What reliability-improvement tools should I invest in?

Robert Apelgren

When I started in maintenance, I loved looking at the tool catalogs and, of course, imagined how nice it would be to have one of those gigantic tool sets. You know, the tool set with something for every job. Similar to most of the other new guys, I couldn’t afford to purchase that kind of tool set and had to settle with a much smaller one. Over time, purchasing tools to increase my toolbox capability was based on need and understanding of the function of the tool. This proved to be a great way to learn how to use my toolbox. If in the beginning I was able to purchase the dream set, I probably would not utilize half the tools because I would find myself overwhelmed and sticking to the core tools I understand and occasionally running across something that I might find a use for. That would have not been a very good investment. By investing in tools as I understand their function, I am able to get the most out of them and they will get used because I am more aware of them being there by the “new toy” attitude.

Management and improvement tools are the same way. It is easy to dream of having a facility with all of the tools working harmoniously together and being utilized to their fullest extent. The problem is this rarely happens. Most successful programs start with the choice of one or two core tools and then add on as function and need permit. This allows people time to get to understand the tools and develop habits that are effective in application of the tools. As time goes along, those people are better equipped to be able to adapt to more tools in the toolbox.

I have seen many horror stories in the making of companies who think that throwing money at problems automatically makes them better and eventually leads to trouble-free bliss. Throwing money or resources at problems often causes more confusion and inefficiency. An example of this is a situation where I watched a maintenance manager and a maintenance supervisor replacing buckets on a standard bucket elevator that would normally be a one-man (or possibly two-man) job. The problem is that they were being watched by two Class A mechanics and one Class B mechanic (yes, three very experienced techs), who were providing the tools for the manager and supervisor to use. Inefficiency has no limitation.

You might ask, “What is the right tool for me to start with?” I recommend finding out what your biggest headache is and find the tool to fix it. The tools can range from standard management tools to advanced tools that are designed to deal with a specific issue. One area I recommend before undertaking a bunch of the other tools is a good computerized maintenance management system (CMMS). This will provide a good foundation for some of the other tools to be added on. Another recommendation is to implement a reliability program of some variant prior to starting some of the predictive maintenance tools because it may help you determine what predictive tools you need or want.

These are just a few of my thoughts. What are some pieces of advice from others who have dealt with management and improvement tools?

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