The 7 Wastes of Enterprise Maintenance Departments

Lean Manufacturing is a well-known Japanese methodology that originated within Toyota Industries and was introduced/developed by Taiichi Ohno, who is considered the father of this system. Ohno first identified the seven wastes in manufacturing: overproduction, waiting, transporting, inappropriate processing, unnecessary inventory, excess motion, and defects and then devised his technique to reduce or eliminate these wastes.

In the same way, there are many wastes in maintenance departments that lead to inefficiencies and low performance. In current business environments, increasing maintenance departments’ efficiency is crucial to remain competitive in terms of equipment availability, performance and costs.

Similar to the Lean Manufacturing approach, identifying the most common wastes can help define the right strategy to eliminate them, consolidating our path of continuous improvement.

Let’s have a look at seven enterprise maintenance department wastes:

1. Not dealing with root causes of maintenance problems

Sometimes, especially in fast-paced environments, maintenance departments are in a reactive mode. In other words, they are too busy fixing the problems to keep equipment running to focus on the root cause of the problems.

In the long term, this is a really inefficient approach. I have seen maintenance departments fix a conveyor belt repetitively without taking the time to analyze what was causing the belt to break. The repair itself might only take a few minutes, but if we consider the total time with multiple repairs, lost time, waiting periods, defective products, etc., this seemingly simple repair has cost the company a lot of money.

The key to tackling this issue is performing a thorough fault isolation process and root cause analysis to identify and fix the real cause, avoiding future problems. Sometimes, in fast-paced environments, it’s necessary to simply fix the damaged part. However, it’s important to have a system in place (usually known as FRACAS - Failure Reporting, Analysis and Corrective Action System) to keep track of the problems, investigate what is happening and address the root cause before it happens again.

2. Useless maintenance tasks

Many maintenance departments are structured based on the classic concept of maintenance, so their maintenance programs are packed with maintenance tasks, programmed replacements, and inspections. This is often an inefficient approach.

Although those are effective techniques when applied to the right asset or component, they can actually make the situation worse and increase the probability of failure when they are poorly applied.

This is mainly because there are many different failure patterns and the classic maintenance techniques are effective only in a small percentage of the components.

Instead, Reliability Centered Maintenance (RCM) analyses every asset function, considering not only its failure patterns, but also the operating context, criticality and safety issues related to them. Then, it selects the appropriate actions for every component. The proper action ranges from making no changes and allowing it to run until it fails, to redesigning a piece of equipment because it can’t be properly maintained or controlled.

3. Lack of structured maintenance procedures

There are many different ways a maintenance department can approach a job, but an unstructured approach can be catastrophic. Without a reliable system in place, some technicians might be completing a task appropriately, while others can be doing that same job incorrectly or even dangerously.

Failures caused by poor maintenance practices are usually difficult to detect but are often avoidable.

Maintenance departments should develop maintenance procedures for both general practices as well as for specific complex maintenance tasks. Taking the time to do this, and communicating those procedures effectively, ensures that everyone is doing the job according to the same standards.

4. Time to repair/delays

Sometimes, maintenance departments are not as efficient as they should be, even when they have well-trained people, effective procedures and enough resources to achieve their objectives. Occasionally, the inefficiencies might be produced by a poor Total Time To Repair.

In the short term, when a failure happens, it’s satisfying to know that a technician takes just a few minutes to fix the machine. However, taking a closer look, often we find multiple instances that contributed to additional delays.

When we analyze these situations, we can identify the time lost between the time the machine went down, to the time the technicians repair it. There are often also other inefficiencies that impact wrench time such as: our personnel having to go to the workshop to get some specific tools or spares, bringing the wrong tool because the problem wasn’t communicated properly, manuals were not available, and so on.

Once identified, most of these inefficiencies are relatively easy to fix and the impact in maintenance operations becomes highly positive.

5. Spare parts availability

One of the biggest frustrations for maintenance managers, especially in fast-paced environments, is when a machine breaks, requiring a part that will take days, weeks or even months to arrive.

Sometimes this cannot be avoided, especially when we deal with unlikely failures, or the first time a piece of equipment breaks. However, we can minimise the chances of this happening by optimizing our stock of spare parts.

The decision to purchase and store a spare part depends on several aspects, including the company’s size, the nature of the equipment, and the cost of a spare part.

Generally speaking, the first step is to gather all the available information. The most common sources are our CMMS, failure logs, warehouse registers and supplier invoices, to name a few. We can use the information as a starting point to analyze what was used in the past.

Then, we need to examine our assets to identify critical parts that haven’t failed yet, but due to their nature and criticality, might cause problems in the future. This task can be a complex process.

Finally, we need to define our spare part list, highlighting critical features.

There are also other alternatives prior to stocking costly parts. Communicate with suppliers to find out their availability and delivery time frames. In some cases, companies can even negotiate with these suppliers to ensure that certain spares would be available at short notice.

6. Cost control

Information is key to decision making and planning. This is particularly true when speaking about costs and budgets. Sometimes, maintenance departments, even in large companies, don’t have an effective control of their maintenance costs. That’s usually the case during busy times when it’s easy to approve purchases to keep the company working.

The problem is that when maintenance issues that need immediate attention arise, without the right information in terms of costs, expenses and budget, we might make the wrong decision.

Having the right information at the time of making a decision or simply when we are preparing the next year budget, is a process that needs to be initiated as early as possible.

If we don’t have the necessary information at the right time, it’s already too late. We can quickly gather bits and pieces of data to have something to work from, but it will not be the same as if we were prepared.

To avoid that, keep track of your costs and budget. CMMS software is extremely useful for this process, so take the time to update the information. If you don’t have a CMMS system, a good spreadsheet can do the job.

7. Get caught in day-to-day activities

This last one sounds simple but sometimes is really difficult to overcome.

Often maintenance managers can’t manage the balance between what is important and what is urgent.

Nobody is exempt from this and this can happen to even the most experienced professionals.

Many times, the problem is a person’s inability to prioritize, but sometimes, many other issues absorb our time. These issues might not be complicated or critical, but they can take the time away from strategizing, making improvements, planning, and other points already mentioned in this article.

It’s critical to take the time to determine the best practices for each situation. This includes determining the best approach, delegating more tasks, modifying procedures, etc. The objective is to have more time to tackle the important things while taking care of urgent daily tasks.

Overcoming common obstacles is critical to maintenance success

These seven maintenance wastes are the likely most relevant and frequent obstacles of maintenance management. Although we can find other roadblocks, overcoming these seven obstacles can be critical in determining our success, while being really harmful when they are not properly managed.

When identifying these wastes, consider them as signposts to take appropriate action. They provide us with a framework to be constantly looking for their presence, however, this is only a starting point. Once these wastes are identified, it’s important to use all the available tools and methodologies to fix them to increase the efficiency of your maintenance department.

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