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Work Execution ManagementDefect Elimination

10 Steps to Precision Maintenance Reliability Success


1. Awareness of Today’s Business Issues, Trends and Critical Skills Shortage

While many factors contribute to lost opportunities for today’s manufacturers, equipment failures and breakdowns continue to be near the top of the list. Real data from over 200 facilities show that maintenance induced defects overwhelmingly contribute to stalled improvement efforts to gain back control. Much of the data indicates roughly 25% are common assembly errors, 25% are from imbalance and poor balance specs, 25% are common lubrication mistakes and 25% are from poor alignment, inadequate alignment specs and a general lack of leadership expectations and follow-up. The plain truth is most craftspeople entrusted to maintain millions of dollars of production and support equipment have never been taught the necessary precision skills and how to apply them correctly to, as the saying goes, “do it once and do it right.” To further complicate the issue, most managers and supervisors don’t understand nor set and enforce the necessary standards.

As stated in a 2018 ManpowerGroup research report, 45 percent of employers say they can’t find the skilled workers they need. Exacerbating this even more is that manufacturers are expected to lose another two to three million experienced workers due to the looming retirement within the baby boomer generation. Because of these vacancies, industry analysts predict that over the next decade, more than two million manufacturing jobs will go unfilled across the U.S. Currently, the National Association of Manufacturers reports there are 391,000 open jobs in American manufacturing today.

The specific roles needed to fill this talent shortage are most acutely in skilled production and maintenance, such as machinists, mechanical repair personnel, operators, and electrical and instrument technicians, which together amounts to more than 50 percent of the manufacturing workforce. Additionally, 67 percent of respondents reported a moderate to severe shortage of available, qualified workers and 56 percent anticipate the shortage to grow even worse. 

The “2018 Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute Skills Gap and Future of Work Study” goes into extensive detail about this same problem and provides additional insight.

The opportunities to set a higher standard of improvement and sustained success are truly astounding. To succeed, the development and application of precision skills should be based on the fundamental expectation that plant equipment must be maintained correctly in order to become a reliable plant. The results are real: improved equipment performance and extended life – it drives everything good financially and is strategic to manufacturing success.

Having gained a better understanding of the precision skills gap, the next steps show how organizations can effectively address it.

2. The Birth of Precision Maintenance

As you will read, the technical definition and goals of precision maintenance are pretty straightforward.

The first real evidence of precision maintenance skills and techniques were pioneered at NASA by Dr. Wernher Von Braun and his team of genuine rocket scientists in the 1960s. Through rigorous hours of testing, they discovered that for every “20% vibration is decreased, the life of the bearing is DOUBLED.” Further reductions produce exponential increases in bearing life and all other expensive components that usually get damaged during bearing failure. Additionally, unscheduled downtime is eliminated and there is a drastic reduction in maintenance costs.

Another early vibration pioneer, Ralph Buscarello (respectfully known as the “Vibe-Father” to those who knew him and studied under him), understood and passionately preached well into his 80s that common assembly errors, mistakes and omissions of the essential field installation and rebuild details, along with simple equipment specification issues at purchase, are significant sources of destructive vibration that eventually fatigues the bearing metallurgy casing, causing the bearing to failure. Ralph coined the phrase, precision maintenance, back in the 1960s and spent the rest of his life trying to spread the word.

A rigorous implementation of precision maintenance creates the highest standard of reliability. Precision maintenance is comprised of tested, critical, must-do steps of implementation, the results achieved and continuous improvement that must include constant follow-up to ensure sustainable success.

Even plants recognized as the most reliable in their industry will find they have barely scratched the surface of precision maintenance. Typically, what is missing is the key component of convincing managers and supervisors to become real leaders and LEAD CHANGE!

To achieve the desired results require setting new expectations, measuring, constant follow-up and never allowing yourself to digress to the previous poor habits brought on mostly by human nature. In other words, you have to create and put processes in place that ensure rigid specifications are followed by every mechanic, project manager and supervisor.

3. Precision Maintenance Skills Assessment

The skills gap is the difference between the skills required to perform a specified job and the actual skills that employees possess. Conducting a skills assessment provides an objective measurement of a craft, for example, a mechanic’s knowledge and understanding of precision maintenance skills, how they are applied and the strategic value they can mean to the company’s improvement initiatives.

A skills assessment provides a scoring system that measures results: low, needs improvement and proficient. This scoring system is applicable for each topic and covers a myriad of assembly errors, mistakes, omissions, precision assembly, rebuild, installation, bearing fits and tolerances, precision alignment, and mechanic or engineer induced unbalance. A review of the results for over 1,000 assessments of existing personnel and new hires shows that 95 percent score at the low level, compared to five percent who score at the needs improvement or proficient levels.

With these results, a defensible and sensible precision skills training plan can be formulated with the objective of transforming the workforce into a highly skilled craft team that is fully trained and qualified to place equipment into a precise state and effectively maintain a fleet of reliable machines that deliver value to the company’s strategic objectives.   

Figure 1: Skills assessment 

4. Senior Management Sponsorship and Leadership

Achieving precision maintenance implementation, success and sustainability requires the full sponsorship and advocacy of senior leadership, as well as supervisory and manager roles. There should be a clear focus on setting written expectations for mechanics, engineers, planners and all contributing roles, including operating in accordance to improvement objectives. 

  • There must be a clear understanding of the strategic connection between reactive, unscheduled downtime due to improper work habits and, conversely, how applied precision skills are essential to the performance improvement of equipment, reduced manufacturing and energy costs, and increased production.
  • All contributing roles must see leadership’s commitment to follow through and how they align with the way people think, behave and work.
  • By leadership leading and engaging, the workforce will recognize their role in building a reliability culture that runs through every fiber of the manufacturing site.


5. Direction: Processes, Communication and Standards

Maintenance management and all significant roles must understand how they each contribute to moving this improvement work forward, including: job plans, field documentation, planning and scheduling precision work, and setting the expectation that from here on in, as pointed out in Winston Ledet’s book, the battle cry is, “Don’t Just Fix it, Improve it!”

Managers and supervisors ask their people all the time to change and improve what they are doing, but they don’t do a particularly good job of describing in detail what that looks like for the mechanic, the lubricator, the planner, the vibration analyst, the supervisor and other staff functions.

So, you need to work with each functional group, writing work guidelines and expectations for each contributing role that clearly define what they need to do differently during and after each training class.

Just a few examples of procedures and expectations for craft mechanics are:

  • When performing alignment, you will find and correct gross soft foot first, then check and correct any induced angled soft foot created by resulting alignment shim changes.
  • Carefully follow written step-by-step pipe strain check procedures on all new installations. NO PIPE STRAIN will be acceptable before signing off with the contractor.
  • Machine key orientation will be precisely followed on all precision maintenance jobs. Keys will normally, unless specified otherwise, be placed (rotated) 180 degrees apart on all coupled equipment.

The excitement of discovery can be a source of pride when work is performed precisely and will not take more time when planned and scheduled in advance. For instance, it doesn’t require four to eight hours to do a precision alignment if the mechanic is prepared and follows expectations to lift and clean the base and feet, and investigate to find and correct gross soft foot before mounting the laser. Mistakes are commonly made when this step is skipped because it is not set in writing: “Thou Shalt Better Not Skip This Step.”

It has been proven time and time again that having detailed writings for procedures and expectations, supervisors’ compliance to expectations and reporting real results to management are the essential requirements to achieving precision alignment in a shorter period of time.

Equally important to achieving success, without a doubt, is creating, then requiring, each job to have a precision maintenance field worksheet to follow. This worksheet features a step-by-step format, with actions and findings fully documented by the craft mechanics, reviewed and signed by the frontline supervisor and turned in at the end of the task to planners and maintenance engineers for any required follow-up. Post-work can provide craft mechanics with a direct voice in pointing out deficiencies that could not be addressed on that job, that day, and require follow-up improvement work or parts on-site. Some examples might be: “SW foot bolt-bound ¼ inch, cannot get precision alignment today,” or “Outboard bearing housing worn out, egg shaped by .008 inches, part not in stores, bearing will fail again soon.”

Likewise, supervisors and planners must follow written expectations as to whom will collect, read, follow-up, order new parts, reschedule and report conclusions back to the mechanic who initially wrote the additional work to be performed. Everyone needs to be fully aware of their and others’ roles and responsibilities, especially the role assigned to follow through with review of each precision maintenance job worksheet. Additionally, all worksheets should be reviewed weekly in the planning meeting to determine the best course of action regarding the following week’s schedule and upcoming shutdown.

Communication and Standards

Before starting implementation and training the workforce, establish a detailed communication plan based on expanding awareness of what precision maintenance is and the existing gaps. It’s just as imperative to establish new installation standards for contractors and new rebuild standards for outside repair shops. Facilitate the writing of these standards with input from your best craftspeople, supervisors, planners and engineers. In like manner, identify the metrics to show progress and results. If the facility does on-site rebuild of spares, just as important is establishing a “clean room” for assembly of spare rotating and hydraulic elements, as well as mechanical seals.

Along the journey, it is advisable to keep the workforce informed of equipment improvement progress, such as decreasing vibration and energy consumption. Make it a point to communicate these results back to the individual craft mechanics responsible for improving equipment performance and leaving equipment in a precise state. Significant findings and equipment modifications must be communicated and a commitment secured for the workforce to employ any new tool or modifications on a more global scale across the entire plant or similar equipment types.

Precision Standards

While many precision standards are documented, and many continue to be discovered, here are a few examples that serve as a guide to add, modify and build your own standards in accordance to site objectives:

  • Before a bearing housing and/or shaft is considered for reuse in a bearing installation, detailed measurements for proper fit and tolerance, as compared to original equipment manufacturer (OEM) specification shall be required and well-documented. 
  • All new bearings will be measured for final dimensional quality compliance before installation.
  • All new pumps and fans shall be ordered with an impeller balance quality of G1.0 at no additional cost!
  • Key stock in stores and area shops all shall be ordered to attain readily available plus tolerance, and all keys individually fit to keyways with a push/pull interference fit (0.0003” to 0.0005”).

6. Training Implementation

Following the skills development training plan (derived from the precision maintenance skills assessment) and the establishment of processes, participants should learn the principles of defect elimination and how they are achieved by the application of precision skills and methods.

Participants perform numerous hands-on, step-by-step exercises on simulators that replicate real-world, operating equipment, specifically engineered to enable instructors to impart a myriad of assembly errors and common mistakes. Participants are then systematically taught to identify and eliminate each one. In this way, participants learn each precision skill, eliminate defects, demonstrate ability and achieve precision maintenance qualification. 

Figure 2: Vibration readings takes "as found", before work and "as left", once work is completed.

7. Application of Skills

With their new skills, knowledge, tools and improvement work orders, craft mechanics can immediately begin to transform poor, high risk of failure machines into improved, reliable machines that are operating as intended, with increased resistance to failure.

Once the necessary training is completed, supervisors assign each craft mechanic a precision maintenance job work order to be completed in his or her area. The mechanic should be given time in the schedule to place each machine in a precise state and report findings back to the supervisor. In accordance with the communication plan, maintenance reliability engineers, vibration analysts, planners and anyone who is fostering support and advocacy for a higher standard of work, are all made aware of the results.

This is where craft mechanics can deliver real value. Precision assembly, installation and rebuild occurs throughout the operating lifecycle of site equipment, not just at commissioning. By raising the quality standard of work, defects are eliminated by not imparting them in the first place, as illustrated in the D-I-P-F curve in Figure 3. Together, all the precision elements serve as the essential enablers for equipment to be skillfully placed in a precise state, whereby they operate on top of the curve for a consistently longer time. This is the aha moment for craft mechanics, when they begin to understand the real meaning of, “Don’t Just Fix it, Improve it!” or do it once and do it right.

Figure 3: D-I-P-F curve illustrates that the application of precision skills enables equipment to operate on-top-of-the-curve. Why? Increased profit retention.

8. Measuring Results – Key Performance Indicators

The most effective way to measure results is with key performance indicators (KPIs). Some examples (Figure 4) of KPIs that can be established are:

  • Number of improvement work orders completed monthly;
  • Reduced energy consumption;
  • Reduced overall vibration levels;
  • Mean time between failures (MTBF) and how it powers achievement of all good things financially;
  • Increased incremental production;
  • Reduced manufacturing costs.

9. Progress Review and Mentorship

Conducting a progress review three to six months from implementation can provide maintenance management with valuable continuous improvement recommendations because it shows where success is being achieved and validates that skills are being applied. A progress review also demonstrates that frontline supervisors are actively involved in communicating precision maintenance expectations with planners and craft mechanics.

This approach serves to inform and assist the site in recognizing the importance of establishing and continuously improving those processes that will guide the leadership team in achieving significant improvements that will power the site’s production, deliver measurable results and create a sustainable reliability culture.

Frontline supervisors should establish a process for reviewing the documentation of each precision maintenance job, recognizing the quality of work and, if additional mentoring is needed, reinforcing the continuous improvement of each craftsperson.

The objective of field mentoring is to assist the site team with the necessary recommendations to move improvement work forward efficiently and effectively.

Examples are:

  • Formulating precision job plans;
  • Reviewing the asset list and criticality rankings;
  • Accurate bill of materials (BOMs), including key safety and technical procedures;
  • Work order history to look for opportunities and areas of improvement;
  • Current workflow process;
  • Facilitate the building of a “bad actor” list using criticality rankings, work order history, latest vibration readings, cost history and site knowledge;
  • Planning and scheduling precision work.



Figure 4: Real results achieved and sustained by one of the largest paper mills in the world.

Figure 4a: Pump “mean time between failure” (MTBF) greatly increased.

Figure 4b: Motor failures reduced significantly.

10. Achieving Sustainability

All the previous steps are proven best practices and essential in achieving a standardized reliability precision maintenance process – the highest level of success with a sharp focus on continuous improvement. For best practices learned, the maintenance manager and his or her staff should make note and recognize when craft mechanics discover something new that can be added to work procedures. Conversely, if you observe something being done incorrectly or old habits reemerging, take immediate and decisive action to correct it and reset the expectation.

As the culture begins to change in the precise direction you seek, the written procedures and instructions will become a solid foundation and mechanics will expect to have good written procedures, specifications and job details. Insist that operations and production superintendents attend training with the maintenance crews. This way, they learn how they can support the effort and why maintenance is doing things differently. Make sure their shift leaders understand their responsibility to sign off every time they authorize or insist that something be “just put back together, I got to make my shift production.” After follow-up questions by the plant and/or mill manager, such actions should be put to rest.

Each individual site must recognize the barriers and constraints that will emerge to challenge the established processes and commitments made. Each site must be dedicated to stay on the journey and not revert back to the past status quo of reactive, low quality work.

Those that have remained diligent to precision maintenance work standards are no longer deploying their craft mechanic teams to relentless, failure-based work. Now, their focus is on improvement-based work. It’s a paradigm shift in strategy, principles and tactics, and these organizations are winning big.

What does your organization need to do to be part of the change to Precision Maintenance reliability?


1. ManpowerGroup. “Solving the Talent Shortage: Build, Buy, Borrow, Bridge.” 2018 Talent Shortage Survey.

2. Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute. “2018 Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute Skills Gap and Future of Work Study.”

3. Uptime® Elements— A Reliability Framework and Asset Management System™