RS’s Richard Jeffers explains how structuring your maintenance team can deliver a streamlined MRO process
The key components of an effective maintenance organisation are founded on the same principles, so while the focus here is on production facilities with a reasonable degree of complexity, the concepts hold true for smaller organisations (although, in those cases, individuals perform functions over multiple roles).
There is, of course, no such thing as the ‘right’ maintenance organisation because too many factors are unique to each organisation and production facility, not least the capability of the people involved.
Three common organisational challenges
There are three challenging areas that I am sure are familiar to most maintenance professionals, even those privileged to be part of a high-performing maintenance team. I have certainly experienced all of the below, both as an engineer and as an operational manager.
1. Maintenance execution
- Execution discipline is low, with poor plan achievement
- History of failed attempts to integrate preventive maintenance in shifts with poor supervision and leadership of shift maintenance staff
- Different maintenance activities are not aligned with each other or the production schedule
2. Focus and skill
- Excessive focus on breakdown maintenance, with preventive and planned activity dropped as people rush to the scene of the last crisis
- No equipment-oriented ‘specialisation’ and ‘ownership’ by the maintenance staff
- Lack of problem-solving capacity or understanding of the fundamental working principles of the assets
- Poor understanding of the control environment, leading to simple automation issues generating excessively long breakdowns
3. Priority and cooperation
- Planned maintenance is the last priority
- Lack of planning and maintenance engineering capability
- Poor alignment between engineering and operational departments
“Maintenance planning – A greatly undervalued role by people who don’t understand maintenance.”Richard Jeffers, Technical Director for Northern Europe, RS
Key maintenance role deliverables
For a maintenance organisation to be effective, there needs to be clear capability over specific areas. These are:
- Asset owner – The asset owner needs to be at the heart of the maintenance function, as only they are using the asset to generate wealth. It’s all too common for operational managers to have little interest in the maintenance of the asset and no understanding of the maintenance strategy in place. This is normally exacerbated by maintenance professionals failing to communicate this strategy effectively. We all apply the principle of a maintenance strategy for our homes or cars, but too many forget that it also needs to be applied in a work environment. The asset owner defines:
- The requirements of the asset for wealth creation: what volume is required and over what period of time
- The resources available to care for the asset: financial and people
- The acceptable risk profile for asset failure: it’s ok for a packaging line to stop; it’s not ok for an aeroplane to fall out of the sky
- The availability of planned downtime for the asset.
- Autonomous maintenance – This is the simple operator-executed activity that reduces asset deterioration and acts as an early warning for unavoidable deterioration. Typically it consists of cleaning, lubrication, inspection and tightening activity on the asset and requires a good understanding of what the required standard should be. We are all able to put air in our car tyres, but we need to know what the tyre pressure should be. There are multiple benefits to getting this right, including:
- Better understanding of the asset and a higher degree of ownership
- Maintenance performed at a lower cost
- Faster identification of deterioration from the standard
- Free the technicians from routine activity, allowing them to focus on loss elimination.
- Corrective maintenance execution – Many organisations adopt a hero culture towards the person who got the asset running again, without asking themselves why it failed in the first place. However, for many assets there is a need for on-call maintenance support, waiting like a coiled spring, for an asset to fail so they can leap into action and restore operations. Yet all too often the maintenance cycle stops at this point and the focus is on fixing the symptoms instead of solving the root causes. The corrective maintenance technician, in the increasingly automated world of modern production assets, will need a good understanding of the control environment and the automation systems in place. Of course, this resource needs to be scheduled to attend work when the asset is in planned production.
- Preventive maintenance execution – Once these resources are in place, assuming that maintenance planning and maintenance development are able to support them, we now start to see the organisation moving from a reactive to a proactive culture. Technicians supporting in this area need to be subject-matter experts in the assets they support, able to see beyond the immediate symptom of a failure, to the underlying issues that have caused an actual or potential failure. Unlike the corrective maintenance team, they need to be available when the asset is not scheduled to run. Where organisations attempt to deliver this activity with on-shift resource, this activity is either delivered badly or not at all, and the organisation never breaks out of the reactive cycle.
- Maintenance planning – A greatly undervalued role by people who don’t understand maintenance. This is the job that ensures all the resources are working to peak efficiency, and are not hampered by a lack of spares, tools, resources and the like. The maintenance planner doesn’t spend their time sitting in front of the Computerised Maintenance Management System (CMMS), they ensure alignment with operations and ensure that all the required tasks and resources are available to minimise the time the asset is shut down for planned work, maximising its availability to generate wealth.
- Maintenance development – It is this role that defines the right maintenance strategy for the asset, taking into account its criticality, possible failure modes, resource availability and the asset owner’s attitude towards risk. This role defines the right balance of run to fail, scheduled replacement, scheduled inspection and condition-based monitoring to ensure that the likelihood of a maintenance failure is reduced as close to zero as is economically viable, and that the impact of any maintenance-related failure is minimised. This is the role that defines and develops the maintenance strategy.
- Maintenance support – A broad range of activity is required to support the maintenance function, the size and scope of which are driven by the asset base and the type of organisation. In this area we see a number of functions delivered, which typically include:
- Engineering library and asset documentation
- Control of change and minor modifications, including software version control
- Contractor management
- Legislative control, inspection and documentation.
“An organisation with all the resource on shift will never break out of a reactive culture”Richard Jeffers, Technical Director for Northern Europe, RS
There is no such thing as a perfect maintenance organisation or an ideal structure. However, whatever you do develop for your facility with your team needs to have the activity above built into the responsibilities of specific roles within the team and the balance of technician resource between shifts and days.
An organisation with all the resource on shift will never break out of a reactive culture. Likewise, an organisation that is unable to effectively plan and schedule its maintenance resource will never deliver a cost-effective maintenance function. Most importantly, a maintenance team that does not put the asset owner at the heart of the maintenance strategy will never be aligned to the organisation’s strategy and will ultimately disappoint.