You are only as strong as your weakest link. While trite, this phrase embodies what manufacturing plants and processing facilities have worked to overcome for years. How do you plan for and prevent broken equipment in your lean machine? Another trite phrase has the answer: The weakest link in a chain is the strongest because it can break it.

Preventive and routine maintenance models help alleviate downtime and boost overall production. The most popular method is total productive maintenance (TPM). TPM brings maintenance into focus as a vital part of business. Maintenance downtime is included in manufacturing scheduling, and in many cases, becomes an integral part of the manufacturing process.

TPM assigns the responsibility for preventive and routine maintenance to the same people who operate that individual equipment. This puts the people most familiar with the machine in charge of its care.

TPM is built on the 5-S foundation, which creates effective workplace organization and standardized procedures to improve safety, quality, productivity and employee attitudes.

In the most basic sense, the three goals of TPM are zero unplanned failures (no small stops or slow running), zero product defects and zero accidents.

The 8 Pillars of TPM

TPM aims to increase productivity, efficiency and safety by empowering operators and team leaders to play a proactive role in day-to-day lubrication, inspection and cleaning. Management is tasked with creating a "buy-in culture" to support continuous activities through eight pillars of activity. The eight pillars of TPM are:

1.      Autonomous Maintenance — Operators monitor the condition of their own equipment and work areas.

2.      Process and Machine Improvement — Team leaders collect information from operators and work areas, and then prioritize preventive maintenance and improvements.

3.      Preventive Maintenance — Operators and team leaders share preventive maintenance tasks and schedules.

4.      Early Management of New Equipment — Team leaders anticipate and plan for parts of equipment life cycles and report to mangers based on maintenance reports.

5.      Process Quality Management — Shared responsibility for operation and maintenance encourages quality improvement ideas from all areas of work.

6.      Administrative Work — Managers prioritize data from the previous pillars and share outcomes with team leaders and work areas.

7.      Education and Training — Continuous improvement includes operator and work area education and training, which improve morale, retention and efficiency.

8.      Safety and Sustained Success — Facility-wide safety is prioritized, which positively impacts sustained success of the TPM program.

As maintenance is traditionally considered an inevitable and not-for-profit function, TPM is believed to be the most difficult lean manufacturing tool to implement. Shifting cultural beliefs within a facility may take years, but the payoff for both the finished product and employee morale is worth the investment.