Maintenance troubleshooting can be both an art and a science. A common problem is that, while art can be beautiful, it isn’t known for its efficiency. When taken to the next level, maintenance troubleshooting can ditch the trial-and-error moniker and become a purely scientific endeavor. This helps maintenance technicians find the right problems and solutions more quickly. When troubleshooting is done correctly, your whole maintenance operation can overcome backlog, lost production, and compliance issues much more efficiently.
In this troubleshooting guide, we’ll take a look at what it actually is, why it matters to maintenance professionals, and how your team can fine-tune its approach.
What is maintenance troubleshooting?
Systems break down—that’s just a fact of life. Whether it’s a conveyer belt or an industrial drill, we’ve all run across a piece of equipment that is unresponsive, faulty, or acting abnormally for seemingly no reason at all. It can be downright frustrating.
Maintenance troubleshooting is the process of identifying what is wrong with these faulty components and systems when the problem is not immediately obvious. Maintenance troubleshooting usually follows a systematic, four-step approach; identify the problem, plan a response, test the solution, and resolve the problem. Steps one to three are often repeated multiple times before a resolution is reached.
Identify the problem
Plan a response
Test the solution
Repeat until problem is resolved
Think about it this way: When a conveyor belt breaks down, you may try a few different methods to fix it. First, you identify which part of the conveyor belt isn’t working. Once you’ve identified the problem area, you plan a response and test it, such as realigning or lubricating a part. If this fails to fix the problem, you might replace the part, which makes the conveyor belt work again. This is troubleshooting.
How is maintenance troubleshooting usually done?
Stop us if you’ve heard this story before. An asset breaks down and no one knows why. You talk to the operator, read some manuals, and check your notes about the asset. You try a couple of things to get the machine up and working again with no luck. Before you can try a third or fourth possible solution, you get called away to another emergency, with the asset still out of commission.
This is often how the process happens when performing maintenance troubleshooting, especially when a facility relies on paper records or Excel spreadsheets. The process is based on collecting as much information as possible from as many sources as possible to identify the most likely cause of the unexpected breakdown. You can never go wrong when you gather information, but it’s the way that information is gathered that can turn troubleshooting from a necessity to a nightmare.
Why does maintenance troubleshooting matter?
Unexpected equipment failure is the entire reason maintenance troubleshooting exists. If assets never broke down without any clear signs of imminent failure, there would be no need to troubleshoot the problem. But we know that’s just not the case.
Machinery failure doesn’t always follow a predictable pattern. Yes, maintenance teams can use preventive maintenance and condition-based maintenance to reduce the likelihood of unplanned downtime. However, you can never eliminate it entirely. What you can do is put processes in place to reduce failure as much as possible and fix it as soon as possible when it does occur. This is where strong maintenance troubleshooting techniques come in handy.
Because troubleshooting will always be part of the maintenance equation, humans will also always have a role. Maintenance technology does not erase the need for a human touch in troubleshooting; it simply makes the process much more efficient. When troubleshooting isn’t refined, it could lead to time wasted tracking down information, a substantial loss of production, an unsafe working environment, and more frequent failures. In short, knowing some maintenance troubleshooting techniques could be the difference between an overwhelming backlog and a stable maintenance program.
Maintenance troubleshooting tips
The following are just a few ways your operation can improve its troubleshooting techniques to conquer chaos and take control of its maintenance.
1. Quantify asset performance and understand how to use the results
It probably goes without saying, but the more deeply you know an asset, the better equipped you’ll be to diagnose a problem. Years of working with a certain asset can help you recognize when it’s not working quite right. But exceptional troubleshooting isn’t just about knowing the normal sounds, speeds, or odours of a particular machine. Instead, it’s about knowing how to analyze asset performance at a deeper level, which is where advanced reporting factors in.
When operators and technicians rely solely on their own past experience with a piece of equipment, it leaves them with huge gaps in knowledge that hurt the maintenance troubleshooting process. For example, it leaves too much room for recency bias to affect decision-making, which means that technicians are most likely to try the last thing that fixed a particular problem without considering other options or delving further into the root cause. Also, if maintenance troubleshooting relies on the proprietary knowledge of a few technicians, it means repairs will have to wait until those particular maintenance personnel are available.
Maintenance staff should have the know-how to conduct an in-depth analysis of an asset’s performance. For example, technicians should understand how to run reports and understand KPIs for critical equipment, such as mean time between failure and overall equipment effectiveness. If using condition-based maintenance, the maintenance team should also know the P-F curve for each asset and what different sensor readings mean. When technicians are equipped with a deeper understanding of an asset, it will be easier for them to pinpoint where a problem occurred and how to fix it, both in the short and long-term.
2. Create in-depth asset histories
Information is the fuel that powers exceptional maintenance troubleshooting for maintenance. Knowing how a particular asset has worked and failed for hundreds of others is a good place to start a repair. That’s why manuals are a useful tool when implementing troubleshooting maintenance techniques. However, each asset, facility, and operation is different, which means asset machine failure doesn’t always follow the script. Detailed notes on an asset’s history can open up a dead end and lead you to a solution much more quickly.
A detailed asset history can give you an edge in maintenance troubleshooting in a variety of ways. It offers a simple method for cross-referencing symptoms of the current issue with elements of past problems. For example, a technician can see if a certain type of material was being handled by a machine or if there were any early warning signs identified for a previous failure. The more a present situation aligns with a past scenario, the more likely it is to need the same fix. Solutions can be prioritized this way, leading to fewer misses, less downtime, fewer unnecessary spare parts being used, and more.
When troubleshooting is done correctly, your whole maintenance operation can overcome backlog, lost production, and compliance issues much more efficiently.
When creating detailed asset histories to help with maintenance troubleshooting (as well as preventive maintenance), it’s important to include as much information as possible. Make sure to record the time and dates of any notable actions taken on an asset or piece of equipment. This can include breakdowns, PMs, inspections, part replacement, production schedules, and abnormal behavior, such as smoke or unusual sounds. Next, document the steps taken during maintenance, including PMs or repairs. Lastly, highlight the successful solution and what was needed to accomplish it, such as necessary parts, labor and safety equipment. Make sure to add any relevant metrics and reports to the asset history as well.
Effective maintenance troubleshooting starts with eliminating ambiguity and short-term solutions. Finding the root of an issue quickly, solving it effectively and ensuring it stays solved is a winning formula. Root cause analysis and failure codes are a couple of tools that will help you achieve this goal.
Root cause analysis is a maintenance troubleshooting technique that allows you to pinpoint the reason behind a failure. The method consists of asking “why” until you get to the heart of the problem. For example:
Why did the equipment fail?: Because a bearing wore out
Why did the bearing wear out?: Because a coupling was misaligned
Why was the coupling misaligned?: Because it was not serviced recently.
Why was the coupling not serviced?: Because maintenance was not scheduled.
Why was maintenance not scheduled?: Because we weren’t sure how often it should be scheduled.
This process has two benefits when conducting maintenance troubleshooting for maintenance. First, it allows you to identify the immediate cause of failure and fix it quickly. Second, it leads you to the core of the issue and a long-term solution. In the example above, it’s clear a better preventive maintenance program is required to improve asset management and reduce unplanned downtime.
Failure codes provide a consistent method to describe why an asset failed. Failure codes are built on three actions: Listing all possible problems, all possible causes, and all possible solutions. This process records key aspects of a failure according to predefined categories, like misalignment or corrosion.
Failure codes are useful when maintenance troubleshooting because technicians can immediately see common failure codes, determine the best solution, and implement it quickly. Failure codes can also be used to uncover a common problem among a group of assets and determine a long-term solution.
4. Build detailed task lists
Exceptional maintenance troubleshooting requires solid planning and foresight. Clear processes provide a blueprint for technicians so they can quickly identify problems and implement more effective solutions. Creating detailed task lists is one way to bolster your planning and avoid headaches down the road. This could also be incorporated into routine maintenance.
A task list outlines a series of tasks that need to be completed to finish a larger job. They ensure crucial steps aren’t missed when performing inspections, audits or PMs. For example, the larger job may be conducting a routine inspection of your facility’s defibrillators. This job is broken down into a list of smaller tasks, such as “Verify battery installation,” and “Inspect exterior components for cracks.”
Maintenance technology does not erase the need for a human touch in troubleshooting; it simply makes the process much more efficient.
Detailed task lists are extremely important when conducting maintenance troubleshooting. They act as a guide when testing possible solutions so technicians can either fix the issue or disqualify a diagnosis as quickly as possible. The more explicit the task list, the more thorough the job and the less likely a technician is to make a mistake. Comprehensive task lists can also offer valuable data when failure occurs. They provide insight into the type of work recently done on an asset so you can determine whether any corrective actions were missed and if this was the source of the problem.
There are a few best practices for building detailed task lists. First, include all individual actions that make up a task. For example, instead of instructing someone to “Inspect the cooling fan,” include the steps that comprise that inspection, such as “Check for any visible cracks,” and “Inspect for loose parts.” Organize all steps in the order they should be done. Lastly, include any additional information that may be helpful in completing the tasks, including necessary supplies, resources (ie. manuals), and PPE.
5. Make additional information accessible
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again; great maintenance troubleshooting techniques are often the result of great information. However, if that information is difficult to access, you will lose any advantage it provides. That is why it is crucial for your operation to not only create a large resource center, but to also make it highly accessible. This will elevate your maintenance troubleshooting abilities and get your assets back online faster when unplanned downtime occurs.
Let’s start with the elements of a great information hub. We’ve talked about the importance of reports, asset histories, failure codes and task lists when performing a troubleshooting method. Some other key resources include diagrams, standard operating procedures (SOPs), training videos, and manuals. These should all be included and organized by asset. If a technician hits a dead-end a troubleshooting procedure, these tools can offer a solution that may have been missed in the initial analysis.
Now that you’ve gathered all your documents together, it’s time to make them easily accessible to the whole maintenance team. If resources are trapped in a file cabinet, on a spreadsheet, or in a single person’s mind, they don’t do a lot of good for the technician. They can be lost, misplaced and hard to find—not to mention the inefficiency involved with needing to walk from an asset to the office just to grab a manual. One way to get around this obstacle is to create a digital knowledge hub with maintenance software. By making all your resources available through a mobile device, technicians can access any tool they need to troubleshoot a problem. Instead of sifting through paper files to find an asset history or diagram, they can access that same information anywhere, anytime.
Using CMMS software for maintenance troubleshooting
If it sounds like a lot of work to gather, organize, analyze and circulate all the information needed to be successful at maintenance troubleshooting, you’re not wrong. Without the proper tools, this process can be a heavy lift for overwhelmed maintenance teams. Maintenance software is one tool that can help ease the load every step of the way. A digital platform, such as a CMMS, takes care of crunching the numbers, organizing data and making it available wherever and whenever, so you can focus on using that information to make great decisions and troubleshoot more effectively.
For example, when building a detailed asset history, it’s important to document every encounter with a piece of equipment. This is a lot of work for a technician rushing from one job to another and difficult to keep track of after the fact. An investment in maintenance software will help you navigate these roadblocks. It does this by allowing technicians to use a predetermined set of questions to make and retrieve notes in real-time with a few clicks.
The same goes for failure codes. The key to using them effectively is proper organization and accessibility. Without those two key ingredients, failure codes become more of a hindrance than a help. One way to accomplish this is to use maintenance software. A digital platform can organize failure codes better than any filing cabinet or Excel spreadsheet and make it easy for technicians to quickly sort them and identify the relevant ones from the site of the breakdown.
The bottom line
Troubleshooting will always exist in maintenance. You will never be 100 percent sure 100 percent of the time when diagnosing the cause of failure. What you can do is take steps to utilize maintenance troubleshooting techniques to ensure equipment is repaired quickly and effectively. By combining a good understanding of maintenance metrics with detailed asset histories, failure codes, task lists, and other asset resources, and making all this information accessible, you can move your troubleshooting beyond trial and error to a more systematic approach.
Want to build a great preventive maintenance program, but don’t know where to start? Here are 8 tips to set you up for success.
What is a preventive maintenance program?
A preventive maintenance program is a series of processes, guidelines, and tools for conducting regular and routine maintenance on equipment and assets to keep them in good condition so as to avoid failure and costly unplanned downtime.
Preventive maintenance and planning fit together perfectly, just like salt and pepper, Batman and Robin, and movies and popcorn. That’s because in order for a preventive maintenance program to succeed, it requires a solid blueprint.
For facilities looking to break out of a reactive maintenance rut, a preventive maintenance plan can do wonders. Having a roadmap to preventive maintenance allows your operation to conquer unplanned downtime while staving off the temptation to fall back into a reactive approach.
A PM plan makes everything clearer so the path to reliability is obstacle-free. Goals and responsibilities are defined, timelines are understood and necessary resources are accounted for. Everyone knows what success looks like and how to sustain it.
What is preventive maintenance?
Preventive maintenance is proactive maintenance that is regularly performed on a piece of equipment in working condition to prevent unplanned failure or breakdown maintenance. Preventive maintenance is triggered for an asset based on time or usage. For example, if an asset has operated for 100 hours, a preventive maintenance work order will be automatically triggered. The goal is to increase asset reliability, reduce downtime and maximize the impact of costs and labor.
For facilities looking to break out of a reactive maintenance rut, a preventive maintenance plan can do wonders. Having a roadmap allows your operation to conquer unplanned downtime while staving off the temptation to fall back into a reactive approach.
Transitioning from predominantly reactive maintenance activity to a mostly preventive one takes time, dedication, resources and, most importantly, a plan. Achieving a successful preventive maintenance program means creating a preventive maintenance schedule and sticking to it. It means a reduction in unplanned downtime, backlog, miscommunication, accidents and the corrective maintenance costs associated with each. At the end of the day, preventive maintenance will help you conquer inefficiency and improve your maintenance program from top to bottom.
What should a preventive maintenance plan include?
A preventive maintenance plan should include eight steps at its foundation:
Establish and prioritize goals
Create and measure KPIs
Get stakeholder buy-in
Use the right technology/software
Set up PM triggers
Train maintenance workers on how to implement the preventive maintenance plan
Build a preventive maintenance checklist
Fine-tune your plan based on results
We’ll take you through each step in detail.
How to create a preventive maintenance program in eight steps
Each and every facility is different, with different goals, assets and resources. That’s why there is no one-size-fits-all approach to creating a preventive maintenance program. However, by using these eight important elements, you can build an effective blueprint for success. Following this template for a preventive maintenance plan will go a long way to making your operation more efficient and sustainable.
1. Establish and prioritize goals
The first step in building a successful preventive maintenance program is to sit down and lay out what you want to achieve. Every facility has different goals and those goals influence all future decisions. Do you want to reduce downtime? Increase reliability? Cut costs? Think about the reasons for wanting to create a structured PM program and write them down.
Next, it’s time to prioritize your goals. Let’s face it, you’re always busy, and implementing a preventive maintenance plan is another huge project to add to your to-do list. With everything that’s going on, it’s nearly impossible to go full steam ahead on all your goals. By prioritizing, you know where to focus your attention and resources first when establishing a blueprint for preventive maintenance. When those tasks are firmly underway, you can begin the next step in your plan.
Once you know which KPIs you’ll be using to define the success, the next step is to create a framework for consistently measuring these metrics. Stats are only valuable if you are consistently using them to improve the preventive maintenance plan. It’s crucial to build processes and procedures that ensure data is collected, analyzed, understood and actioned on a regular basis. This way, you will know if you are meeting your goals and where your strengths and weaknesses lie.
3. Obtain buy-in from stakeholders
It doesn’t matter how much time you’ve put into your preventive maintenance program if you don’t have your entire team on board. Total buy-in is crucial as an effective PM strategy requires everyone to chip in, from a maintenance manager or technician who must input data to a reliability engineer who reads that data and makes decisions based on it. What seem like small details add up to make a big difference. That’s why establishing the concept of total productive maintenance is so important to creating a strategy that works.
Getting buy-in from all stakeholders for a preventive maintenance plan includes having discussions about goals, skill sets, needs, resources and more with each member of the team. This will give you a holistic view of how an increase in scheduled maintenance will affect each person and the team, how people might react to change and what is necessary to execute your strategy with fewer snags.
4. Leverage the right technology
Technology is one of the most important ingredients for an effective PM strategy. Leveraging a digital solution allows you to efficiently arrange all the smaller preventive maintenance tasks required for your facility to embrace a PM mindset, such as scheduling, inventory maintenance management, reporting and organizing work orders. If your facility operates on a legacy system, such as pen and paper or Excel, now is the time to plan for a transition to a digital solution.
There are several factors that must be considered when choosing the right technology for a preventive maintenance program, including the skillset of your team, budget, asset capabilities, team preference, data security and more. One of the most important things to remember when looking for preventive maintenance technology, such as a CMMS, is ease of use. If a system is too hard to understand and use properly, it will not be used effectively and all the time and money invested in the solution will be for naught.
5. Make sure your PM triggers are accurate
Because all effective PMs are built on accurate triggers, this is a crucial step in building a preventive maintenance plan. Matching maintenance tasks with the right trigger will help your operation flow efficiently and will ensure assets are as reliable as possible. These triggers should also be known by all members of the maintenance team so no maintenance task falls through the cracks. Automated scheduling and mobile notifications are two tools that make this simple to do.
It doesn’t matter how much time you’ve put into your preventive maintenance program if you don’t have your entire team on board. Total buy-in is crucial as an effective PM strategy requires everyone to chip in, from technicians to reliability engineers.
When defining a preventive maintenance trigger for an asset, it’s important to look at a few variables. This includes the manufacturers recommended guidelines, the performance history of the asset, how critical the asset is to production, the cost of repair vs. maintenance and the projected future use of the asset. When you take all these elements into account, you should have a good idea of when to trigger maintenance for a particular piece of equipment. This number should be fine-tuned moving forward to optimize your preventive maintenance.
6. Train and implement
At this point in your quest for an effective preventive maintenance program, you probably know what needs to be done and how it needs to be done. Your team, on the other hand, probably does not. It’s important to remember this and create a training strategy so everyone can get up to speed on proper equipment maintenance. Team members should be trained on any new technology as well as any processes and procedures that come with a shift to preventive maintenance, such as prioritizing work orders, creating failure codes, and accessing documents digitally.
The obvious next step is to implement your preventive maintenance plan. If preventive maintenance is something completely new for your team, you might consider a pilot program at one site, one section of your facility or a few particular assets. This way, you can help your team adjust to a new way of doing things while working out the kinks in your PM program.
7. Build a preventive maintenance checklist to analyze results
Once your preventive maintenance plan is in motion, it’s important to prioritize inspection and keep an eye on the numbers. It is essential to have a preventive maintenance checklist that helps you to consistently track KPIs, such as mean time to repair, planned maintenance percentage and mean time between failures. Analyzing these stats and comparing them to pre-plan numbers should give you a good idea of how your program is impacting the efficiency of your maintenance operation.
Check these metrics against the benchmarks you established when you were first building your preventive maintenance processes. This will help you identify where you are hitting your goals and where you aren’t so you can target issues in your program before they get out of hand. Take advantage of data capture tools to make tracking and analysis easy, quick and actionable. For example, there are many automated reporting templates you can use that are commonly available in maintenance management programs.
8. Fine-tune plan
This is one task you should never feel is complete. Your preventive maintenance program should always be under construction as you continually fine-tune, improve, fill in the gaps and fortify procedures that are working well. Use the data you capture through sensors, work order notes and digital reports to see where strengths and weaknesses lie. Uncover opportunities to improve and focus on embracing preventive maintenance wherever possible in your operation.
One crucial element in this phase is to include all stakeholders, such as technicians, operations, reliability engineers, etc., in the process of improvement. Digital profiles and forums for team members make it easy to schedule a time to get feedback, work through problems and review issues that have been flagged while you smooth out any wrinkles in your plan.
The bottom line on building a preventive maintenance program
Creating a successful, sustainable, and effective preventive maintenance program doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a lot of planning, but it’s worth it when you achieve the many benefits. It’s important to build a sturdy strategy by identifying goals, creating proper KPIs and triggers, discussing the plan with stakeholders, leveraging the right technology and conducting training for regular maintenance. It takes consistent analysis and fine-tuning to ensure all your careful planning doesn’t go to waste. And just remember, a well-oiled preventive maintenance program is not an unattainable dream for maintenance operations; it’s a viable option for all. And once you have a solid program in place, there’s always room for growth, like expanding into predictive maintenance.
Every day, meat processing plants need to make sure the metal detectors in their machines are working. It’s a simple check to ensure there’s metal where there should be and no metal where there shouldn’t be.
This process involves running test balls through the machine. It takes about 45 minutes to complete (25 minutes of manual labour and 20 minutes of admin time). It’s routine maintenance— the type most people don’t give a second thought to.
It’s also an example of how tweaking maintenance processes can boost production efficiency. Instead of a manual check, the inspection can be done with an automated test-ball shooter. A button is pressed, the balls roll out on their own, and the task is wrapped up in five minutes. The result is more than 160 hours of extra equipment availability per year.
This is just one example of how companies can leverage maintenance to increase production efficiency. This article outlines several other strategies for bolstering production efficiency using maintenance, including:
How maintenance impacts production efficiency
Five ways the maintenance team can boost production capacity
How to measure the impact of maintenance on production
What is production efficiency?
Production efficiency is a measurement used mostly by manufacturers to determine how well (and how long) a company can keep up with demand. It compares current production rates to expected or standard production rates.
A higher rate of production efficiency delivers three critical outcomes for manufacturers:
Reduced resource usage: Efficient production systems produce the same number of goods with fewer resources
Higher financial margins: Efficient production means higher margins throughout the supply chain
A better customer experience: Efficient production allows products and services to be regularly and dependably delivered to customers
How to calculate production efficiency
The calculation for production efficiency compares the actual output rate to the standard output rate. The formula can be applied to either manual or automated work.
When it comes to industrial processes, the calculation takes quality into account. Let’s say you produce 50 units in an hour, but only 30 are useable. Your rate of production for that hour is 30 units.
The following formula is used to calculate production efficiency:
Production Efficiency = (Actual Output Rate / Standard Output Rate) x 100
For example, a manufacturing company receives a new order of 100 units. The standard rate of completion for 100 units is 10 hours, or 10 units per hour. However, the company took 12 hours to complete 100 quality units. In this case, the production efficiency formula would look like this:
Actual Output Rate = 100 units / 12 hours (8.3 units/hour)
Standard Output Rate = 100 units / 10 hours (10 units/hour)
Production Efficiency = (8.3 / 10) x 100 (83%)
In this instance, output and productivity levels are below capacity.
How maintenance can increase production efficiency
Proper equipment maintenance is essential for increasing production efficiency. It ensures your total effective equipment performance (TEEP) is as high as it can be. Using preventive maintenance to keep assets operating at their best helps to:
Limit equipment downtime: If equipment is checked regularly, you can find and fix failures before they cause big breakdowns that disrupt production. Having a solid preventive maintenance schedule also allows you to coordinate with production so planned downtime is done quickly.
Establish a corrective action system for failures: Having a strategy to find, analyze, and fix failure (aka a FRACAS) allows you to target recurring issues at their root. You can spot and eliminate problems that impact equipment availability and product quality the most.
Coordinate better shift changeovers: Better changeovers between maintenance shifts means communicating the right information to technicians quickly and accurately. This includes a run-down of what work needs to be done, when, and any obstacles that might get in the way of that work.
Ensuring standard operating procedures are clear and maintained: SOPs train operators to do routine maintenance so machines can be operated with fewer breakdowns and accidents.
Five things your maintenance team can start doing tomorrow to increase production efficiency
There are a lot of projects that take months or years to complete. But getting quick wins is also crucial for building momentum and proving the value of your maintenance team. So, here are five things your maintenance team can start doing tomorrow to increase production efficiency.
1. Optimize the frequency of your PMs
A preventive maintenance schedule can be a good example of having too much of a good thing. Going overboard on preventive maintenance can affect production efficiency in two ways. You can either waste valuable time preventing non-existent failure. Or you can increase the risk of failure by meddling with a perfectly fine component.
These guidelines can help you find the right balance between too many PMs and too few:
Use equipment maintenance logs to track the found failure rate on preventive maintenance tasks. Start with PMs that take the longest to do or cost the most.
If a PM leads to regular corrective maintenance, keep it at the same frequency.
If a PM rarely identifies failure, try increasing the time between inspections. If the found failure rate exceeds the frequency of the PM, tweak your schedule so it’s better aligned. For example, an inspection might happen every two weeks. But a failure is usually found every six weeks. In this case, plan for the PM to happen every 4-6 weeks instead.
If a machine experiences frequent breakdowns between inspections, try shortening maintenance intervals. You can also modify the trigger for maintenance, changing it from a time-based trigger to usage or performance-based trigger.
2. Identify machines that can be maintained while running
Some routine maintenance can be done while a machine is still operating. Find out if there are any assets that can be safely worked on while being used for production. The key word there is ‘safely’. This might mean that some work can’t be done because certain areas of a machine aren’t safely accessible while it’s operating. In this scenario, determine if partial maintenance is possible and if it’ll have a positive impact on the performance of the equipment.
It’s also a good idea to track rotating or spare assets and swap them for production equipment when possible. That allows you to do regular maintenance on these machines without sacrificing productivity.
3. Make equipment capabilities transparent and clear
Create an iron-clad list of instructions for operating equipment and common issues to be aware of. You can use a failure modes and effects analysis (FMEA) to create a list of common failures experienced by each asset. This can also include warning signs for breakdowns.
Having this information clearly outlined and easily accessible gives operators a chance to notice the early signs of failure and notify maintenance before it gets worse. Employees will be empowered to observe and identify any potential problems, and report them accordingly.
4. Use work order data to identify where your team can be more efficient
Work order data can tell you what jobs can get done quicker and how to minimize the risk of asset failure so you can boost production efficiency. Look for these telltale signs of broken processes in your work orders:
Unavailable parts and supplies: If this issue is delaying maintenance, review the purchasing process for parts and supplies. That includes making sure your cycle counts are accurate and the threshold for purchase approvals is low enough that inventory can get replenished quickly. You can also create parts kits for frequent repairs or emergency repairs on production equipment so your team can locate and retrieve parts quickly.
Misidentified/misdiagnosed problems or missing instructions: Make sure task lists, failure codes, and descriptions are clear. Attach photos, manuals, and other documentation to the work order.
Diverted resources resulting from emergency work orders: Emergencies can always be avoided. Analyze your work order data, find tasks that are too big, and break it down into smaller jobs to reduce the risk of major disruptions.
Scheduling conflicts with production: See if maintenance can be scheduled while production is happening or if work can be done at an alternate time, like evenings or weekends. You can also consider giving operators minor maintenance responsibilities associated with the work order.
Lack of adequate worker skillset: Work order data can show you if the person/people assigned to the work may not have the right skills. Make it very clear on the work request what kind of skills or certifications are necessary for certain maintenance types.
5. Find the biggest obstacles for your team and eliminate them
You can learn a lot from the data that comes from your equipment and work orders. But sometimes, you just have to ask the people who are doing the actual work. They will be able to tell you what barriers they face when completing work. Acting on this information is crucial to continually improve your maintenance processes. All those improvements can add up to a huge boost in production efficiency.
For example, your technicians may spend a lot of time going back and forth from the office to retrieve manuals, asset histories, or other materials that help them on a job. You probably won’t know that just by looking at work order records or wrench time reports. Armed with this information, you can figure out a solution. Maybe that’s creating areas throughout your facility where files can be accessed for nearby assets. Or it could be digitizing those files so they can be accessed through a mobile device.
Here are a few questions to ask your technicians to find any roadblocks:
What tasks commonly take you away from a machine?
Are information and parts easily accessible? If not, why?
What information would help you complete work more efficiently?
Are there processes or systems that are hard to use or you think could be improved?
Is there anything that frequently keeps you from starting a task on time?
Four ways to measure the impact of maintenance on production efficiency
There are many ways to measure how your maintenance efforts are affecting production efficiency. The most common metrics are the following:
Found failure rate on preventive maintenance
This metric will help you measure how efficient your preventive maintenance schedule is. If your found failure rate is high, it means you’re cutting down on unnecessary maintenance while preventing major disruptions to production.
Unplanned asset downtime (last 90 days)
This number tracks the amount of unplanned equipment downtime and compares it to the previous 90-day period. Because each minute of downtime lowers your production efficiency, this number highlights how maintenance is contributing to healthier, higher-performing assets.
Average time to respond to and repair breakdowns
This stat quantifies all the work you’ve done to prepare for emergencies. Breakdowns will happen. Having a plan to quickly and safely fix these failures will help you reduce the amount of time production is stalled.
Compare the amount of useable products coming from the equipment prior to and after maintenance is completed. If the machine is running better after maintenance, it’s proof that your team is increasing production capacity in a meaningful way.
Maintenance has the opportunity to drive production efficiency
Maintenance often gets talked about as an expense. A necessary evil. A cost-center. But the reality is, good maintenance can drive your business forward. When you keep the machines running, you can do more, faster, with less. That means happier customers, a better bottom line, and more profit for everyone in the supply chain. It’s a true win-win-win.
In order to turn maintenance from a cost centre to a business driver, you need to reorient maintenance as a business function and start asking how maintenance can drive production efficiency. From there, a world of opportunity opens up.
When operations and maintenance don’t work well together, it can be costly. And messy. Take this story of a food manufacturer as an example.
The facility uses a sheeter, which rolls huge balls of dough. The sheeter needs to be cleaned every day. The production team regularly cleans the machine with water. There’s just one problem with this—water makes the dough clump up and break the machine. As a result, emergency maintenance is the norm.
If this situation feels familiar to you, you’re not alone. It happens thousands of times a day. Operations and maintenance have different goals, motivations, and processes. The result is confusion, frustration, and finger-pointing. This isn’t good for business or employee health.
This article is all about learning how to break that cycle and improve alignment between operations and maintenance, including:
Metrics to share
How to increase collaboration
Tips for building joint processes
Why aligning operations and maintenance should be your top priority
Any manufacturer working to reduce waste is either leading the pack or about to break away from the field. For proof of that, look no further than the fact that manufacturers waste 20% of every dollar they spend.
Large industrial facilities lose over 323 production hours a year to unplanned downtime
The average annual cost of downtime is $532,000 per hour or $172 million per plant
The cost of downtime for Fortune 500 manufacturers is equal to 8% of annual revenues
Cost of Downtime
Oil & Gas
Unplanned downtime hours per facility each month
Cost per hour of downtime
Huge costs are one thing. But work delays, reactive maintenance, and emergency purchases have a mental and physical toll as well.
Improving the relationship between operations and maintenance is critical to cutting downtime at its source.
“When maintenance and operations are aligned, it allows the business to find issues within the operations,” says Jason Afara, Senior Solutions Engineer at Fiix.
“And then business leaders can make informed decisions on how to correct these issues with the appropriate resources. It turns guessing games and blame games into a unified effort.”
Where to align operations and maintenance processes
Planning scheduled downtime
The definition of efficient maintenance is keeping equipment up and running with as little downtime as possible. Of course, this is easier said than done. The production team has quotas to fill. Anything that gets in the way of hitting that target is a threat. That includes maintenance.
“We would fight operations just to get a little bit of maintenance on a machine,” says Jason, remembering his time as a maintenance manager.
This is all too common and unproductive. Luckily, there are two ways maintenance and operations can create a plan for preventive maintenance that benefits both groups:
Use data to compare the impact of maintenance to the impact of failure
Develop shared processes that reduce the amount of scheduled downtime
The first step is for both teams to understand how their activities affect the performance of equipment. Once again, it’s often more complicated than it sounds.
“This is where maintenance departments usually fail,” says Charles Rogers, a Senior Implementation Consultant at Fiix with over 33 years of experience in maintenance.
“They don’t have data to back up their asks. You have to be able to prove your case and show evidence that if you don’t do maintenance on schedule, there will be much worse consequences at some point—probably sooner than later.”
The best way to align your efforts is to determine the acceptable risk and the consequences of failure as one team. Share information on common failure modes, how often they’re expected to happen, as well as repair times and costs for each one. Compare this to the frequency of scheduled maintenance, the time it takes to do these tasks, and the costs involved.
Quantifying the difference makes it clear that scheduling frequent breaks in production for maintenance is a better way for both teams to hit their goals and avoid big, time-consuming breakdowns.
Creating shared processes between operations and maintenance allows the teams to share and action data. For example, it allows operators to detect small failures and maintenance technicians to respond to them faster. Examples of these processes include:
Regular meetings between operations and maintenance leaders to discuss production and preventive maintenance schedules, spec changes on machines, or other updates
Quarterly meetings between the two teams to discuss successes, challenges, solutions, and root cause analysis
A work request process that enables machine operators to quickly and confidently identify problems and empowers technicians to prioritize and respond to issues with minimal disruption
Creating shared work and clear responsibilities
Any mention of operations and maintenance working together will inevitably lead to talk of total productive maintenance (TPM). You can read a short primer on TPM here, but the idea is that everyone at a company (from technicians to accountants) is responsible and involved in maintenance.
Making operations part of the maintenance process is one of the easiest and most effective ways to begin building a TPM program. Here’s an example of how that might be done:
The key to making these shared processes successful is to create clear job responsibilities. When people know exactly what they need to do, it helps you:
Provide the right training and materials to the right people
Create accurate timelines and budgets
Test new processes, optimize them, and expand them
Pick out bad data and figure out the root cause of it
Start defining clear responsibilities by creating a maintenance type for operators. This allows you to track how much work you’re giving to operations. It also helps you design work order templates for operators so they know what to do and where to go if the scope of work changes.
Building realistic work timelines
When operations and maintenance know how long it takes to get things done, it’s easier to set schedules, budgets, and targets accordingly. It also prevents unseen delays, reduces frustration, and fosters respect between the two teams. But it’s not useful to share maintenance timelines if they aren’t accurate. There are a few strategies to make sure expectations match reality:
Look at equipment maintenance logs. Identify work that frequently takes longer than is expected, and adjust timelines accordingly.
Analyze your work order data to find PMs with a high rate of required follow-up maintenance. Factor that into your brief to the operations team.
Account for parts of a work order that fall outside of actual wrench time. That includes retrieving parts, completing safety procedures, and running tests on machines.
Providing realistic timelines doesn’t always mean your schedules will match up. But it does help operations and maintenance have a conversation about what can be done in the time you have. When determining what maintenance can be sacrificed for production, here are a few questions to ask:
Five ways to build a strong relationship between operations and maintenance
Your operations and maintenance teams might be best friends. Or maybe there’s some tension between them. Whatever the relationship is like, there’s always an opportunity to make it better with a few, simple strategies.
Create multiple ways for the two teams to communicate
Communicating with other teams is often one of the first activities to be abandoned when work gets busy. That’s why there needs to be formal processes in place to maintain the flow of information. Creating dedicated channels for communication might include:
Team meetings: Regular meetings create space for everyone’s voice to be heard and to keep challenges, plans, and updates visible
Channels to post and see updates: This can be anything from a whiteboard to a WhatsApp group, or a digital work request portal for tracking the status of requests
Peer reviews: This is a process where operations and maintenance team members review each other anonymously to identify how they can work better together
There are a few key pieces of information to discuss when you’re working in these channels:
Machines updates: Bring up spec changes, potential problems, safety risks, or updates to standard operating procedures
Schedules: Talk about upcoming work, risks or conflicts, what’s needed to be successful, and any changes from what was previously discussed
Reporting: Review targets, progress, troubling trends, or major successes in your reporting
Roadblocks and solutions: Discuss major challenges or questions your team has and collaborate on ways to remove those obstacles
Long-term planning: Figure out how both teams can continually improve, including how to better manage budgets, hit long-term goals, and develop new skills
Having a framework for communication between operations and maintenance allows you to turn talk into action. Here are a few ground rules:
Focus on solutions, not blame: Finding a solution should be the goal of all your conversations
Focus on the collective: Find solutions that work for everyone, instead of trying to win an argument or battle for your team
Develop a feedback loop: Create trust by actioning feedback and keeping everyone aware of progress
Value consistency, but stay flexible: Commit to communicating, but understand that meetings might need to move around once in a while if an emergency occurs
Create an agenda for all meetings: Have a plan for what you’re going to talk about so you can make the most of everyone’s time
Set the same goals
There will be less friction between operations and maintenance when the two teams define success the same way. There might be different ideas on how to get to your goal, but both departments will be moving in the same direction.
“In the worst scenario, these departments are siblings who are constantly fighting,” says Jason.
“But in the best-case scenario, you’re working together to achieve the same goals, celebrating together when you hit those targets, and joining forces to get back on track when you don’t.
There are a few metrics that both operations and maintenance can share responsibility for:
Clean start-ups after maintenance and first-pass yield/first-pass good: Both numbers aim to measure efficiency and waste
Total cost per unit of production: Both operations and maintenance can be accountable for reducing costs while improving quality
Time spent supporting production/maintenance: Tracking the time each team spends supporting the other will help you allocate resources and create effective hiring plans
Unplanned downtime( last 90 days): See the impact of preventive maintenance and the shared processes that make this work efficient
Mean time to detect and repair: Everyone has a part in finding and fixing failure before it leads to breakdowns and doing so with as little disruption to the business as possible
Integrate production and maintenance systems
It’s easy for operations to have a negative view of maintenance when their only exposure to it is a breakdown or service interruption. Integrating the systems used for production and maintenance provides visibility into each team’s work. This allows you to see the positive impact of each department and help each other accomplish even more.
Ryan Robinson’s maintenance team is a great example of how integrating maintenance software with equipment and production systems can deliver incredible results. Ryan, the shop manager at a wholesale tree grower, connected sensors on several machines with a CMMS. This gave him the data he needed to optimize maintenance intervals and increase production efficiency.
“Because we know how equipment is used on a daily basis, we have some idea of what is going to be expected of maintenance tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day,” says Ryan.
Ryan was also able to use this data to spot vehicles with high idle times. He brought this information to the farm manager, who figured out the reason why and found a solution.
World-class maintenance teams are aligned with operations
Operations and maintenance are the heartbeat of any company with lots of assets and big production targets. That’s why it’s essential that they develop a healthy relationship and formal processes for working together. The two teams must share everything from the metrics they aim for to the systems they use, and the schedule that guides their work. Joining forces gives them better visibility into the challenges that face the business and the power to overcome them. It’s a win-win for everyone involved.
Competing for money and resources can be brutal. Everyone wants the same slice of budget that just opened up. That includes the maintenance team. There are probably a thousand things you can think of doing with a little extra money. And you know they would all make a difference.
But you need to convince the people with the keys to the budget that this money will be well-spent in your hands. That requires you to stand out from the crowd and get business leaders to buy into your vision for your maintenance project.
If it seems like it would be easier to climb Mount Everest than to get that buy-in, this article is for you. It gives you a formula for combining two powerful forces in the fight for project approval: Data and storytelling.
There are six steps for building the perfect pitch for your maintenance project. At each stage, you’ll find out how to use data and storytelling to elevate your ask above others so you can get approval for your project and the budget to match.
Step 1: Present a problem
Why this works
Your project is a change. And change is painful. That’s why you need to show that the pain of doing nothing (aka your current situation) is worse than the pain of changing. Find a problem that your project solves and lead with it.
How to tell the story
There are three steps for telling the story of your problem:
Describe the problem
Show what the problem looks like
Explain the impact of the problem
What data to use
Make your best effort to quantify your problem. In the example above, you might talk about:
The average time to retrieve parts from the storeroom
The number of emergency parts needed each month
The number of downtime hours tied to the disorganized storeroom
Some other examples of quantifying a problem include:
Cost: How much is the problem costing your team?
Time: Are you spending more time than you should on a task? What is that keeping you from doing instead?
Health and safety: Are audit compliance tasks not getting done, or are near misses getting higher?
Employee retention: Is it hard to hang on to good team members?
Quality: How is a deficiency for your team affecting the end product?
Step 2: Outline your solution
Why this works
Now that you have a villain in your story (the problem), it’s time to introduce the hero (your project). People like to poke holes in a project because it’s a leap into the unknown. But they’re less likely to do this when the project is the answer to a problem they’re worried about.
How to tell the story
Describing your solution with a three-step approach:
Describe your solution/project
Explain how it solves the problem
Outline the outcome/benefits
What data to use
Attaching numbers to your claims will help them resonate. For example, find out how many labor hours you could save if technicians didn’t need to spend their time searching for parts. That may seem like a small number. But if you multiply it by weeks, months, or years, it can add up fast.
All those benefits don’t exist in a vacuum. If you spend five hours a month on repairs instead of rifling through the storeroom, it could mean five more hours of production, which could be huge for your organization.
There are a few ways you can get this data:
Work order data: If you want to improve a process, break it out on your work orders and have technicians record how much time or money they spend on that process
Your peers: If you don’t know how much of an hour is worth to the production team, ask them or consult the OEM guidelines for an asset
Conduct a controlled experiment: Test your solution on a small, low-risk asset or process and measure the results before and after (this will also help you in step #4).
Step 3: Align your solution with business goals
Why this works
Everyone, from the CEO to a junior technician, has a target to hit. If your project gets people closer to hitting their targets, you’re more likely to get their support. It turns your project from something the maintenance department wants to do to something the business has to do. It creates an emotional investment in the idea, which can quickly turn into a financial investment.
How to tell the story
This story is told in three parts:
Determine the goals of the business: This could be anything from reducing costs to opening new sites around the world
Connect that goal to maintenance work: Highlight what the maintenance team is doing and how that impacts the higher-level goal
Tie that work to the project: Explain how your project can either close a gap or improve what you’re already doing in your maintenance program
What data to use
You’ve identified the impact of your maintenance project on business goals. Now it’s time to answer the question, “By how much?” Here are a few examples of tying a maintenance project to company initiatives with data:
Cost efficiency: Hiring a specialist will allow us to cut contractor costs by $100,000 a year and increase production time by 8% a year
Expansion: Buying maintenance software gives us the power to standardize maintenance processes so we can set up new maintenance teams in 30 days instead of 60 (This guide has many more tips for convincing your boss to invest in software)
Risk reduction: A dedicated inventory manager will track and forecast parts usage so we can prepare for supply chain disruptions and cut emergency purchases by 40%
Step 4: Prove the project will work
Why this works
People hate the unknown. Risk is a dirty word, especially in budget discussions. That’s why proving your project will work is essential for getting it, and its budget, approved. A lot of skepticism around your plan will disappear if you can show your idea can, and has been done, before.
How to tell the story
There are a few different angles you can take to prove your project is a sure thing:
Find examples of other companies that have done the same project with good results. Bonus points if it’s a competitor or a well-known company.
See if another team or site at your company has gone through a similar project and what the positive outcomes were. For example, how have maintenance teams at other sites approached the problem you’re trying to solve?
Conduct a small experiment or pilot of your idea and present the findings. If you do a trial of free maintenance software, you can show how a paid version will bring a return on the investment.
What data to use
Collecting data from case studies or pilot projects is only half the battle. The strongest pitches take these results and translate them to fit your team and the scale of the project. For example, another company may have seen 30% fewer breakdowns after installing sensors on all their machines. But what if it’s only realistic for you to monitor sensor readings on a handful of assets? Will it yield the same results?
Here’s another example: Let’s say a month-long pilot project has helped you save 20 hours of administrative work. If you put this project in place full-time, it would save you 240 hours a year. In other words, it would free up 12% of your time.
Step 5: Identify risks
Why this works
Every project has its risks. This isn’t a secret. Ignoring potential pitfalls will quickly send your project into ‘too good to be true’ territory. Anticipating these speed bumps shows you are prepared to navigate around them without spending too much time or money. And that’ll make your boss (and their boss) more comfortable with the project.
How to tell the story
The secret is to pair every risk you’ve identified with a plan for conquering it, like these examples:
Risk: Technicians won’t use the software we’re introducing Plan: Involve them in the selection process so they’re comfortable with the system
Risk: It will take longer than we think to onboard a new hire Plan: Record short tutorials for routine tasks to shorten the learning curve
Risk: Our backlog will get bigger while we implement the project Plan: Develop a system to prioritize and complete backlogged work to reduce risk
Risk: We’ll overspend on the project Plan: Create a well-defined project roadmap to prevent scope creep and overspending
What data to use
Risk prevention is about spotting red flags on the horizon. Just like a high level of vibration could signal an impending breaking down, there’s data that’ll help you find a threat to your project and stop it. Presenting these KPIs during your pitch will show that you’re not gauging risk based on a hunch.
For example, you could measure adoption rates if you were implementing new software. If adoption rates are low, you could do more training to get your team comfortable with the system.
Other examples of red flag data include:
Step 6: Outline your plan and requirements
Why this works
This step is about filling out the specifics of your plan so everyone understands how it’ll affect you, your team, and the rest of the organization in the weeks or months to come. It also shows that the resources and support you’re asking for will be put to use quickly and effectively to produce reliable results faster.
How to tell the story
Avoid a massive list of everything you plan to accomplish and the resources you need. Break your project into milestones. Then figure out what you’ll need and how you’ll measure success at each step using this framework:
Timeline: How long will this step of the project take? Pro tip: if it takes longer than a couple of months, consider breaking this step into even smaller touchpoints.
Tasks: What will you accomplish at this step of the project? If the end goal of this step is to complete an audit of all weekly scheduled maintenance, one of your tasks could be to review all task lists for accuracy.
Stakeholders: Determine who’ll be involved at each step of the project. Pro tip: Highlight how involved each stakeholder will be. For example, who is responsible, accountable, consulted, and informed?
Resources and costs: What resources will you need to accomplish each task and how much will they cost? This can range from labor and parts costs to software subscriptions.
KPIs: How will you measure success at each stage. This could be anything from what you’ve accomplished (ie. audit 50% of work orders) to its impact (ie. wrench time in the last 90 days).
What data to use
A lot of focus will be put on costs at this step. The best way to soften the blow is to compare the cost of the project to what the company is spending (or losing) without your solution.
For example, hiring a storeroom manager and creating an inventory program will cost about $125,000 a year. The company is currently spending about $250,000 a year on lost production time and emergency parts purchases.
When measuring success metrics, look at rolling averages to mark progress. Set up your metrics like this:
Define your success metrics. Ie. Time to retrieve parts
Set benchmarks. Ie. It takes an average of 20 minutes to retrieve parts
Track 90-day progress. Ie. The average time to retrieve parts has dropped by 33% (6.5 minutes) over the last 90 days
The perfect pitch combines data and storytelling
People don’t invest in projects. They invest in problems, solutions and outcomes. And the best way to get their attention is with stories. Sprinkling some data in there drives home the size, scale, and impact of those problems, solutions, and outcomes.
You don’t need a ground-breaking idea to use this framework. It works just as well for a massive overhaul of your maintenance systems as it does for getting extra money for a contractor. So the next time you need to justify your budget, pitch an idea, or just want a vote of confidence for a new process, just remember that storytelling and data are your best friends.
This article was written by Katie Allen, Fiix’s Sustainability and Social Impact Manager.
Waste. Garbage. Rubbish. Litter. Trash. Excess. These concepts are relatively new in our modern world. Waste was often synonymous with barren land and had nothing to do with the disposal.
Garbage — the act of throwing something away — was introduced in the early 1900s. Now, it’s a regular part of life— we buy, we use, and then we throw away. This is so common that we have entire waste management systems with teams of people and machinery dedicated to our garbage.
This used to be my job. I would advise the public on where to put items when they were ready to throw them out. I would pick through big, black garbage bags on grueling hot days, dissecting, weighing, and sorting what people threw out. I helped divert hazardous and electronic waste from entering the landfill. I even managed a vermicomposter.
But in all my years doing this work, I never once offered a way for people to fix their stuff so it didn’t need to be tossed out in the first place.
We focused so heavily on reduce, reuse, and recycle that we forgot the most important ‘R’: Repair — the act of looking after your stuff.
We were not the only ones to miss this. It’s not common to receive a maintenance or repair manual when purchasing a product. You often need to search the web to find a community post or a video on how to fix something.
Maintenance and repair is regarded as a mundane practice in our society instead of being recognized as a sustainable approach to product consumption and creation. While we focus on the next, new, shiny thing, we forget the infrastructure, products, and equipment we already have.
The 12th UN Sustainable Development Goal focuses most heavily on addressing this deficit with the circular economy. The goal states that, “Responsible consumption and production” will help us decrease our reliance on natural resources, increase sustainability reporting, reduce waste in all forms, and ultimately encourage lifestyles that are synonymous with nature.
While this is a highly ambitious and admirable goal, they are missing a critical component: Maintenance and repair. Maintenance is the primary method for life cycle management. While it is important to rethink the way we design products (and the machines that make them) and how we recycle them, we need to think about the way we actually use the product. This is key to understanding the circular economy and how we can use it to bolster our efforts for sustainability.
What is the circular economy?
The Ellen Macarthur Foundation is leading research on the circular economy and defines it as a system “based on the principles of designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use, and regenerating natural systems.”
We currently function in a linear economic system based on a take-make-waste model. Many of the resources we extract are used and eventually wasted.
This system is problematic for many reasons. Its inefficiency is wreaking havoc on our natural world with mass amounts of waste and pollution, which also negatively impacts our most vulnerable societies. This system is depicted in the graphic below. It maps all our global resources from extraction to end-of-use. Minerals, ores, fossil fuels, and biomass make up everything from our homes to our food.
As Robert Kunzig points out, “Two-thirds of the material flowing through the economy, 67.4 billion tons in 2015, gets emitted as pollution or otherwise scattered or disposed of as waste.”
While these resources are essential components of our economy, we are witnessing colossal inefficiencies throughout the process resulting in what’s called externalities.
An externality is a cost or benefit of an economic activity experienced by an unrelated third party.
Waste, represented by the grey “end of use” bubbles at the bottom of the graphic, is the most obvious negative externality. Other negative externalities include air pollution, emissions, and the wealth gap.
The circular economy is all about accounting for these externalities. We can phase out waste and pollution from the beginning with responsible design. Through maintenance best practices, we can increase the lifespan of assets, keep material in use, and create greater value socially, environmentally, and economically. And through the regeneration of our natural systems, we can create a thriving, circular economy that works within planetary boundaries.
What is maintenance?
Maintenance is the best way to keep materials in use.
Maintenance is any activity—such as tests, measurements, replacements, adjustments, and repairs—intended to retain or restore a functional unit in or to a specified state in which the unit can perform its required functions.1
You can find examples of maintenance in all aspects of your life, from brushing your teeth to changing the oil in your car or washing your dishes. These are all forms of maintenance that keep us and our belongings functioning as intended.
In industrial settings, maintenance is performed through a variety of strategies that best suit the asset in question. Typically, these strategies are applied to some of the biggest machinery and equipment in the world. Some examples include managing air flow and air quality in electrical and HVAC units, replacing filters, cleaning bearings, pumping tires, and fixing conveyor belts, reactors, and pumps. This takes place in factories, food processing, and energy production facilities, data centers, and manufacturing plants.
Maintenance and repair strategies keep many of these operations running efficiently, supporting very large, positive outcomes across the triple bottom line of sustainability: People, Planet, and profit.
Benefits of maintenance
Click image to enlarge:
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation showcases the different elements of the circular economy in the map above, The smaller circles represent the most efficient solutions in terms of cost, materials, and resources.
Here, maintenance makes up the smallest circle, and thus the most efficient and accessible solution. This is because, at its core, maintenance is about keeping the same equipment, materials, and assets in use. With rising costs of raw materials and end-of-life treatment, maintenance becomes a very attractive solution to kick-start the circular economy and build momentum in a more sustainable direction.
In Sobral and Ferreira’s 2018 article, they argue that the fundamental principles of maintenance — continuous improvement, improving performance, and increasing lifespan — are the foundation of Lean Thinking. The main objective of Lean Thinking is to improve society while eliminating waste. Maintenance and efficiency go hand-in-hand, creating positive outcomes beyond just eliminating waste. An effective maintenance strategy can result in improvements across the triple bottom line, as highlighted in the graphic below:
Socially, better maintenance practices can improve health and safety, the quality of workplaces, and the local community. In various studies, it has been reported that better maintenance is associated with lower injury frequency, and when done poorly, maintenance accounts for 10% of workplace incidents.
Environmentally, maintenance can improve air quality, reduce emissions, and reduce waste. It can also prolong asset lifespans, reduce energy consumption, and reduce water consumption. A preventive maintenance program can result in 20% savings in raw material usage. In the residential sector, regular maintenance can save up to 35% of energy costs. In vehicles, researchers found a 30% reduction in emissions following maintenance.
Economically, maintenance reduces costs, improves utilization, and aids with compliance. These are the most common indicators of success. In some instances, predictive maintenance can save up to 12% of costs and decrease downtime by up to 45%.
Measuring all the ways in which maintenance has an impact is critical to the success of any organization. Highlighting these efficiencies and giving maintenance the credit it deserves will help advance the circular economy.
Barriers to success
As it stands today, maintenance isn’t prioritized or recognized. The Maintainers, a think tank based in Washington, D.C., have long sung the praises of maintenance and repair. They examine our obsession with innovation and our disregard for the mundane.
Maintenance and repair, the building of infrastructures, the mundane labour that goes into sustaining functioning and efficient infrastructures, simply has more impact on people’s daily lives than the vast majority of technological innovations.
– Andrew Russell & Lee Vinsel
We are so focused on new things, whether physical or conceptual, that we fail to recognize the critical, overlooked, and the underpaid role that maintenance plays in our society. Failing to meet our maintenance needs can have catastrophic consequences. The ongoing cost of maintenance and repair is often undervalued when building infrastructure. That’s when things break, crack, and deteriorate.
In 2019, America’s infrastructure was given a report with a final grade of D+. A team of 28 civil engineers from across the country analyzed everything from energy infrastructure to railways and schools. They found that nearly everything was deteriorating to a point of concern, with most infrastructure approaching the end of its service life.
The impact of this is frightening, costing the US millions of jobs and trillions of dollars in GDP, while externalities are going unmeasured, costing us in pollution and health and safety.
COVID-19 showed us that it’s up to us to keep the world running, and when we stop, we notice. Technical maintenance is often seen as a cost centre rather than an opportunity to save money, time, energy, and waste. The current narrative surrounding maintenance is not exciting, nor is it measured properly, so we don’t understand its full value and potential.
Maintenance and repair need a rebrand and a re-education campaign. It must be considered as a key source of efficiency in the circular economy and we should be placing resources in these areas to understand how to improve practices.
Technology is helping with this rebrand. Tools, like a CMMS, help organizations track, schedule, and organize maintenance activities. Tracking data is critical. Analyzing that data using artificial intelligence can enable companies to find trends and areas for improvement. Utilizing technology can help bring light into what was once a black hole of information.
Driving the circular economy forward with better maintenance
There are three factors at play that will help us advance the circular economy through better maintenance.
First, the maintenance, reliability, and asset management space needs to recognize and prioritize the best sustainability practices from this line of work and measure it. Technology will be critical in capturing this information.
Second, circular economy research and advocacy must incorporate maintenance and repair as critical steps in advancing sustainability.
Lastly, organizations must adopt technology that enables these best practices. Without adequate data collection, measurement, or management, many of these benefits are lost and aren’t accounted for.
We don’t have to reinvent the wheel as we reach for sustainability. We just need to look after what we already have.