Is maintenance a supplier or partner?

Tor Idhammar
Tags: maintenance and reliability

Some organizations still view operations as the customer and maintenance as the supplier. In my opinion, a customer-supplier relationship between operations and maintenance undermines equipment reliability improvements.

If maintenance is the supplier, what is it a maintenance department supplies? In the organizations where maintenance is a supplier to operations, maintenance usually supplies time and material to operations. Since operations pays the bill for the services supplied by maintenance, maintenance will always be viewed as a pure cost, not as a resource that can deliver value.

I believe the mission of maintenance should be to supply equipment reliability, not time and material, and I don't think operations can be the customer if you want reliability from maintenance. The reason is that operations doesn't understand equipment as well as maintenance, and it usually has a much more shortsighted view of the production process. For example, if one of your most critical pumps is down, would an operations customer ask a maintenance supplier to take extra downtime to align it to two-thousands of an inch? Would an operations customer listen to the maintenance supplier that recommends that you install oil sample ports on all hydraulics and lubrication systems?

Common problems often created with a customer-supplier relationship are:

Some organizations have drawn this system to an extreme with the "kid in the candy store with unlimited resources" mentality. Here, operations is the customer but doesn't have to pay for any services and has very limited responsibility for the maintenance budget. In my opinion, if you have a customer-supplier relationship, operations should at least be responsible for the maintenance budget.

I strongly believe maintenance, engineering and operations should be partners in production. Production reliability is, therefore, defined as equipment reliability (where maintenance and maintenance engineering have primary skills) together with process reliability (where operations and process engineering have the primary skills).

If you are going to breed a partnership organization in your plant, I think the following work processes are key items:

Torbjörn (Tor) Idhammar is partner and vice president of management consultant firm IDCON Inc. IDCON specializes in reliability and maintenance management. He is responsible for all IDCON projects and consultants, including training and implementation support for reliability management assessments, preventive maintenance, operator-based reliability, planning and scheduling, materials management, and root cause problem elimination. He is the author of "Condition Monitoring Standards" (volumes 1 through 3). Contact Tor at 800-849-2041 or e-mail Also, visit