a failure. It’s a preventative step that can help you quickly identify and address issues with your assets, systems, or other technology platforms so they don’t happen again. They are commonly used in maintenance but also have applications in software development and design as well.
What is a technical postmortem?
A technical postmortem is a retrospective analysis of events that resulted in a technical failure.
The purpose of a technical postmortem is to:
Find out what went wrong and why
Identify trouble areas
Determine what can be done to prevent future failures
Create best practices for your business
Inform process improvements, mitigate future risks, and promote iterative best practices
4 questions to ask during a technical postmortem
This postmortem outline is not meant to be comprehensive but to serve as a starting point for your technical postmortem. These questions generate discussion about what went well, what the team struggled with during the failure, and what the team would do differently moving forward.
Here’s what you and your team should be asking during a technical postmortem:
1. What happened?
You can’t analyze what you don’t understand, so establishing a clear understanding of what went wrong is crucial.
2. Why did it happen?
Identify the major events that led to the failure and try isolating the root causes for the failure. Determine if the events are the underlying causes of the failure, or if they initiate a process that leads to the technical failure. Some underlying causes can include defects in design, process, or poor maintenance practices.
Look strictly at the technical causes of the failure and examine the underlying management and team environment. Sometimes team members ignore warning signs of impending failure due to the organizational culture, time crunches, and budget pressure.
3. How did we respond and recover?
How your team responds to failure can determine how quickly you identify the root cause and fix it. A major technical failure can have a direct impact on shareholder value, revenues, market share, and brand equity, so a quick recovery is paramount.
A useful technical postmortem requires a reasonable level of honesty, insight, and cooperation from the organization. The outcome of the postmortem should be to recognize what worked and fix the processes that didn’t. Remember, the idea is to learn from your successes and failures, not just to document them.
4. How can we prevent similar unexpected issues from occurring again?
Unexpected technical issues do arise in mission-critical or complex hardware systems. However, the key to prevention is technical planning to prevent problems from affecting the entire system. Each of the failures uncovered in step two represents a risk going forward, so schedule regular inspections or system checks in your maintenance management software.
When a risk is detected, certain actions should be triggered immediately to prevent similar failures. Planning must also consider the business process and management responses the team initiates when a failure occurs. A complete postmortem addresses both technical and management issues.
Don’t turn your postmortem into a blame game. Instead, management has to develop a reputation for listening openly to input and not punishing people for being honest. A well-run postmortem can help a maintenance team create a culture of continuous improvement.
The benefits of conducting a technical postmortem
As we can see from our example, a technical postmortem has a series of positive benefits including a detailed analysis of why an asset failed. It can help you avoid future problems by identifying issues that are present before any kind of launch.
Improving the way your team approaches new projects
Learning from mistakes so they don’t happen again
Gaining insights into how other teams have handled similar situations
Some next steps after your technical postmortem is completed
After a technical postmortem is conducted and the project is concluded there is a postmortem meeting. This meeting is intended to understand the project from start to finish and determine what can be optimized and improved for the next postmortem. Generally, the project manager and team attend these meetings, but it’s open for anyone part of the project to join.
Tips and tricks to keep in mind during and after your technical postmortem
A postmortem can help you become more effective by learning from mistakes and focusing on what worked best, but it’s up to you to structure the meeting to get the most out of it. A way to structure your meeting is by setting a clear agenda, beginning with a recap of the project objectives, reviewing the results and whether or not the project met the set objectives, and lastly, analyzing the successes and failures and why they occurred.
You can ensure that your technical postmortem is successful by carefully preparing in advance, analyzing the failure systematically, producing actionable findings, and actively sharing the results.
Don’t let the momentum fade with your team. Schedule the postmortem right after the end of the project. A technical postmortem should occur within one to two weeks of the technical failure.
Make sure to store your postmortems in the asset record in a CMMS so they can be easily found in the future to prevent similar failures going forward.
A technical postmortem is an important tool for maintaining and improving your systems
A technical postmortem is a tool that allows you to learn from mistakes, identify the root cause of a problem, and improve your systems. It may sound like an abstract concept, but it’s actually quite simple: you document what went wrong and use that information to prevent the same issue from happening again.
Maybe you’re at a stressful point in your business and the maintenance team is struggling to keep up. Your team suggests purchasing maintenance management software. But what type is best for your company?
There’s a lot of different software available—from computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS) to enterprise asset management (EAM)—and it can be hard to choose which one is right for you. In this article, we’ll break down the differences between CMMS and EAM software so that you can decide which will benefit your business most.
What is a CMMS?
A CMMS is a software solution that can help you manage maintenance and asset. It’s useful for many industries, including manufacturing, construction, utilities, and transportation. A CMMS can be used to track maintenance requirements and work orders.
A CMMS will also allow you to create an inventory of assets such as tools or machinery that need to be maintained or repaired. This allows you to keep track of each item’s condition so that when it comes time for them to be serviced or replaced, they will have a history regarding the cost-effectiveness of doing so, versus simply buying new ones at a full retail price every time one breaks down.
What is EAM software?
Enterprise asset management (EAM) software is a tool that can be used to track the maintenance of all types of assets, from small equipment to large industrial machines. It allows you to keep track of what your assets are, where they are located, how much they cost, and when they need maintenance. EAM software allows you to easily generate reports on this information so that you can see at-a-glance which assets need repair or replacement.
What is the difference between CMMS and EAM?
The CMMS originated as a punch-card system used to manage work orders in the 1960s. But despite its relatively low-tech beginnings, the technology has come a long way. Today, it allows maintenance teams to easily keep a centralized record of all assets and equipment they are responsible for, as well as schedule and track maintenance activities and keep a detailed record of the work they’ve performed. Generally speaking, the purpose of a CMMS is to manage all maintenance activities during the operational part of an asset’s life—all the time that it’s working as a productive part of a facility.
In contrast with a CMMS, EAM software provides a view of an organization’s assets and infrastructure throughout the entire lifecycle, from creation or procurement to disposal. So while an EAM can technically provide the same capabilities that a CMMS does, there are additional features available through an EAM that may overlap with an organization’s ERP, or may not be a requirement at all for the team purchasing maintenance management software.
CMMS vs. EAM
A computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) and enterprise asset management (EAM) software share some similarities but are used in different ways and for different purposes. Below is a table that illustrates some of the differences:
A CMMS automates the collection and analysis of data to optimize maintenance operations. It can also be used to manage preventive maintenance activities.
An EAM software automates and analyzes data to help optimize maintenance operations as well as provide visibility into all crucial assets across an organization.
Provides a single source of truth for all assetsReduces the risk of equipment failureImproves productivity and employee morale
Provides clear asset identification and managementImproves business processes through automation
Monitors and optimizes scheduling work orders, purchasing inventory, and asset maintenance
Monitors, tracks and locates all critical assets, as well as monitors facility conditions
When it comes to technology it’s important to know what your options are
One of the difficulties of delineating a CMMS from an EAM software is that the gap between the two categories is more narrow than ever. Thanks to its start as a punch-card system, CMMS software is often seen as more rudimentary and less feature-rich than its EAM cousin. But when it comes to the capabilities shared between a CMMS and EAM, their quality and depth are more or less equal. The primary difference lies in scope.
Many CMMS solutions integrate with software like ERP systems in ways that allow them to perform similarly to EAM software, while still offering a user-friendly experience. The best course of action is to learn all you can about the solutions available to your team and determine which features are most important to help you hit your maintenance KPIs.
Professional racing is a masterclass in efficiency. Teams don’t just dislike waste—they hate it.
Every millisecond of a pit stop has a purpose. Every component of a car is analyzed to ensure it’s functioning at its best. Strategies are designed to get from point A to point B as fast as possible.
When you translate this mindset to the shop floor, you achieve a lean maintenance strategy. Lean maintenance is the merciless reduction and elimination of waste at every stage of your maintenance program so you can go further, faster, while spending less.
This guide outlines the basics for building and measuring a lean maintenance strategy, including:
What is lean maintenance
The types of waste in maintenance
A formula for creating a lean maintenance strategy
Metrics for tracking lean maintenance success
What is lean maintenance?
Like lean manufacturing, lean maintenance is the continual process of identifying, reducing, and removing waste from maintenance activities. Waste is considered anything that doesn’t increase output, decrease costs, or otherwise boost productivity.
There are a lot of examples of waste in maintenance, including:
Money spent on a part that becomes obsolete before it’s used
Time spent clarifying the details of a maintenance request
Effort spent collecting maintenance data you never use
It’s often difficult to spot waste in your maintenance program. That’s why a lean maintenance strategy can’t work without iteration. Iteration is the practice of making small changes over time to find the best way to set up processes and activities. In other words, lean maintenance is not a one-and-done project. It’s a way of thinking and acting that takes years to build.
What are the benefits of lean maintenance?
Odds are, you’ve uttered the words, “What a waste of time,” or “What a waste of money,” in the last couple of weeks. Lean maintenance eliminates those moments. And while there are a thousand things you could be referring to, most of them can be grouped in these four main benefits:
1. Cost savings
A lean maintenance strategy reduces direct costs (labor and resources) and indirect costs (the money you lose in downtime or lost production). For example, you might discover that you can reduce routine maintenance on an asset from once a week to once a month, cutting labor costs by 75% in the process.
2. Efficiency gains
Efficiency is another word for getting more done in less time. Lean maintenance strategies help you find activities and processes that take too much time so you can modify or eliminate them. Voltalia’s maintenance team is a great example of this benefit in practice. The company noticed that one of its service teams spent 40 hours a week driving from the office to an off-site facility. The solution was to build a satellite office near the off-site facility to save time.
3. Maximized potential
When machines and people are not bogged down by unnecessary duties, they can operate at full capacity and perform to the best of their abilities. Tom Dufton’s maintenance team is a perfect example. Tom, a maintenance manager, noticed his skilled maintenance technicians were spending a lot of time assisting production. He used this data to advocate for extra operators so his team could get back to maintaining equipment.
4. Employee engagement
Removing unnecessary work and administrative tasks helps employees feel more engaged with their work. It also gives them time to up-skill and do high-value work. One way this translates into real life is with new maintenance software. If technicians don’t have time to learn the system, your big investment in technology could be for nothing. Eliminating extra tasks elsewhere will give your team time to learn, ask questions, and get used to new technology.
The three types of waste in maintenance
The first step in eliminating waste is to find it. There are three main areas in a maintenance operation where waste shows up: Environmental, financial, and human potential.
Environmental waste occurs when raw materials are used inefficiently or disposed of because of inefficient maintenance activities.
Examples of environmental waste in maintenance include:
An increase in scrap or rework after equipment maintenance
Overuse of fuel by improperly maintained vehicles or unnecessary transportation to and from a worksite
Overstocking parts for maintenance due to an outdated inventory purchasing schedule
The impact of environmental waste from maintenance includes:
More pollution and trash
Higher carbon emissions
Increased safety hazards
Some strategies for reducing environmental waste in maintenance include:
Frequent inventory cycle counts and just-in-time purchasing to ensure your storeroom isn’t flooded with unused inventory
Grouping scheduled maintenance together in one time period to cut down on travel
A mandatory check from a second technician after repairs or replacements prior to production to ensure start-ups don’t result in scrap or rework
Financial waste refers to the extra costs from inefficient maintenance. It also includes lost production from unnecessary downtime.
Examples of financial waste in maintenance include:
Conduct frequent maintenance team meetings to discuss challenges and brainstorm solutions
Automate activities you do frequently, like creating work orders or reports
Eliminate or reduce scheduled maintenance that has low rates of follow-up work
Train machine operators to do routine maintenance tasks
Creating a lean maintenance mindset
The first step in creating a lean maintenance strategy is to ask the right questions, challenge the way you do things, and be willing to change. This is a lean maintenance mindset and it’s essential to make lean maintenance strategies work long term.
There are four changes that’ll help you shift to a lean maintenance mindset:
1. From small details ? Big picture
There will always be days when your team is reacting to everything—putting out fires, getting last-minute requests, and racing to catch up on backlog.
But a lean maintenance mindset prevents this from becoming the norm. It allows you to build maintenance activities around business and production goals, and deprioritize or eliminate work that doesn’t connect to these goals.
For example, you might spend an hour every week creating a report. But if that report doesn’t help you eliminate waste, that time becomes waste itself. You can either spend time building more useful reports or do other waste-eliminating work.
2. From getting it done ? Collecting data as you go
A lot of maintenance teams operate in survival mode. Complete the task and move on to the next one. No time for any extra steps.
But a lean maintenance strategy hinges on data and taking the time to collect it. Those five extra minutes it takes to complete extra fields on a work order adds up. Having a lean maintenance mindset means building a buffer in your schedule to account for this. It also means everyone knows the importance of these extra steps and isn’t pressured to fudge the numbers to make up for lost time.
3. From big changes ? iterative improvements
Everyone wants to see big wins as quickly as possible. Our brains crave a finish line and tangible results.
But that’s not how lean maintenance works. Instead, it depends on making small, consistent improvements. If done right, it’s a process that’s never truly finished. The best way to tackle this shift is to give yourself and your team small goals and milestones, track progress, and celebrate success.
For example, you might want to cut out unnecessary steps in your scheduled maintenance. In lean maintenance, you’ll examine your work orders once a month to reduce delays and increase wrench time by 10% to 15% across the entire year. It’s crucial to track progress, celebrate it with your team, and get suggestions from technicians on how to keep winning. Technicians will feel a sense of ownership over this metric and will be invested in making progress.
4. From “that’s the way it is” ? “Is this necessary?”
It’s easy to accept the status quo. It’s uncomfortable to change. And it takes a lot of work.
But lean maintenance is all about challenging business as usual. You need to look at everything your team does with a critical eye and make changes if something no longer makes sense. This requires you to adopt a win-or-learn mentality instead of a win-or-fail mindset. Your team will be able to question things without blame or punishment.
For example, you might have done a PM at the same interval for a decade. But everything has changed in that time, from the equipment to the technician doing the work. You need to question how the PM is done as well. Should it be done more or less? Is it even necessary anymore?
Building a lean maintenance strategy
Building a lean maintenance strategy follows a three-step formula:
Understand what you’re currently doing and how you’re doing it
Find areas of waste and eliminate them
Create processes that allow you to do steps one and two over and over again
Step 1: Mapping your maintenance process
This step is about knowing how your team currently operates so you can find the work you’re doing too much of and work you’re not doing enough. This stage involves documenting your maintenance processes, including:
Key information about equipment, like criticality and failure modes (this FMEA template can help you collect this data)
What inspections and repairs are done, and how often
What an emergency looks like and how your team reacts
Step 2: Identify opportunities for improvement you can act on now
The next step is to find out where you’re spending too much time, money, or energy. Here are a few ways you can spot waste hiding in your processes:
Look at specific processes with members of your maintenance team. Ask them what part of the process takes the most time or where they face challenges when completing work. Use this insight to make activities easier and remove roadblocks.For example, something as small as misidentifying lubrication can lead to wasted time, breakdowns, lost production, and buying too many supplies. Colour-coding lubrication and bearings can eliminate this waste altogether.
Identify tasks that consistently take more time or money than planned and conduct a root cause analysis to find out why. This is more helpful than slashing costs, which can do more harm than good and doesn’t address the real reason for the waste.For example, labor costs for a weekly work order are twice as high as you’ve budgeted. An RCA might find repair times are longer than expected because different technicians are doing the work. You might tweak the schedule to put the same technician on the job so they can familiarize themselves with the work and do it faster.
Audit your planned maintenance work to make it more efficient. We outlined the steps for auditing your PMs in a separate article, but the main takeaway is to question the need for all regular maintenance and the frequency, timing, and resource for each task.For example, a PM might be triggered every 10 days, regardless of how much the asset is used. That can be a waste of time and money. In this situation, try triggering maintenance based on usage, like after every 100 hours of production.
Develop KPIs and metrics around the growth and success of your team. This data will allow you to find wasted potential on your maintenance team.For example, you might track turnover rates or knowledge-sharing opportunities on your team. These stats can uncover complex processes or areas of low productivity that you can correct. The end result is better morale and a higher-performing maintenance team.
Step 3: Build a long-term vision
The core vision of your lean maintenance strategy will always be to improve maintenance bit by bit so it supports business goals. But those goals may change, as will the things you need to improve.
This step is about documenting what you’ve iterated on, the impact of change, and what might come next.
If your iterations produced a negative result, don’t immediately jump back to the way things were. Instead, think about what caused the negative result and see if there’s another iterative improvement. It can take a few tries to get it right.
Choosing metrics for a lean maintenance strategy and tracking success
While every project will have different KPIs and metrics based on your desired outcomes, here are some best-practice metrics to start with:
Human potential waste
Maintenance costs (by asset, type, task, etc.)
Raw material usage
Equipment downtime (planned and unplanned)
Carbon emissions/energy use
Rate of corrective maintenance after inspections
Time spent on production support
Travel times to/from sites
Response rates to breakdowns/emergencies
Time spent on administrative tasks
Raw materials disposal (ie. oil)
Clean start-ups after maintenance
Number of steps in a maintenance process
While this isn’t a comprehensive look at lean maintenance metrics, it does give you a good foundation. And you don’t need to track, measure, and improve every metric. Choose metrics you can realistically collect and ones that connect to production and business goals.
There are two ways to create success plans around each metric and push your lean maintenance strategy forward. The first is to go small. Pick a few metrics and focus on improving specific areas of your maintenance operation. For example, if you want to reduce maintenance costs, choose your top 10 most expensive tasks. Focus on reducing waste in these activities.
The other method is to go broad. Aim for a goal that includes improving several metrics. For example, the ultimate target might be increasing efficiency through better standardization across sites. As part of this project, you can standardize the processes for work requests, reporting, and parts purchasing. There are several metrics you can use to build your project and track its success. This includes the number of steps in a maintenance process, time spent on admin tasks, response rates to breakdowns, and raw materials usage.
It’s essential to share your wins, regardless of your approach. The whole point of lean maintenance is to make small gains that add up to big ones over time. Showing off your success keeps momentum high, increases buy-in, and helps you advocate for more resources to expand your lean maintenance program.
Lean maintenance is ongoing
At its core, lean maintenance is about tying maintenance practices to business needs. This will likely ruffle feathers, but it’s a critical step to move maintenance from a cost center to a value driver. And when you do that, the world begins to open up for the maintenance team to be seen as a true business partner.
A common challenge we hear within the Fiix community is convincing all members of your team to abandon their old practices and adopt new technology. Nobody wants to sacrifice wrench time for screen time and sitting at a computer station to manage and track work can seem cumbersome.
That’s why we designed a mobile app with streamlined functionality that mirrors how technicians actually work. As one Fiix user put it “the only thing it doesn’t do is turn the wrench”.
In this on-demand webinar recording, our guests share the benefits of using the Fiix mobile CMMS app, whether your team works out in the field or on the shop floor. You can also download and listen to the audio version of the webinar using the embedded link below.
The majority of maintenance teams we work with at Fiix don’t spend their days in the office. Technicians, contractors, and tradespeople are generally out in the field or in far corners of the facility getting the job done. Our mobile app is designed and regularly updated based on feedback from these folks, just like Chris and his team, who are out there doing the work.
Checkout these short product demo videos in the source link:-
Increasing production capacity is usually a good thing. Orders are up and business is booming. But that doesn’t mean it’s smooth sailing. If you and your maintenance team aren’t used to (or haven’t planned for) an uptick in demand, you might face some unique challenges. It gets even trickier if the reason you’re ramping up is to provide essential services during a global pandemic
Maybe your resources are pushed to the limit. Or COVID-19 has forced you to work with fewer staff on each shift. Or you have to modify equipment on the fly. There’s also the added stress of taking on new responsibilities.
All of this might be unfamiliar and stressful. That’s why we put together some tips on supporting increased production capacity. Hopefully, these best practices can help relieve some of the uncertainty and pressure you’re facing.
Maintaining health and safety
Making sure you, your team, and the whole facility is safe becomes a bigger challenge when the pace speeds up and you’re being pulled in a million different directions.
“When you’re doing more than your normal capabilities, it usually means people are doing things that they’re not used to doing,” says Jason Afara, Fiix’s solutions engineer. “They aren’t trained or aren’t familiar with tasks or procedures, which increases the chances of accidents.”
You might also have to contend with more unplanned maintenance, which always increases risk, says Fiix’s solutions engineering lead Stuart Fergusson. That means unexpected breakdowns, but also work that’s been pushed forward so your facility can meet deadlines.
Focusing on the well-being of your team will help your entire operation stay safe and stay resilient…Efficiency, availability, and production will follow.
All these risks are magnified in the era of COVID-19 when new dangers are changing the way production facilities are approaching health and safety.
There are a few easy adjustments you can make so you and your maintenance team can tackle the increased workload safely.
Create crash carts for sanitization: This is something that CMMS coordinator and Fiix customer Brandon De Melo put in place at his facility to combat COVID-19. It helped him make sure work stations were sanitized quickly and properly.
Create designated quiet areas for troubleshooting: Fighting a pandemic means social distancing, which isn’t all that easy in a loud workplace. For operations manager Juan Ruiz, his solution was designated quiet areas. It allowed operators and technicians to talk without putting themselves at risk.
Add PPE to every work order: It’s not always easy to adapt to new PPE guidelines that come with new work. Visibility and repetition will help reduce the learning curve.
Set up a cleaning station for tools and parts: It’s no small task to make sure all the supplies that come into your facility are clean and in working condition. Maintenance manager and Fiix user Tom Dufton set up a dedicated station to do the job so it’s done fast and correctly.
Focus on facility maintenance: With machines running as much as possible, you might find fewer chances to inspect, adjust, and repair. When this happened toJuan and his team, they used the time to stock their facility with supplies, like soap and hand sanitizer, and clear obstacles that presented safety risks.
Increase the number of health and safety meetings: The more you talk about health and safety, the more knowledgeable your staff will be about procedures and responsibilities, and how to respond quickly in high-risk situations, says Jason.
Establish mandatory sick leave: This is the strategy endorsed by James Afara, the COO of a cannabis producer. It’s led to a small reduction in staff on a daily basis, but it’s saved employees from spreading illness and the facility from an even bigger impact.
Identify high-risk work orders: Stuart suggests pinpointing work orders that your team is not familiar with, hasn’t done before or puts them at risk so you can create a mitigation plan.
Avoiding burnout and miscommunication will go a long way to keeping your staff healthy and in the best position to get the job done when the intensity at your facility goes through the roof.
Find new ways to communicate with your team: Getting your whole team on the same page is crucial, even if you can’t get them in the same room. Alternative communication tools like video meetings and WhatsApp groups can be really helpful for improving remote communication.
Keep new procedures handy: Make it as easy as possible for your team to follow new guidelines. Create guidelines that technicians can carry with them— either small, physical versions or digital ones they can access on their mobile devices.
Reorganize your shifts: Spreading your maintenance team across shifts will allow you to provide coverage for the facility while creating schedules that your team can count on. This reduces off-hours call-ins and burnout. Tom, James, and Juan have all used this approach to keep things running smoothly while keeping their teams healthy and giving staff the flexibility to take care of personal needs, like childcare.
Put tasks in the hands of operators: Embracing this central tenet of total productive maintenance will help to ease the pressure on your team. Empower operators to do routine maintenance tasks, identify problems, and submit work requests.
Get things done faster
Speed and efficiency can’t come at the expense of your team’s well-being. It also can’t be forgotten. Getting work done fast while putting people first is a tricky tightrope to walk, but hitting the right balance is possible.
Prioritize your tasks: Start by looking at production schedules and asset criticality. We recommend narrowing down the list by checking if any tasks can be done while machines are running or if time-consuming PMs can be replaced with quicker ones without substantially increasing the risk of failure.
Keep track of your backlog: Create a list of work you’ve let slide and update it frequently. This will help you calculate and communicate risk, as well as make a plan to tackle this deferred maintenance in the future, says Jason.
Build emergency kits for critical assets: Put together a kit of parts for critical assets so technicians don’t need to spend time searching for the right spares when things go down or when PMs need to be done.
Do frequent inventory cycle counts: Juan’s team has had difficulty sourcing critical parts because vendors have shut down or have long lead times, which has made frequent visits to the storeroom to check supply quantities more important than ever.
Create a dashboard of important metrics: Prioritize the maintenance metrics you look at every day and create a dashboard for them so you can check the status of your operation without having to create complex reports.
Improve response procedures: Breakdowns are inevitable, no matter how well you plan. Having a list of common failure codes and repair checklists handy for critical equipment can help speed up troubleshooting and repairs.
Modifying equipment—and keeping those machines running—has its fair share of challenges for maintenance. Here are a few tips that can help maintenance teams that find themselves in this position.
Create new health and safety documents: You should treat modified equipment like new equipment, says Fiixer Stuart Fergusson. He recommends reassessing the potential risks, required PPE, emergency procedures and compliance standards. Talk about these details with your team so everyone is on the same page.
Conduct some training: Full-scale training sessions are probably out of the question if you’re operating at hyper-speed. But a little know-how goes a long way when it comes to modifying machines and maintaining them.
Meet with the design team: Get together with the team that designed and installed the new elements for the modified assets, if possible. This way, you can get a better understanding of what scheduled maintenance and parts for the equipment.
Increase the frequency of inspections: Don’t assume the PM guidelines you’re handed for modified equipment are correct. Inspect and inspect some more to make sure new materials or processes aren’t causing failure.
Keep a list of what’s changed: Did you change the parts you’re using? Or the number of technicians assigned to a task? Track these changes so you can get back to your regular schedule faster once production normalizes.
At the end of the day, it’s about focusing on what’s important
Things might be busier than usual for you right now. You’re getting pulled every which way. Your equipment, processes, and people are strained. Unfortunately, nothing can stop the whirlwind you’re caught in. The good news is, there are things you can control. One of them is what you prioritize. Focusing on the well-being of your team will help your entire operation stay safe and stay resilient. Reducing health risks, avoiding burnout, and recognizing all the amazing things staff do will help you blaze a trail. Efficiency, availability, and production will follow.
Like the rest of the world, most of the maintenance industry has been turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic. We talked to several maintenance professionals to find out what challenges they’re facing, how they’re meeting them head-on, and how they’re showing incredible resilience while helping provide essential services.
If you’re looking for more resources to help you and your team through these uncertain times, we’ve created a Resource Hub that includes some helpful articles and webinars.
When operations manager Juan Ruiz looks out at the floor of his facility, everything seems normal. A technician talks to an operator before fixing a machine. A critical asset is inspected during a rare break in use. A production line is adjusted to make sure it can fulfill a crucial order.
But this isn’t business as usual for Juan’s team.
The conversation is happening in a designated quiet place so the two employees can stand six feet apart. The critical asset is a sensor used to take the temperature of staff as they enter the building. The crucial order is for millions of boxes that will hold lifesaving N95 masks.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced Juan and his entire team to change the way they work.
“We are running to failure, and that’s changing our mentality right now,” says Juan.
“We’re surviving. We’re not improving.”
They are far from alone. Maintenance departments everywhere are feeling the impact of COVID-19.
“Maintenance teams are nervous right now,” says Terrence O’Hanlon, the CEO of ReliabilityWeb.
“Even before COVID, there weren’t too many maintenance departments who could say, ‘Yep, we’re fully staffed, fully budgeted, and we have all the resources we need.’…So if that’s the case when things are normal, it’s only going to get tougher in these times.”
Getting processes in place to support people is priority #1
For Tom Dufton, a maintenance and continuous improvement manager, these challenges aren’t just about business–they’re personal too.
“One of our maintenance team members, his wife is a nurse, so he’s taxed very heavily right now,” says Tom.
“He has two young kids. So we have to ask, ‘What can we do to help you out so things are better for you?…The last thing I want to do is to burden anyone down, especially maintenance.”
We’ve reached out to our competitors to get the crucial parts we need for our corrugator…And they’ve reached out to us for some of these consumables…We’re each making sure that we can get business done. We understand that we’re essential businesses and need to keep running.
The biggest hurdle for James Afara, the chief operating officer at a cannabis producer, is balancing the health of staff with the need to do critical maintenance.
“The biggest challenge is getting eyes on the plants to make sure they’re healthy and our process metrics…are being collected properly so we can make our decisions remotely,” says James.
“We have key individuals that go in during off-hours to collect the data, but you try to balance that because you never want to put people at risk.”
Juan’s facility has also struggled to do more with less. Most suppliers (90%) have stopped delivering key parts to the plant. But Juan has found an unlikely ally to help him solve this issue.
“We’ve reached out to our competitors to get the crucial parts we need for our corrugator,” says Juan.
“And they’ve reached out to us for some of these consumables…We’re each making sure that we can get business done. We understand that we’re essential businesses and need to keep running.”
Finding a way to get the job done isn’t the biggest worry for most maintenance teams. Instead, it’s ensuring staff health and safety. This has meant putting a lot of new processes in place.
For example, Tom and his team have increased their use of automation so his staff can run operations remotely.
“Our finger is always on the pulse of the facility,” says Tom, “Even without being there, you still know what’s happening.”
These measures have reduced after-hours call-ins by 42% over the last year, which means fewer risky trips to the plant.
Tom, along with James and Juan, have put several other precautions in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19. They’ve started putting fewer technicians on each shift, taking the temperature of staff, sanitizing all incoming parts, and reducing production so staff can do frequent deep cleans of the facility.
Companies have even mobilized maintenance as a key weapon in the battle against the virus.
“It’s imperative that maintenance ensures the facility is running,” says James, “The last thing you want is staff sitting in the lunchroom and not social distancing because of a breakdown.”
This new way of working is essential, but it also has consequences.
“We are limited because if anyone has any sort of symptom, we are pulling them out of work,” explained James, who says his workforce has been reduced by 15% because of illness.
Juan’s team has had to sacrifice efficiency in the name of health and safety.
“Because the staff have to leave their machines and go to a separate area to discuss things, it creates more downtime,” says Juan.
Although their teams are stretched thin and dealing with more breakdowns, it’s all worth it to keep staff safe and healthy.
“Your employees and their health always comes first. You have to value people over profit,” says James.
“If you’re lowering your production, you still have to remember maintenance”
While increased production has led to challenges for some maintenance teams, others have faced a very different obstacle: Coming to terms with facility shutdowns.
Lines have gone silent at many plants in the face of both the pandemic and a struggling economy. That means an uncertain future for many maintenance teams. But there’s opportunity among the difficulties, says Rob Kalwarowsky, host of the Rob’s Reliability Project podcast.
“If you’re lowering your production, you still have to remember maintenance,” says Rob.
“This would be a great time to work through your backlog…or a great time to do those rebuilds you wanted to do. There’s opportunities here, you just have to look for them.”
While some maintenance personnel are learning to work remotely or with fewer resources, some are facing more dire circumstances.
There was nothing out of the ordinary about Brandon De Melo’s shift on March 13. Brandon, the CMMS coordinator at a major auto parts manufacturer, helped shut down the facility for the weekend and went home. By the next Friday, he had been laid off.
Although Brandon is temporarily without a job, it hasn’t stopped him from exploring new ways to improve maintenance at his facility for when business starts again.
His top priority is creating a list of crucial maintenance tasks for a successful cold start. He’s also working through several projects that have been on the backburner for his team, like organizing inventory records.
Brandon has also turned his home into a one-man manufacturing facility, where he’s been creating protective masks for healthcare workers with a 3D printer.
Perseverance and hope are how maintenance teams are winning the day
Brandon’s story isn’t the only message of resilience among maintenance professionals. Hope was the word coming from everyone’s mouths when talking about the future, both on and off the shop floor.
“Don’t give up hope,” says Terrence.
“This is going to be a long battle…but I have huge faith not only in the people of this industry, but for all people to innovate and thrive even in this environment.”
Juan echoed this thought.
“The most important part about facing a situation like the one a lot of us are in now is to stay calm and to understand what is essential,” says Juan.
“What is essential is the safety of our employees. If we keep that in mind, everything else will be all right.”