The Maintenance Man

This work analyzes both profile and role of the maintenance man within the framework of current and future developments in the maintenance function. In times when other company functions are subject to automation, robotics and tend to the elimination of people at the worksite, maintenance appears as a typically human task that makes an irreplaceable contribution to modern companies’ competitiveness.

We have studied the conceptual and organizational references that now determine the maintenance function as well as current trends and concluded upon the requirements that the maintenance professional must fulfill in order to do his job effectively, i.e., as stated in the definition of the maintenance function, to assure company competitiveness.

1. Introduction

The world, the economy and companies have undergone significant changes in the last few years.

The world has turned global and competition is everywhere; these new challenges have led to deep transformations in companies, affecting maintenance as well.

As a result of this transformation, maintenance has come to a position of enhanced and well-deserved importance, due to its incidence on overall company competitiveness.

It is in this context that we intend to analyze the profile and the role of the maintenance man within this new setting.

In this analysis, we shall proceed from general to particular aspects; we will review the definition and objectives of the maintenance function; we will study the organizational and managerial aspects, in order to finally arrive at the required profile and the role to be fulfilled by the maintenance professional.

2. Maintenance Definition and Objectives

Nowadays, maintenance is defined as ‘the management function that ensures regular operation and good condition of installations’.

In order to summarize and simplify the issue, we could say that today’s maintenance means ‘ensuring that all the assets, be they physical or not, continue to perform the desired functions’.

Given this definition, we must pose the maintenance objective as measurable, quantifiable and expressing what has been said in it.  We will state that objective as follows: ‘Ensuring company’s competitiveness by means of:  assuring planned availability and reliability of the desired function, complying with all requirements of company’s quality system, and with all safety and environmental regulations, at the least overall cost or at maximum overall benefits.’

3. Strategic Importance

Nobody argues upon the significance that two key factors such as quality and productivity have on companies’ competitiveness.

In order to ensure this on a long-term basis, there is need of a third key factor:  reliability.

If we are not reliable, we will not be able to sustain our achievements on a day-to-day basis.

It is in reliability assurance that maintenance shows its true importance. To say it in other words, ‘maintenance action ensures reliability’.

On a more concrete realm, the results of a company in terms of production are a function of installed capacity, operating rhythm, product quality and installation availability.

Although maintenance has influence on all of them, the effects are more noticeable upon the availability factor, and thus its incidence on overall results.

Good maintenance ensures availability today and on a long-term basis, and this is what constitutes reliability.

4. Results-Oriented Maintenance

We have analyzed the results of maintenance from an overall standpoint and we shall now proceed to a more specific outlook in order to understand how the problem is viewed from the inside; which fundamentals should be made clear so as to understand the organization and the management model needed; and, then move ahead to our target:  the maintenance man.

Talking results is talking systems, and thinking of systems leads us to consider their quality.  Optimal system quality is no good unless they are accepted by those who must implement them.

This is paramount, since we must bear in mind that maintenance is essentially a human task.  Factories can be fully automated to the point of having no workers at all, but at some point, a maintenance person shall have to act upon a robot or automated system in order to prevent downtime or to rapidly correct it, if it has actually occurred.

It will also be important to take this action on the basis of the so called ‘Maintenance Common Sense’, i.e., ‘do the right things, and do these things right’, and finally, ‘do things right the first time’.

5. Quality

Placing man at the center of the issue, we must now proceed to outline his relationship to the quality factor.

For this purpose, we believe it is enough to present a well-known statement that reveals the exact concept: ‘Quality is not in the things people do, but in the people that do things’.

Quality is no doubt an important transformational vehicle, but a vehicle that transports people, so it is paramount to have quality plans involve factors such as people awareness and commitment, motivation, responsibility and pride of being part of a team.

Only when these aspects are present can we speak of quality assurance.

To fulfill the abovementioned concept, the quality system must include procedures for Competence Certification of the workers in all trades.

6. Strategic Maintenance

The modern approach to maintenance involves three levels.  First, we must define the strategies, ‘what to do’, then the systems, ‘how to do it’, and, last, analyze human and material resources, ‘with whom and with what to do it’.

In this presentation, we will analyze the resource part, namely human resources, which can come from inside the company’s payroll or from outsourcing (third-party contracts).

Regarding company’s internal human resources, it is important to count on a clear organizational structure with well-defined decision-making and authority levels; with required crews and profiles and with well-established selection criteria and training plans; with clearly-defined motivation and recognition methodologies, the latter being based on adequate performance assessment methods.

Regarding outsourcing, the specifications of the service must be defined, ‘what I want them to do’, the qualifications of the suppliers, very important to know who am I hiring and their quality levels; but, most important of all is to know who I must not hire due to low quality levels.  We must also define the types of contracts and of course the criteria for supervision, approval and acceptance of the service rendered.  This last item is one of the most important, since, although it may seem strange, it is the one most often forgotten by companies and the cause of failure of many outsourcings.

There is a current trend towards outsourcing for maintenance service.

This is due to the need for greater specialization in technical aspects, and to the need for more equipment to develop it, or due to company strategy of focusing on key business areas.

This last cause generates outsourcing for tasks such as: janitors, gardeners, transportation, building maintenance, and so on.

There are also other tasks which are not exclusive for the business and for which there is qualified labor from small companies available, so they are also outsourced:  welding, carpentry, piping, insulation, electrical installations, mounting, etc.

The company keeps in its payroll those capable of performing tasks and activities that require poly-functionality and detailed knowledge of the company’s plant and equipment.

At this point, we arrive at one of the key conclusions regarding our maintenance man, the trend towards poly-functionality of personnel within a framework of flexibility of the organization.

7. Organization

At first people spoke of centralizing maintenance. Then, they spoke of the opposite, decentralizing.  Today’s trend is to have mixed organizations, with some sectors decentralized and partly centralized, acting in a supporting role to all the decentralized sectors, to better face changing realities.

More than ten years ago, three ideas were put forth regarding the maintenance organization:  the organization as a profit center, i.e. a company within the company, and the development of an internal customer-supplier relationship with the operating area; the next step was to integrate operations and maintenance, an idea which was promoted by supporters of TPM; and, last of all, the selective decentralization of services and maintenance activities. Now these ideas have become a reality.

Companies have undergone transformation due to greater automation of their plants, higher production volumes and productivity increases. This has called for a reduction of operations personnel and an increase in maintenance labor in relative terms compared to former times.

This technological transformation of the organizations increased the demand for training our maintenance professional.  A good maintenance technician must now be trained in:  automation, instrumentation, electronics, electricity, hydraulics, pneumatics, mechanics, industrial safety, quality, computer science, and language skills, besides the specific knowledge of the process, which is fundamental in order to understand the operation of whatever he must maintain.

Within this outline, there is no more room for traditional supervision, since it is neither possible nor desirable to be everywhere monitoring and indicating what is to be done.

Instead of this, the modern supervisory role is more of the kind of a facilitator of tasks, a team leader that sets objectives and guidelines and controls results.  Thus, the importance of a sense of responsibility and the confidence placed on the maintenance man, as well as the commitment that this man has to have with the organization and its results.

Today’s maintenance man must be more of the kind of a ‘commander’ or ‘missionary’, able to fulfill his duties correctly with no need for supervision.  It is a personality profile that does not seek the peaceful life of an office environment, but rather action-biased instead.  This must be born in mind at the time of developing management systems that must be simple in their application in order to be well accepted.

8. Modern Maintenance

In sum, what companies propose nowadays is the figure of an operation-maintenance joint venture, with the purpose of improving product quality, reducing wastage and enhancing equipment.

The keys to success will therefore be commitment, responsibility, skill and ability to change, as well as the level of competence ensured by education, training and certification.

In this model, the operators are ‘accountable’ for the equipment and they develop maintenance tasks such as:  cleansing, inspections, adjustments, small repairs, lubrication, and they participate in the definition of modifications and redesigns and of course in the outlining of maintenance plans together with the maintenance people.

The maintenance personnel, on the other hand, work as ‘specialists’ that assist the operators.

In this way, and according to the mixed organization mentioned above, the maintenance action evolves along three lines:

In the first line, we find the maintenance technicians assigned to the operations area, the de-centralized area, who functionally report to operations management.

They are accountable for the following maintenance tasks:  preventive maintenance of equipment and installations of their sector, attend emergencies that may occur and diagnose problems as well as providing support to operators.

They are technically poly-functional and they have a sense of belonging to the operations team, they have closer access to the feeling of the process.

Along the second line, we find the maintenance technicians that work in the central workshop, the centralized part of the organization, functionally reporting to maintenance management.

This is the area where maintenance management and engineering are taken care of; technicians are poly-functional with a certain higher degree of specialization; they act in a supporting role to the first line.

This area is generally accountable for operating general services:  electricity, steam, cold and hot water, compressed air, refrigeration, air conditioning, communications, sewage, etc.

The third line, are all the outsourced services which, as we mentioned earlier, can be so due to higher specialization, for simple tasks that we are not interested in doing ourselves or also to reinforce the second line in times of significant work overload, such as in the event of plant downtime or mounting of installations or new machinery.

Finally, the maintenance concept today is a synonym of service.  Maintenance is service.  This demands behavioral and attitudinal changes, the will to sacrifice, as in the case of a ‘command’ or a ‘missionary’, we are not the ‘stars’ like in the case of the Formula 1 pilot, but we are a very important part of the team, so important that we can determine whether we ‘win or we lose the race’.

The near future is already showing us that the concept will also be that of ‘Systems Medicine’, diagnosing ‘symptoms’, predicting ‘diseases’, developing ‘preventive therapies’, analyzing the ‘clinical background’ and executing ‘corrective operations’.

Within this outline, personnel training should focus on three aspects:  technical, behavioral and sociological.

The technical aspects refer to the above-detailed poly-functionality. In order to achieve it, training must be based on performance with constant referral to the ‘polyvalence matrix’ of ‘labor competences’, where the position’s profile is compared to the incumbent’s profile. Certification is of paramount importance in this point.

The behavioral aspects refer to the needed mindset changes, and the attitudinal shift necessary to deal with current challenges and that we have also already mentioned, such as commitment, responsibility and openness to change.

The sociological aspects deal with conflict elimination, harmony with customers, teamwork, communications, participation and, most important of all, the support that can only come from good management leadership.

9. Conclusions

As a way of winding up, we want to present a summary of the concepts that the maintenance man should be familiar with, respect and apply as if they were the ‘golden rule’ of the profession:

• Attitude: To be always ready to do the job and solve the problems in the best possible manner. Commitment with results.

• Skills: To have the knowledge and the training necessary to do his job. Certification.

• Teamwork: With peers, with customers, with suppliers. We are not the only ones on board this ship and we need the whole crew rowing harmoniously in order to be successful.

• Communication: To listen to people is the first and most important part of communication. We must ask and listen. Remember that good ideas are those which are simple and these are usually supplied by the workers.

• Information: We must know what is going on in order to act; thus, the importance of keeping record of what is done and what happens.

• Coordination of work with customers: Knock on the door and ask for permission before coming in.

• Delivery of work to customers: Leave the house clean and say good-bye upon exiting.

In sum, to apply the ‘Boy Scout’s’ motto, ‘always ready to serve’, and ‘leave the place in a better condition than how we found it’.

We also want to put forth a tool that has proved successful in the application of teamwork.

In order for teams to be successful, they must have a mission and objectives to inspire them.  Once this first key fundamental step has been taken, then we can proceed to apply the method know by the name of ‘Eight-Steps Method’:

1. Appoint a team.
2. Describe the mission and objectives assigned to the team.
3. Define immediate action in case it is needed.
4. Analyze the causes of the problem and the possible alternative solutions, by means of quality tools (pareto, fish bone diagram, RCA, RCM, etc.)
5. Define corrective actions for these causes in the alternatives considered.
6. Establish a procedure for long-term follow-up of the results generated by these actions.
7. Define preventive actions in order to avoid recurrence of the problem in the future or the emergence of similar ones or those with causes in common.
8. Congratulate the team for their work.

10. Closing remarks

We must finally state a reflection that has a lot to do with the spirit of the maintenance man that we have set forth in this work. The author of this quotation had nothing to do with the maintenance function, but he was well acquainted with the achievements of the human soul as such. He is the Uruguayan writer José Enrique Rodó, and he said:

‘The best piece of work is that which is done without showing impatience for immediate results, and the most glorious effort is that which places hopes beyond the horizon’.

Article by Santiago Sotuyo Blanco, IME, CMRP, Ellmann, Sueiro & Associates