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Monday 24th June 18:44 (UK)

Maintenance – Cinderella shall go to the ball

March 24th, 2010

In many (most?) manufacturing businesses,Maintenance is very much a ‘Cinderella’ function – it works away in the back-room of the business and never gets to go to the Ball unlike other more glamorous business functions.  Maintenance is not somewhere that ambitious young managers typically seek a career in as it is often seen as something of a ‘backwater’ in the business. Maintaining and repairing equipment is not something seen as difficult or even that important to the business. The image of the spanner, the hammer and the oily rag are what many people envisage when the subject of maintenance comes up. Maintenance is somewhere out of sight where grubby stuff goes on that senior managers don’t spend much time thinking about.

But hang on a moment. Aren’t most factories these days filled with machines? Aren’t these machines expensive and complex devices like CNC machine tools, laser and water-jet cutters, presses and robots? And with Lean being a dominant way of working in most factories, isn’t equipment availability critical to achieving on-time delivery and high OEE? And isn’t RONA (Return On Net Assets) a key financial metric for any review of a company’s effective use of key assets such as production equipment?

Well, yes, indeed.

So what’s wrong with this picture? It’s simple: The view of maintenance as a non-critical function is out of date and a serious impediment to factories achieving high performance manufacturing. Maintenance must be brought into the 21st Century, along with management thinking. A key result of this old thinking on maintenance is the return on production equipment being lower than what would be possible with high equipment availability and also impacts on on-time delivery performance. Simply put, low equipment availability results in poor delivery performance and unnecessary purchasing of new equipment to provide additional capacity.


This awareness has been brought home to us in our work on a current client project on re-engineering maintenance. As part of an international manufacturing benchmarking assessment across a number of factories in 2008, we identified maintenance performance as being a barrier to this company achieving their lean goals. Subsequently we have been working with them to help them re-engineer their maintenance operations in their factories to improve both service and cost performance. Now, Codexx are not maintenance specialists as such and we approached this work with our manufacturing experience together with our re-engineering methods, to apply a more customer-focused approach to maintenance, whilst seeking significant efficiency improvements. The figure below shows the key elements required to enable ‘World Class Maintenance’ – which is really a way of ensuring that maintenance service and cost are optimised for the business needs through application of best practices. As part of this project, we have developed and performed a number of best practice maintenance assessments with other leading manufacturers across Europe. This work has shown some common challenges across many major manufacturers (see table below) and also the high performance achieved by those companies who have established strong maintenance practices. Those ‘maintenance exemplars’  have established close working with production, strong maintenance processes supported by skilled personnel and high quality data, and effective continuous improvement approaches to drive higher equipment availability at fixed or reducing maintenance cost.

World Class Maintenance - balancing service & cost


It has come clear to us in this work that although there exist a number of philosophies for maintenance excellence – such as TPM, RCM, VDM and the like, there is a lack of an integrated embracing approach for maintenance improvement. Many approaches are simply too ‘tools focused’ or sector specific. The companies we have been involved with in this maintenance practice sharing have found value in discussing maintenance ‘in the round’, exploring the challenges of improvement and those approaches that have worked for them.

We would like to continue this discussion, using this blog as an initial forum. You will not need to reveal your own or your company’s name or details, so can be reasonably open in your discussion. To start things off, here are some questions we consider key – but feel free to add any other points. Ultimately those themes that are of most interest will develop their own momentum.

– What are your  main challenges in improving maintenance – and how have you tackled them?

– How can maintenance play a more strategic role in the business?

– How do you get the right balance between maintenance service and cost?

Over to you!

3 Responses to “Maintenance – Cinderella shall go to the ball”

  1. Martyn Luscombe says:

    I like the idea of introducing Customer Focus as the driving theme of maintenance. This highlights the fact that maintenance is essentially a quality issue, and should be given the same attention as other quality drivers. One expectation we have about quality is that it should be continuously improved through the efforts of problem solving teams, lean initiatives and the like. Our expectation of maintenance is often very different – simply managing (as cheaply as possible) the steady decline of plant and equipment from shiny new purchase to worn out obsolescence. We need to change this expectation and accept new challenges for maintenance practice.

  2. James Hilton says:

    – What are your main challenges in improving maintenance – and how have you tackled them?
    The biggest challenge within my company has been that the customer does not see a problem – and therefore, although they intellectually understand Maintenance Best Practice they do not see their own need for the solution.
    We have had significant organisational change which has seen traditional Plant Engineers expected to make more strategic decisions and this has been a key activity in the last 18 months – coaching and facilitating the development of Asset Care Strategy. Despite the obvious benefits of moving towards the vision however, we still struggle to sell this to the customer, production! We’re not the greatest salesman in the world as Engineers! and as the gains are often more longterm they can easily be swept aside by the reactive work on a day to day basis.

    By focusing on 5 key area (Legal and Stat compliance, High Performing Teams, Work Planning and Control, Continuous Improvement and Maintenance Plan Development) we’ve covered most of the bases of a Professional Maintenace pillar in the TPM model. We’ve found the use of an internal audit tool useful to show progress and map out a journey into bite size chunks. We’ve some wins and through this work have built good networks both internally and externally with other maintenance professionals. The heart warming thing is how everyone is pretty much in the same boat whatever your industry.

    – How can maintenance play a more strategic role in the business?
    The strategy of your business should be strongly linked to both equipment/plant performance and maintainability/obsolescence – to help determine where to focus future production and investment. If a plant can demonstrate increased output (either through reducing downtime or increasing performance) for the same or reduced cost they have the best chance of securing the future. A world class maintenance function is not gold plated – it is a professional team delivering effective activity efficiently through an engaged and empowered team.

    – How do you get the right balance between maintenance service and cost?
    If you can understand your customer/production drivers you can determine if the plant/facility is being driven by asset utilisation or cost. If the key production constraint is the ability to get stuff out of the door then you focus on increasing performance, availability and reliability of your equipment to deliver this… whereas a more mature or stable manufacturing facility may find the value of maintenance is to use risk managed processes to reduce the cost whilst maintaining the license to operate and existing performance.

    Come join in the discussion on the Asset Care Excellence group on LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/groups?home=&gid=2676325&trk=anet_ug_hm

  3. James, thanks for your useful comments – you raise some very good points. In the sectors we are working in OEE is a key driver as is OTIF (on time delivery), so both service and cost management are important. We have been working with our maintenance client to develop cost and service KPIs proactively which we will use to both measure and demonstrate improvement. Importantly maintenance bonus is now aligned with these new KPIs, to help drive the required changes in thinking and working. One challenge I believe that many Maintenance Functions have is moving the discussion with their customer (Production) beyond ‘maintenance cost’ only – for instance if OEE on bottleneck machines could be improved significantly by increased Preventative Maintenance – the return from increased production volume could greatly outweigh the increased maintenance cost….. But few companies are thinking in this way.

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