Avoid Waste: Lean Maintenance Can Reduce Overall Costs

by Joel Levitt
Posted 7/27/2009

Why us, why now? In years past, the engineer, manager or superintendent was responsible for improvement ideas. Maintenance people were “hands” hired to do what they were told. Today, organizations are lean and mean; we need the capabilities of all maintainers. The downsizing craze, however, has left everyone in a managerial role with too many tasks and too little time. There’s no one left to cut costs!

Wisdom of the people doing the work: One axiom of lean maintenance can be found in the wisdom of the maintenance, cleaning and grounds people. These men and women are in daily contact with the facility and see first hand the wasted, unused and improperly used resources. If you want to cut costs-make it a routine job to talk with these folks.

This is the fun stuff. The most fun, stimulating and interesting part of maintenance for most workers is solving problems. It’s also a team activity. Ask one of your maintenance professionals where they get the most satisfaction. The answers will include fix the big breakdown, really helping a customer or permanently solving a problem.

Lean maintenance can be as simple as improving the kind of paint brushes you use (i.e. to reduce the time it takes to paint something and amount of paint used, as well as improve the quality of the job). Cost cutting, however, could also be complicated when evaluating two different pumps in the same application- initial energy, reliability and repair costs along with the availability of spare parts and downstream impacts to consider.

Look everywhere you can imagine and in each activity you undertake. There are opportunities for cutting waste and making improvements in every maintenance operation. An internal study done by a major maintenance provider in Canada estimates the following opportunity:

  • Percentage of possible savings of maintenance budget dollars (translates to reduction of waste)
  • Re-engineering of equipment and maintenance improvements to equipment: (39 percent);
  • Preventive maintenance (PM) improvement and the correct application: (26 percent);
  • More extensive application of predictive maintenance (PdM): (27 percent); and
  • Making improvements in the storeroom: (seven percent).

Specific resource areas to focus on:

1. Labour (production operator, maintenance mechanic and contractor);
2. Maintenance parts and materials;
3. Raw materials (i.e. reduce scrap, quality problems);
4. Energy, fuel and other utilities, including water;
5. Machine time (i.e. reduce machine time to complete job);
6. Capital (i.e. extend life of asset, cheaper asset and less equipment reduces effective capital costs);
7. Management effort (i.e. reduce headaches and non-standard conditions that require management inputs); and
8. Overhead.

The other way to look at lean maintenance is to consider the processes and outcomes from each of these areas (below is a sample, but not a complete starter list):

  • Breakdowns;
  • Corrective work, computerized maintenance management software (CMMS) system/work-order system and work requested;
  • Machine design;
  • Planning and scheduling;
  • PdM and PM initiatives;
  • Shutdowns and projects;
  • Reliability centred maintenance (RCM), etc.;
  • Stores and purchasing; and
  • Supervision and management.

The assignment is to look into one of these areas and see where the waste is. Usually some waste will be right in front of your face. Create lists for each area of potential waste sources. The lists are like gold ore to miners. Some gold is just sitting in the ore for the taking (called alluvial), other gold is locked deep inside and has to be (expensively) extracted.
The first challenge is to find the alluvial gold. There are many potential projects for each item on your list. Review your lists to stimulate decisiveness and create a list of projects, which always use action language.

What’s a good lean project?
Look for projects where the results will come back quickly  (alluvial); the cost is small and can be done with the tools and materials you have easily available. Great projects may break these guidelines, but this is the place to start.

Practice makes perfect. Starting with these kinds of projects, you can build up your capacity to design, justify, execute and report results so big-projects will be easier and more likely to be successful. I’m talking about things like high probability of success, least amount of money invested, tools and materials easily available, doable within three to four weeks and shortest cycle for payback.

Some of the best projects are so simple. In fact, many of them are called “no-brainers” or “low-hanging fruit.” At the same time, however, don’t get caught by unintended consequences! When you start to focus on one project, it’s important to consider the consequences and look for hidden problems.

Proposal that make sense
Smaller projects can just be done, but make sure you take measurements before and after and keep good notes. Write up a proposal on larger projects. Write up the lean maintenance project proposal, so that non-maintenance people can understand what you plan to do, how you plan to do it and how and where the savings will come from.

Planning: Begin the process of planning your project. Assess labour, parts, tools, access to asset, who to inform before starting and any other elements necessary to complete the project. If your project is a study or investigation, then determine who will be involved, as well as what external or internal resources will be needed.

Measurement: Sometimes the most difficult part of a maintenance project is determining how to measure it. Your cost analysis will be based on the measurements that you choose.

Cost benefit analysis: Cost analysis of all aspects of the project is essential.
Your costing should be based as much as possible on measurements and as little as possible on guess work.

It’s a team production: Assign team members to project aspects. Some potential assignments might include: formal project write up, data gathering, interviews, observations, taking readings, calling vendorengineering support departments, making presentation materials, giving presentations and formal write up of findings, etc.

Move your project forward

1. Record the data that your experiment calls for. Keep logs or journals. As results start to come in, be very careful to accurately record everything even if it doesn’t seem to apply at first glance. Don’t give in to the tendency to fudge data to make the project look successful.

2. Call vendors for additional help or for new products to solve old problems. Vendors would be very interested in the results of your project and might even provide materials or tools if they can use your data.

3. Ask this question: Are the results repeatable and your measurement methods sound and complete?

4. One aspect of the announcement is to take a census of the size or kind of equipment that your experiment applies to.

Did the project meet objectives?

It should be no surprise that organizations run on money. The most powerful argument to pursue a project is that it will save your organization costs. Further questions would include:

  • What’s the cost of the old way of doing business?
  • What’s the cost of downtime, including total down hours?
  • What’s the cost per year?
  • What’s the return on investment of projected improvement?
  • How much should be spent to fix the problem?
  • What’s the investment in the asset or process?
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