What Constitutes World-Class Maintenance and Reliability?

Christer Idhammar, IDCON INC

I have received many calls asking, "How can you tell if you are a world-class maintenance and reliability organization, or not?"

How well the systems and practices discussed in this column are being used indicate to me how far a plant has to go to become world class in the areas of maintenance and reliability. I would suggest reading this column with a group of operations and maintenance employees that includes both management and craftspeople.

On a scale of zero to 10, rate your plant's use of the following systems and practices, with 10 meaning that you are so good that it would probably not pay off to do more improvements in this area. A 5 indicates that you feel you do a good job, while a zero means that your performance is a disaster.

1. Assets are specified, designed and purchased based on life-cycle cost (LCC) instead of lowest cost to buy. This means that decisions on what to buy are based on costs to buy and costs to own an asset over its economical life, instead of buying assets solely on purchase price. A world-class organization has maintenance professionals involved very early in a project. These professionals know how to perform reliability and maintainability analyses of systems and components.

As a result, complete bills of materials, training manuals and detailed drawings are delivered according to your documented maintenance standards. Also, guards allow easy inspections on the run, components requiring frequent maintenance are easily accessible, and so forth.

2. The management team is focusing on the same results. Operations, engineering, maintenance and stores are working toward the same goal. Your organization is jointly focusing on reliability performance, not on cutting costs until it sees what results it gets. This means that your whole organization's most important goal is competitiveness through manufacturing reliability and cost, rather than focusing only on maintenance costs and perceived maintenance downtime.

As a result, your overall production efficiency (OPE) continuously increases and, consequently, total manufacturing costs decrease. This is very important because increasing product throughput to sales generates three to 20 times more revenue in a normal market when compared with cutting costs for work done to generate the needed reliability for increasing product throughput.

3. A reliability and maintenance policy has been developed and documented that includes a three- to five-year improvement plan. This policy is communicated to all employees. This means that you have described all essential reliability and maintenance elements, their key performance indicators, why these are important, how people are being recognized when improving toward goals, the importance of reliability for plant competitiveness, and so forth.

As a result, your employees are well-informed and motivated to do their part to continuously improve toward the same goals. People know which product line to prioritize because they know what the market demands. Work priorities are not based on emotions. Instead, they are based on what is best for the plant. There is a certainty of direction and a good understanding of what the future holds.

4. Craftspeople have a high level of skills and front-line supervision adjusts its management style accordingly. This means that front-line supervisors, team leaders or coordinators do not need to spend much time instructing people. Instead, they support them through good planning and scheduling of work, identifying individual training needs, organizing this training, coaching root cause failure analysis, and other empowering tasks.

As a result, you have a thinking and problem-solving organization instead of a reactive one. People are enthusiastic about what they do. Their griping level is very low, and 10 to 30 percent of all maintenance hours, including crafts people's hours, are used on problem-solving and implementation of improvements.

5. Maintenance crafts people's work is limited by their skills, not by rigid craft lines. This means that you might have only one mechanical craft that includes welders, pipefitters, machinists, millwrights, etc., and another craft for electricians and instrumentation. However, to have this on a piece of paper is not worth anything. Your people are being trained to use all necessary skills, and supervisors are assigning work in a way that reflects your multiple skills or multi-craft work practices. At the same time, while you have work flexibility (horizontal skills), you still have vertical skills in areas such as hydraulics and electronics and other areas requiring specialists.

As a result, you find it very easy to plan and schedule work because it involves less people to do a job that crosses over between traditional craft lines. Your crafts people's job satisfaction is also higher after the initial frustration created by the change you might have to go through to become more flexible.

6. The level of planning and scheduling is high. Whatever you call your maintenance program, and whatever improvement initiatives you implement, you will find that planning and scheduling are at the hub of cost-effective maintenance practices. Even programs like Reliability-Centered Maintenance (RCM), Total Productive Maintenance (TPM), Reliability-Based Maintenance (RBM) or other three-letter acronyms for maintenance programs will soon discover this fact.

Before you rate how well you think you plan and schedule, it is necessary to understand the basics of these concepts. First of all, planning can be described as all work you do in order to prepare for a job. These preparations include the final scope of work, safety requirements, major steps of work, important clearances, spare parts needed and secured as available for when the job is scheduled, special tools, scaffolding, skills required, time needed to do the job, and so forth. Secondly, scheduling means to decide when the job will be done and who will do it.

The following are some effective guidelines for planning and scheduling. When evaluating how well your mill plans and schedules, examine how well you follow these practices:

A. Planning is done before scheduling.
B. Planning and scheduling are done before execution of the work.
C. Scheduling is done for the work that needs to be done. Then, you find and assign the right people to do the work.
D. When executing a planned and scheduled job, people are not interrupted to do other work.
E. A job is not finished before you have documented why the job had to be done.
F. You later find the root cause of any identified problems.

If you implement the above planning and scheduling practices, your results will show less use of outside contractors, less unscheduled overtime, increased overall equipment effectiveness (OEE), less unscheduled downtime and more free time to perform root cause failure analysis.

7. Work is correctly prioritized. To prioritize work correctly, you must realize the consequences of not doing the work before a given time. Consequences include environmental damage/personal injury, high costs for lost production, and/or maintenance and asset deterioration.

In a plant with multiple product lines, it is necessary, at any given time, to know which line is the most important to keep running in order to deliver to the customer on time. It is also important to know what the added value is for the product. In addition, it should be very difficult to add a job to a closed schedule at your mill. As a result, you will have very few changes in your weekly/daily and shutdown maintenance schedules. Disciplined priorities will also lead to correctly performing planning and scheduling tasks.

8. Preventive maintenance (PM) and essential care and condition monitoring (ECCM) content are right. To have the right content in your PM/ECCM program, you must base it on the consequences of not preventing the failure as mentioned in the previous section. Also, the consequence of a failure must be more "expensive" than the cost of trying to prevent it.

The right content also includes using the right methods for basic inspections and condition monitoring. This means that you do not have "check," "inspect" or such as the only descriptions of inspections in your PM/ECCM program. Your methods and descriptions must be more precise.

Most of your PM/ECCM should be done while equipment is operating. Very little should be done while equipment is not operating due to inspections, fixed-time maintenance overhauls and replacements, or other such tasks. Also, PM/ECCM frequencies should be based on failure developing time and failure distribution, according to results-oriented maintenance teachings.

As a result, your PM/ECCM program will be very cost-effective. Also, you will do less PM/ECCM than before you implemented the above principles.

9. PM/ECCM execution is 100 percent. If you have the right content in your PM/ECCM program, there is no reason to have less than 100 percent completion of the PM/ECCM you have implemented. Operators should be trained in essential care and inspections of equipment and should perform most of these activities when it is practical to do so.

As a result, you will have very few, if any, unplanned and unscheduled maintenance events. More than half of the work you do during your shutdowns and in weekly/daily schedules will be as a result of your PM/ECCM program. This, in turn, will give you an opportunity to plan and then schedule more work. Also, a good PM/ECCM program is a prerequisite to good planning and scheduling of maintenance and, consequently, to increased overall equipment efficiency.

10. Eighty-five percent of spare parts and materials are delivered to the job site. If planning and scheduling are done correctly, the spare parts store will be in a position to effectively deliver spare parts and materials to the job site or to designated areas. Or, it will at least stage spare parts in, or close to, the store area. As a result, you will have very few people going to the store to get parts or waiting at the store window to get what they need.

11. Service level is 97 percent for the spare parts store. To maintain a necessary level of trust in your store system, the service level – getting the right part when you need it – must be very close to 97 percent. If it goes much below that level, people will lose trust in your store, and to survive, they will start building their own stores without the knowledge of the store's management. This could lead to the store's management falling under the false impression that they are doing very well in their efforts to reduce the store's inventory, causing them to continue their current practices. This will eventually lead to less trust in the store's ability to deliver what is needed when it is needed. As a result of good and cost-effective management of the spare parts store, you will see that the store's inventory value is decreasing with maintaining the service level. Also, there will be no unknown and undocumented store items in maintenance areas, offices, etc.

12. The technical database is 95 percent correct. The technical database should always be up to date. Equipment, loop or electrical circuit identity should be the only thing needed to find and request or purchase spare parts or other information. As a result, no time is wasted in searching for store items or other information.

13. The very basics of maintenance are instituted. I have mentioned many times before in this series of columns that the only major difference between the best performers and others is that the best performers implement what others only talk about. Best performers continuously work on improving the very basics of maintenance, while others often overlook them. Some of the maintenance basics include:

• Detailed cleaning of components
• Lubrication
• Alignment
• Balancing
• Filtration
• Operations practices.

Cleaning of components: Detailed cleaning of components and equipment is often a “no man’s land.” Everybody agrees that it is important, but nobody wants to do it. In a world-class reliability and maintenance organization, components and equipment are cleaned in detail. Such an organization realizes that good inspections can’t be done without this level of cleaning and that cleaning also extends the life of components. For example, the life of electric motors (electric life) varies between five months for a dirty motor and more than 20 years for a clean motor.

Lubrication: Best performers also work on continuously improving lubrication. Their lubricators – because they do believe they need skilled lubricators – are trained in component wear criteria and required lubrication. Good lubrication must include such work as improving the choice of lubricant, method of lubrication, filtration of oil, cooling systems, prevention of water content and removal of water content. There are many examples of how this work results in significant life extension, lower lubrication costs and increased production throughput.

Alignment and balancing: Best performers have, and adhere to, alignment standards of, for example, 0.002 inches or less parallel misalignment for an 8- to 10-inch-diameter coupling running at 1,500 rpm in most installations. Precision alignment and balancing of rotary assemblies results in reduced levels of vibration, longer component life, lower costs and increased equipment reliability. On average, a world-class value is 0.1 inches per second or lower. Several experts in this area have shown a strong correlation between low vibration level and high reliability and increased production throughput.

Filtration: Filtration of hydraulic fluids, lubrication systems and seal water for mechanical seals is very important. In most cases, standard filters are not good enough. If you use filters that filter out particles smaller than 5 microns (0.0002 inches), you will have much fewer problems with leaking hydraulics, bearings and mechanical seals. For example, hydraulics will not leak, bearing life will be extended by up to four times and the average life of mechanical seals will be more than eight years.

Operations practices: Best performers teach the operators essential care and inspection of components and equipment. This includes how to start up and shut down processes and equipment without causing any damage. In many mills, it is not uncommon that equipment fails because a steam system was started up too fast, causing equipment failures because of water hammer and thermal stresses, mechanical seal failure because pumps were started up before seal water was turned on to the seals, and so forth.

14. Safety standards are very high. Without having enough statistical data to make this a proven fact, I am convinced that there is a strong relationship between good maintenance practices and a mill’s safety performance.

The average OIR (OSHA Incident Rate = incidents per 200,000 working hours) for the U.S. pulp and paper industry is about 8.5, though below 2 is considered good. Even given the fact that OIR reporting disciplines differ between mills, a mill with a low rating is doing something different than the average mill. Three things they do better are maintenance prevention, preventive maintenance, and planning and scheduling.

15. Front-line supervision supervises many crafts. A good organization needs good supervisors. However, the role and management style of a supervisor must change with the skill level of their craftspeople. To be effective, systems and procedures must be instituted to support the supervisor and the team of craftspeople. If your mill’s craftspeople have a high level of skills, they do not need detailed technical instruction. Instead, they need support in the form of priorities, planning and scheduling. Both craftspeople and supervisors must realize that people skills are more important than technical skills.

As a result, your mill will see good teamwork, motivated people and high working morale. People will also have more time to work on problem-solving and to eliminate sources of failure.

16. Individual training plans are developed and used. As a result of a crafts skills analysis, your mill will have individual training plans for each craftsperson and supervisor. Your training is than very focused and cost-effective. You measure training by increased skill levels, not by the number of training hours. In addition, your mill very rarely lacks the skills to do a proficient job.

17. You incorporate root cause failure analysis. Your mill has established a reliability group as task forces or as a separate function. You know which problems you should work on, by priority, and you are continuously designing out problems. Key people are trained in FMEA (failure mode and effects analysis) methodologies and are using these skills to solve operations and equipment problems.

In a bigger maintenance organization, you have a separate reliability group. Because problems are a combination of equipment, operations, people and other factors, this group might not report to operations or maintenance but to the mill manager or independent engineering manager.

As a result, your mill has continuously fewer problems. You do not discuss increasing your preventive maintenance efforts, but instead you decrease (optimize) predictive maintenance.

18. You make full use of time. This column includes a table that describes the typical, good, and world-class distribution and use of time in a maintenance department. If you take some time to study the figures in the table and compare them to how your maintenance department honestly uses its time, you might be in for a surprise. Before you do this, however, it is necessary to go through the definitions for the categories of work used in the table.

   • Daily and weekly work means all work you can do independently, whether or not the process is in operation.

   • Shutdown is all work that requires the process to be down in order to do a safe job.

   • Only planned work is for all work executed after it has been planned, though it has not been scheduled. In a pulp mill with a continuous digester, or for a paper machine and other processes that are difficult to start and stop, this category of work is less common than in a packaging or finishing area where there are many minor stops and it is easy to stop and start equipment. However, it is still very cost-effective to use this category where applicable.

   • Only scheduled work is for all work executed as scheduled before it has been planned. You can say that you have turned the planning and scheduling process upside down. If you do it correctly, however, you plan before you schedule.

   • Break-in work is all work that is added to the schedule after it was closed. Closing time for a schedule is recommended to be about 19 hours in advance of execution for daily and weekly work. Closing time is about one week for shorter shutdowns (10 to 12 hours) and four weeks for a longer shutdown (over five days).





Planned and scheduled work




Only planned work




Only scheduled work




Break work




Daily and weekly:
Planned and scheduled work




Daily and weekly:
Only planned work




Daily and weekly:
Only scheduled work




Daily and weekly:
Break-in work




Daily and weekly:
Thinking and solving problems




Many readers of this column have e-mailed me with questions concerning a typical evaluation average. Perhaps this question is coming up because you find that your mill’s ratings are low. We have done more than 250 similar evaluations in mills worldwide and the average in most mills is between 4 and 5. Best mills rank above 6, and very few are above 7.

Hopefully, this gives you some encouragement. If you rated yourselves above 6, you are either very good, or you might be overly optimistic or unaware of your actual performance. Remember that we demanded no fewer than 50 percent crafts people to participate in the evaluations that resulted in the above averages. If only management does the evaluation, ratings tend to be higher.

Torbjörn (Tor) Idhammar is partner and vice president of reliability and maintenance management consultants for IDCON Inc. His primary responsibilities include training and implementation support for preventive maintenance/essential care and condition monitoring, planning and scheduling, spare parts management, and root cause problem elimination. He is the author of “Condition Monitoring Standards” (volumes 1 through 3). He earned a BS in industrial engineering from North Carolina State University and an MS in mechanical engineering from Lund University (Sweden). Contact Tor at 800-849-2041 or e-mail info@idcon.com.

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About the Author

Christer Idhammar is president of IDCONInc., a Raleigh, N.C.-based reliability and maintenance management consulting firm which specializes in education, tra...