TPM maintenance is most difficult lean tool to implement

Larry Rubrich
Tags: lean manufacturing, total productive maintenance, maintenance and reliability

It is important to understand up front that Total Productive Maintenance is the most difficult of all the “lean tools” to implement in companies for two reasons: 

  • A TPM maintenance implementation requires the greatest amount of culture change (as compared to implementing other lean tools) from different groups of people within the organization almost simultaneously.
  • Of all of the areas of potential lean process improvement within the four walls of an organization, the maintenance of our equipment is the area which is the furthest behind. 

Fortunately, the payback from this implementation – in terms of on-time delivery, reduced scrap, improved productivity and improved associate morale – is probably greater than any of the other lean tools. 
Let's review both of these challenging implementation issues and consider possible solutions.

As we look at the organizational culture change required for the TPM maintenance implementation, it is important to remember and review the four components of a successful lean transformation:

To successfully implement TPM maintenance (as well as any of the other lean tools), it must be built on a foundation of a lean culture and supported by the lean policy deployment part of lean planning.

The development of a lean culture starts with the establishment of behavioral expectations. Such expectations, or codes of conduct, set the culture baseline. An excellent example from the Wiremold Company is shown below:

For TPM maintenance to be successful, two additional cultural changes must occur:  

  • Management, in most organizations, has always considered the maintenance department to be a “necessary evil”, an undesirable “indirect” expense. Management has failed to properly lead and manage the maintenance activity. As a result of this treatment, maintenance:
    • Wants to be located as far away from production and management as possible
    • Has little regard for the production process
    • Considers themselves “on call”
    • Uses a “fire-fighting/chicken-wire repair” maintenance strategy
    • Makes excuses for a lack of maintenance improvements                        

This must change. In lean, maintenance activities are known to be the foundation of creating world-class manufacturing processes. 

  • The second change is the development of respect for our manufacturing equipment and the products they produce. Often, U.S. organizations buy new equipment, ignore or are unconcerned about proper maintenance procedures and schedules, and then proceed to run the equipment into the ground. Then everyone stands around complaining that what the organization needs is new equipment. They buy new equipment and the cycle repeats.

While visiting Japan, we were told by a Japanese plant manager, who was watching a brand new piece of equipment being unloaded at his facility, that “this was the worst condition this piece of equipment would ever be in.” This reflected a cultural respect for how important the equipment was to their success and how the Japanese never let equipment deteriorate but always try to improve it or make it better (easier to operate, easier to maintain, etc.). 

Additionally, top management must:

  • Make TPM maintenance a part of their policy deployment goals
  • Support the creation of a full-time certified lean facilitator position (organizations with more than 100 people)
  • Support, encourage and discuss the organizational role and culture changes that will be required during this transition
  • Ignore the red flags that TPM will create if the organization is using a “standard cost” accounting system
  • Recognize a world-class-level TPM implementation can take many years (again, of all the lean tools/activities, maintenance is the furthest behind)

Other TPM Maintenance Implementation Considerations

1) Some thoughts on supporting the maintenance department culture change:

  • Treat/respect maintenance as the foundation of our processes (not as an indirect cost!).
  • Move maintenance to the center of the processes (if required, 5-S during the move).
  • Assign maintenance directly to cells, production lines and value streams (indirectly to maintenance manager).

2) Of the five potential maintenance strategies:
Breakdown – Wait until it breaks then scramble or use the “fire-fighting” strategy, also known as reactive maintenance (this is what many organization are currently doing).
Preventive (planned downtime) – Periodic or scheduled maintenance; e.g.,  oiling, greasing, filter changes, etc., to prevent premature wear and breakdowns, combined with periodic major inspections and overhauls, which prevent equipment performance deterioration.
Predictive – Repair or replace components before failure based on historical information, monitoring equipment operation or life cycles. Life cycles can be based on:

    • number of cycles
    • operating time in minutes or hours
    • calendar time
    • component wear data
    • variations in component operating parameters

Corrective or improvement – Use of “root cause” analysis to determine why a component wore out or failed, followed by equipment modifications or upgrades to prevent recurrence.
Maintenance Prevention – Design or specification of equipment components that do not require maintenance. This can include the design or specification of equipment that is easy to clean, inspect and lubricate.
Preventive and predictive strategies can account for 75 to 90 percent of all improvement in the short term.
3) The key to an effective preventive maintenance component within the TPM initiative is the machine operators. Up to 75 percent of breakdowns can be detected and prevented by well-trained associates.
4) Component failure analysis studies indicate that from 60 to 75 percent of all equipment mechanical failures are a result of lubrication failure (contaminated, wrong type, inadequate or excessive).
5) The cost of a TPM maintenance program is optimized (between spending too much and not spending enough) when roughly 90 percent of all maintenance activities are planned and 10 percent are unplanned.
6) Often, a good place to start your TPM maintenance overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) measurement system is with equipment availability.
7) Purchase a TPM maintenance computer program only after a manual system, which meets the organization data management and analysis requirements, has been developed.
8) Equipment builders who do not support TPM efforts on their already purchased equipment should not be considered for future equipment purchases.

9) Consider using a measurement system like the one used to measure lean supplier performance:

To evaluate new equipment purchases:

About the author:
Larry Rubrich is the president of WCM Associates LLC, a company that is dedicated to helping organizations become globally competitive through the implementation of lean as a business system. For more information, visit or call 260-637-8064.

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About the Author

Larry Rubrich is the president of WCM Associates LLC. For more information, visit or call 260-637-8064.