How to Build an Electrical Maintenance Program

Mark Brunner, The Asset Reliability Road Map

Electrical control and distribution systems are generally complex and expensive assets that need to be effectively maintained so they operate at optimum performance over their serviceable life. It is common to find that there has been significant effort applied to managing mechanical assets, with less focus on electrical equipment.

There are many reasons as to why this is the case, but the reality is that the way asset management programs are developed should be applied equally to electrical and mechanical components of the asset.
How many of you can associate with the following situations?

  • Down days and shutdowns are not included as part of the production schedule.

  • There are few electrical tasks documented, and often the ones that are often were a “kneejerk” reaction to a one-off event.

  • Electrical maintenance spares are not kept in the store. Often, they are kept locked in cupboards and draws of individuals.

  • There are many mechanical maintenance planners, and few or no electrical planners.

  • There was no standard followed for electrical drawings and, hence, most modifications occurred with hand-drawn sketches at best.

  • Important technical information is not centrally located or managed.

  • There are few or no bills-of-material (BOMs) for electrical equipment.

  • Run-to-failure was the primary strategy for all electrical equipment.

  • There was no forward plan related to operational security of the equipment.

  • The CMMS is not effectively utilized to record failure history.

  • Many of the electricians are falling behind in their understanding of technology.

If you agreed with most of these comments, then you are working nearly 100 percent reactively and you have a lot of room for improvement.

But, where do you start? You can develop your own plan, tell people what they are now going to do and watch it all happen. Wrong! If you don’t manage the people side of the improvement, there is little hope of sustained improvement.

The People Issues

  1. Acknowledge your current situation.
    You have to believe that there is a better way of doing things. If many of the above points apply to you, then you need to know that your situation requires improvement.

  2. Develop a vision for your electrical maintenance program.
    The vision is where you want to be in the future. An example of such a vision:

  3. An electrical planner will be employed within the next three months.

    • All critical equipment will have maintenance strategies developed within 12 months.

    • Strategies for less-critical equipment will be developed within 24 months.

    • A system for the upgrade and management of electrical drawings will be developed and implemented in the next 12 months.

    • All strategies will maximize the use of condition-based maintenance.

    • Tradesmen and other relevant personnel will be trained so they can effectively apply strategies.

    • Implement down days for electrical equipment.

    • Etc.

  4. Get the support from the electrical work group. Discuss your plans for the future with your work group. After all, they know the plant the best. Ask them for ideas to be included in the vision. It’s far better for the group to support the vision and have a feeling of ownership.
  5. Gain support from your management. If management is not willing to support your vision, then there is little chance of success. Document your vision, highlighting the benefits and prospective gains, and your ideas! Be prepared for some hard questions and be confident to back your judgment.
  6. The Practical Issues

  7. Resources will be required to effectively implement changes. As part of your vision presented to management, it should have been made clear that resources are required to make significant improvements to your electrical maintenance program. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need more people. Redeploying internal labor or hiring contractors on a part-time basis usually makes more sense. As your program starts taking effect, the efficiency gains will offset the loss of labor on the floor.

  8. Understand the criticality of your electrical assets. You could use a criticality-ranking tool for this, but if your assets have been around for some time, usually your employees will have a fairly clear understanding of this. The most critical assets will be your starting point.

  9. Gather history of failures. In established businesses, there are two areas to search for this data: from the CMMS and from experienced operators and tradesmen. What you are trying to do is understand what failures you have to mitigate by applying a maintenance strategy.

  10. Understand other potential causes of failure. For new or very critical assets, it is often worthwhile to perform a failure modes and effects analysis or Reliability-Centered Maintenance process. These tools will determine “what could fail and what the effects would be”. This allows sound decisions to be made based on the criticality of the effect.

  11. Develop preventive maintenance inspections and task lists that minimize known and hypothetical failure modes. Before generating any new PMs, a review of current documents must be completed. You will find that some PMs are adequate for the outcome required. But if they have not been reviewed for some time, they will have shortcomings. The example in the table below shows that for the 10 actions required, only four were deemed to have PMs that adequately address identified failure modes. Three were average and required work, while PMs did not exist for three critical actions. Your starting point in this instance is to develop the new PMs for the three that are missing.

  12. Actions developed in new PMs should be quantitative if possible – e.g, measure brush length and replace if less than 40 millimeters long. Thermography (where it can be safety applied) is always the best option for detecting hot joints in control and distribution equipment.
    For electrical components, remember the basics of CLEAN, COOL and DRY.


    Hot joints are the cause of significant downtime.

  13. Ensure all strategy documents are captured in the CMMS and scheduled to occur during planned downtime. The development of strategies, including entering them into a CMMS, is a very time-consuming process. Resources must be made available for this to be done in a timely manner. Not implementing strategy improvements in a timely manner will be viewed as a negative by your customer (production, management, etc.).


  14. Start on the BOM process. For planned work to run smoothly, materials must be listed against the equipment hierarchy so they can be easily identified and ordered. Critical equipment may need to be kept in stock dependent on lead time and the consequence of not having the spare. With electrical equipment, there has always been the dilemma of equipment being made redundant within very short timeframes, and this is often used as a reason to not start. BOMing should be part of an overall strategy review process. If new equipment is being installed, demand a parts list from the engineering team running the install before the project is completed. Ideally, the cataloguing and BOMing of equipment should be part of the overall project.


  15. Manage your electrical schematics and documentation. How often has a machine not been repaired in an adequate timeframe because of the inaccuracies in schematics? Do you have schematics hand-drawn like the one below?


    Accurate schematics are a critical part of your electrical maintenance program. A schematic accuracy review should begin based on your plant criticality assessment. (The most critical assets first.) The best place to start is to gather all paper copies of schematics for a single piece of equipment and have your most experienced electrical personnel check what is correct. From this, develop one marked-up copy of the schematic and have it stored electronically as either a CAD or picture file (.jpg,. tif, .pgn, etc.). You now have one updated schematic that can be accessed easily. For most businesses, this will be a huge body of work initially, but the payoff is worth it. And once your system is in order, it is much easier to manage. Ultimately, the process of modification of schematics needs to be proceduralized and controlled.

  16. Train your electrical personnel. Develop a training matrix for your electricians. The matrix should include an overview of specific and generic technologies and skills required of your people. An example of a specific skill would be: Access and monitor Allen-Bradley PLCs. A generic skill would be: Servicing of DC motors. You could also include the need for understanding of production processes or just being familiar with a specific area of plant.


  17. Ensure you have a documented process to effectively manage the workload. Most electrical maintenance departments, whether they are one man or dozens, have to prioritize their work. Prioritization should not be based on “who shouts the loudest” and should be based on importance and urgency. Importance equals the value to the business, where urgency equals time limitations being applied to a task. Ricky Smith, co-author of “Lean Maintenance” and “Rules of Thumb for Maintenance Practices” says: “The best companies have developed a proactive workflow model that is understood and is followed by all levels in the organisation.” The “workflow” model Ricky refers to needs to include a process for managing breakdowns, a process for planning, a process for scheduling planned tasks, a process for managing work that will break a fixed schedule, and a method for capturing improvements that can be fed into the system.


    The Allied Reliability Workflow model.

  18. Close the improvement loop. It is worthwhile to read about the Plan, Do, Check, Act Cycle. There are endless references to it on the Internet. All of the things discussed up to Point 13 were related to Planning and Doing. When any preventive maintenance program is developed, it is not likely to be 100 percent up front. Aiming for 80 percent is a good start. The fine-tuning will occur from feedback from the guys on the floor. Ensure this feedback is captured and fed back into your system. There is nothing worse than a person highlighting where things can be improved and then nothing occurs about it and no feedback is given. Remember, you can have great systems, but if no one follows them, you will not succeed in any improvement initiatives.

About the author:
Mark Brunner has a master of maintenance management degree and a certificate in electrical engineering. He and Rod O’Connor developed The Asset Reliability Road Map. The aim is to help simplify the road to asset management excellence. For more information, contact Mark at markbrunner@thereliabilityroadmap.com..

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About the Author

Mark Brunner has a master of maintenance management degree and a certificate in electrical engineering. He and Rod O’Connor developed The Asset Reliability Road Map. The aim is to hel...