Proactive or Reactive: What's Your Maintenance Philosophy?

And Is It the Correct Approach?

Ricky Smith, World Class Maintenance; John Day, PE, Alumax Mt. Holly Smelter


This article is an overview of the findings by John Day's assessment of Alumax of South Carolina. In this aluminum plant, different approaches to maintenance and the philosophical side of maintenance were explored. 

Alumax of South Carolina is an aluminum smelter that produces in excess of 180,000 MT of primary aluminum each year. It began operation in 1980 after a two-year construction phase. The plant is the last greenfield aluminum smelter constructed in the U.S.
Alumax of S.C. is a part of Alumax, Inc., which has headquarters in Norcross, Georgia — a suburb of Atlanta, Georgia. Alumax, Inc. is the third-largest producer of primary aluminum in the U.S. and the fourth largest in North America.
The vision of general management was that the new smelter located on the Mt. Holly Plantation near Charleston, S.C., would begin operations with a planned maintenance system that could be developed into a total proactive system. At the time in 1978-79, there were no maintenance computer systems available on the market with the capability to support and accomplish the desired objectives. Thus, TSW of Atlanta, Georgia, was brought on-site to take not only the Alumax of S.C. maintenance concepts and develop a computer system, but to integrate all the plant business functions into one on-line common database system.
Since the development and initial operation of the Alumax of S.C. maintenance-management system, it has matured and rendered impressive results. These results have received extensive recognition on a national and international level. The first major recognition came in 1984 when Plant Engineering magazine published a feature article about the system. 
Then, in 1987, A.T. Kearney, an international management consultant headquartered in Chicago performed a study to find the best maintenance operations in North America. Alumax of S.C. was selected as one of the seven "Best of the Best". In 1989, Maintenance Technology magazine recognized Alumax of S.C. as the “Best Maintenance Operation” in the U.S. within its category and as the Best Overall Maintenance Operation in any category.

Different Approaches to Maintenance

From a basic point of view there are two maintenance approaches. One approach is reactive and the other is proactive. In practice, there are many combinations of the basic approaches.
The reactive system (see Figure 1.1.1) responds to a work request or identified need, usually production-related, and dependent on rapid-response measures (if effective). The goals of this approach are to reduce response time to a minimum (the computer helps) and to reduce equipment downtime to an acceptable level. 
This is the approach used by most operations today. It incorporates what is termed as a preventative maintenance program and primarily uses proactive technologies.

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The proactive approach (see figure 1.1.2) responds primarily to equipment assessment and predictive procedures. The overwhelming majority of corrective, preventative, and modification work is generated internally in the maintenance function as a result of inspections and predictive procedures. 
The goals of this method are continuous equipment performance to established specifications, maintenance of productive capacity, and continuous improvement. Alumax of S.C. practices the proactive method. The following results are based upon the experience of pursuing this vision of maintenance.

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Maintenance Management Philosophy

Alumax of S.C. began development of the maintenance-management concept with the idea that maintenance would be planned and managed in a way that always provides an efficient continuous operating facility while paying attention to costs incurred. An investment is expected to show a positive return, and the same goes for maintenance. If used effectively, you can expect good maintenance practices to improve the profitability of an operation. 
The management philosophy for maintenance is just as important as the philosophy established for any business operation. For most industries, maintenance is a supervised function at best, with little real cost control. But it must be a managed function that employs the best methods and systems available to produce profitable results that have a positive effect on profitability.
The development of a philosophy to support the concept of proactive planned maintenance is important. It is believed that many maintenance-management deficiencies or failures have resulted from having poorly constructed philosophies or the over-reliance upon procedures, systems, or popular programs that have no real philosophical or theoretical basis.

The Function and Control System

Today, there is little disagreement that the function and control system of a good maintenance-management program must be computer based and be integrated with the overall organizational management functions. Technology, namely in the form of a computer or tablet, is the tool to use to accomplish this difficult and complex task.
The computer, in an integrated operation, must be available for use by every member of the maintenance organization, as well as all other plant employees depending on the need. It is an essential part of the maintenance employee's resources for accomplishing their work. It is just as important to mechanics or electricians as the tools in the toolbox or the analysis and measurement instruments that they use daily.
The computer must supply meaningful and useful information to the user as opposed to normal computer data. Successful integration of data systems will tie together maintenance, warehouse, purchasing, accounting, engineering, and production in such a way that all parties must work together and have the access to one other's information. 
This is part of the answer to the question being asked almost universally: how do you break down the barriers between departments and get them to work as part of the whole or as a team? The computer system must be online, available, and time-responsive.
In an integrated system with a common database, data is entered only once and promptly updates all other files so that its use is immediately available to all functional areas. This means that anyone in any functional area can use or look at data in any other area unless it is restricted. Some have referred to this effect as the "fishbowl effect" since everything is now visible to all.
This encourages cooperation. In fact, it dictates cooperation and coexistence. 

What is Maintenance?

Everyone knows what maintenance is or at least has their own customized definition of maintenance. If the question is asked, words like “fix”, “restore”, “replace”, “recondition”, “patch”, “rebuild”, and “rejuvenate”, are likely to be repeated. To some extent, there is a place for these words or functions in defining maintenance. 
However, these words may miss the mark in truly understanding maintenance, especially when considering a philosophical approach to the subject. Maintenance, in its basic form, is the “act of maintaining”.
The basis for maintaining is to keep, preserve, and protect. That is, “to keep in an existing state or preserve from failure or decline”. There is a lot of room between the conventional understanding of maintenance and the truest definition of the practice, in a philosophical sense. 
Maintenance isn’t something that arises when something goes wrong or needs fixing. It must be part of the process all along, since all things must have a regular program to “maintain” optimum or the desired health or functional capability. From the human body to school work to family relations, etc., all things in our lives, in a way, are part of a "maintenance program".


If we shift our defining thoughts to maintenance in the pure sense, we force ourselves to deal with keeping, preserving, and protecting. But what exactly are we to keep, protect, or preserve? 
You may think that it is the machine, equipment, or plant, and that is true. But how are you to define the level to which the machine, equipment, or plant is to be kept? One way would be to say, "keep it like new". 
At face value, the concept sounds good, but it is more subjective than objective. The answer to proper maintenance levels must be more accurately defined by a specification.
A specification is a detailed precise presentation of what is required. We must have a specification for the maintenance of equipment and plant. In actual usage today, the specification, if it exists, is not detailed or precise. 
A specification usually does exist informally in the mind of the mechanic or management member even though they may be unable to recite it. A specification like this will not qualify as a true specification, nor will it qualify as a supporting component of the act of maintaining. 
The true maintenance specification may be a vendor specification, a design specification, or an internally developed specification. The specification must be precise and objective in its requirements. The maintenance system and organization must be designed to support a concept based on rational specifications. 
Detailed work plans and schedules may be constructed to provide the specification requirement at the maintenance level. In the maintaining context, the specification is not a goal. It is a requirement that must be met. 
The maintenance system must be designed to meet this requirement. The specification must be accepted as the "floor" or minimum acceptable maintenance level. Variation that does occur should be above the specification level or floor. The specifications will probably be stated in terms of attributes and capacity.
In reference to maintenance specifications, individual equipment specifications, process specifications, and plant-performance specifications must also be included in this specification plan, so to speak.

The Maintenance Function

The maintenance department is responsible and accountable for overall maintenance in a facility. It is responsible for the way equipment runs and looks and for the costs required to achieve the proper level of performance. 
This is not to say that the operator has no responsibility for the use of equipment when in his hands - he does. The point is that responsibility and accountability must be assigned to a single function or person, whether it be a mechanic or operator. To split responsibility between maintenance or any other department where overlapping responsibility occurs is to establish an operation where no one is accountable.
Alumax of S.C. considers this a fundamental principle for effective operation of maintenance. Where the maintenance department or group is held responsible and accountable for maintenance, the relationship with other departments takes on new meaning.
The maintenance department can't afford to have adversary relationships with others. They must have credibility and trust as the basis of interdepartmental relationships. This is an essential element for the successful operation of a maintenance-management system (CMMS).
The Maintenance Function must be aligned with production, reliability and materials management by using the “RACI Process”. What is the RACI Process? 
The RACI Model is the most effective to aligning all maintenance processes.

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Does the maintenance function provide a service or produce a product? Service is defined as a useful labor that does not produce a tangible commodity. A product is something that is produced, usually tangible, but measurable. 
In the case of the maintenance function and the development of this philosophy, both a service and a product are considered as outputs of maintenance. The current thinking, which is related to traditional maintenance (reactive maintenance), suggests that the maintenance function is mostly a service function.
Consider the product produced by maintenance to be capacity (production/plant capacity). A service approach to maintenance, as is currently practiced, is a reactive mode of operation and is typical of most maintenance operations today. Reactive means being responsive to your stimuli.
Most maintenance operations today are designed to respond to the stimuli of breakdowns and work order requests, meaning that the maintenance function must be notified (stimulated) of a problem or service requirement by some means, usually by someone outside of the maintenance organization, before maintenance is practiced. Rapid response is the "scorecard" of this system.
Contrarily, it is suggested by a proactive philosophy that the maintenance function be addressed as the producer of the product. In other words, maintenance must act in a way that doesn’t require any external stimulus at all to function optimally. 
A total proactive system must specifically be designed to produce capacity (product). If the maintenance function is to be classified as proactive, it cannot stand by and wait for someone to call or make a request. In a total proactive approach, maintenance must be responsible and accountable for the capacity and capability of all equipment and facilities. 
Stated again, the maintenance function is a process that produces capacity, which is the end-product. The results of this model created a benchmark that hundreds of companies followed and many continue to adopt all the time. 
In Figure 1.1.4 you will clearly see the “world-class benchmarks” of Alumax, Mt Holly.

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Companies who have adopted John Day’s philosophy and strategy have achieved results beyond what was known within a company. One such example was a large manufacturing company. Once senior management understood and adopted John’s philosophy and approach it resulted in:

  1. Increased plant capacity by $12 million dollars in the first year.
  2. Eliminated the need to hire a projected 12 additional maintenance staff members.
  3. The plant maintenance staff was reduced by 20% over the following three years because of attrition.
The approach to proactive maintenance is not magic. Implementing the process can be difficult, but the results are worth the effort. In order to develop a true proactive maintenance process, a company must have commitment all the way from senior management to floor-level personnel.
World Class Maintenance – Alumax Mt. Holly was one of three plants in the world to be validated as having a World Class Maintenance Organization. This certification was awarded in 1997. In 2012, a similar evaluation was conduct by Allied Reliability Group. These two sets of scores are shown in Figure 1.2.

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About the Author
Ricky has over 30 years’ experience working as Maintenance and Reliability Professional for companies such as Exxon Company USA, Alumax Mt Holly, Kendall Company and the US Army. In addi...

About the Author

John Day, PE, was a former Engineering/Maintenance Manager at Alumax Mt. Holly Smelter (Alcoa Mt. Holly) in South Carolina.