The Cost of Maintenance 1

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So, what is up with our industry right now? What is the future?

We are in a maintenance limbo: Technology is allowing us far greater capabilities than we have had in the past; Maintenance professionals are retiring from industry, with few following into our profession; Technical education through universities and training companies is mediocre, at best; Indecision by managers to act upon PdM/CBM recommendations; Over 93% of motor management programs fail; Over 57% of CMMS applications fail; and, Well over 90% of maintenance programs fail.

In order to understand, let’s break it down just a bit:

First, we have a love affair with new technology. Gadgets are cool to have and use. However, for the most part, they have been ineffective. Either they are not fully applied, or other maintenance actions call attention away from the use of the technology. In effect, technology has been applied as a ‘crutch’ for a rapidly ineffective maintenance and reliability industry. Coupled with a distrust of technology, the ability for technology to see developing problems far in advance of human detection (through the senses – hey, it’s still running!) and the occasional mis-call of expert systems, decision-makers will often not act upon reported reliability findings. The result is frustration by the technologist (reliability/maintenance tech’s) and lost opportunities that are often written off as the ‘cost of doing business.’ [Note: I have seen numerous instances where maintenance is placed in the expense column of a business spreadsheet and another column identifying projected production losses due to unscheduled downtime – not listed as an expense. Contradictory? I think so! If you have such a spreadsheet, look at the projected unscheduled downtime that is your reliability/maintenance opportunity.]

There seems to be a growing need, within the maintenance and reliability community, for new blood to replace the aging workforce. The problem is that many businesses are either not allowing time for mentoring or are using the opportunity to allow attrition to reduce the costs associated with maintenance manpower. Few people enter into our workforce because it is perceived as ‘grunt work,’ and not high tech. Why should they enter the maintenance and reliability world when they can get a job working with computers in a nice, clean, office?

Education has deviated from maintenance and, in the electrical world, power. Very few universities offer motor design courses (North America), distribution courses, etc. instead changing their curriculum from Electrical Engineering to EECS (Electrical Engineering and Computer Science). The reason is quite simple: Universities are businesses and they need a minimum number of people in coursework and they need to represent that they are cutting edge in order to obtain research grants. There is not a lot of money in maintenance and reliability research and development.

The high rate of maintenance and reliability failure can be attributed to a great number of reasons. In my experience, those amount to several key issues: It is determined by management that the activity is too expensive after it is initiated (false start); The activity is initiated with very poor planning; Programs are implemented in parallel; and/or The Entropy Factor. While the first few are self explanatory, the Entropy Factor is, by far, one of the most dangerous.

The Entropy Factor exists when a program is becoming successful. The initial cost avoidance and payback appear during the growth stage of a program. The continuing, crucial, portion of the program exists after that point: Maintaining the success of the program. However, this is also the point where some enterprising manager will determine that expenses can be reduced in maintenance and reliability because they have not been having equipment failures and there are expenditures without obvious payback. The program is cut, then there is a lag-time before equipment starts failing (usually 12-24 months) at a high rate. In effect, the success of the program ensures its failure: The cause – poor management and training of managers and poor goal setting. Management and Sales (typical MBA stuff) goals are forced upon the maintenance community. This is bad practice as the concept of MAINTENANCE is to MAINTAIN the FUNCTION of EXISTING RESOURCES. It cannot, by its very nature, be a growth part of the company. The fact that maintenance and reliability of machinery is able to produce a return on investment by reducing unplanned downtime is actually a measure of historical MANAGEMENT FAILURE and POOR PLANNING. Sinking in yet?

The primary problem that we have in the Maintenance and Reliability industry is that the metrics used to evaluate the success of our programs is built around the WRONG MODEL. This is exacerbated by the myriad (thought I would use a few big words so I sound like I know what I am talking about – basically, made worse by a lot of) consultants who try to massage maintenance cost avoidance into the profit/loss models of sales and business. In effect, the MBA programs, management training programs, and all the other BS that has been passed around over the past few decades, has focused on just one part of the business, but not the underlying structure.

This is the first in a series related to this topic.

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