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Ignorance Is Contagious and You Are the Only One to Save the Day

  1. There is a widespread misunderstanding of what preventive maintenance (PM) does and does not do. PM does not put iron into an inadequate machine. PM does not work on junk. Initiating a PM program rarely effects your breakdown rate for a year or more unless you commit to this one thing. PM and predictive maintenance (PdM) inspection detect deterioration, damage and defects that will lead to failures, but does not stop them! You stop these incipient failures by doing the corrective tasks, which include correcting the damage, deterioration, or defect in a timely way before the failure.
  2. All the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) sensors, the Cloud, analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) won’t make you world-class or change the need for basic maintenance. Fortunately, or unfortunately, all the tech you can buy will not change the engineering, physics, or chemistry of your equipment. Bearings overheat, bolts loosen and dirt gets where it shouldn’t. Your cool sensors with up-to-the-minute analytics might tell you when or how bad, but they have no impact on the mechanism of failure. The only activity that has an impact on the mechanism of failure is basic maintenance, like greasing, tightening bolts and cleaning.
  3. Maintenance instruments are about as accurate as medical instruments. False positives (e.g., the doctor sees something on an X-ray and says you may have a disease and orders more tests and it turns out to be nothing) and false negatives (e.g., people drop dead right after seeing a doctor) happen every day and are widely known and studied. If your vibration tech says a bearing is going to fail, there is a nine out of 10 chance the finding is accurate. That means you must give the PdM crew some space to be wrong. Medicine realized that if there are no false positives, then the test might not be sensitive enough. They increased the sensitivity of the test until they got a few false positives. Then, they knew they had the right sensitivity.
  4. The single, biggest cause of your breakdowns are random acts of carelessness. Research into failures done as far back as 50 years ago showed conclusively that the leading causes of breakdowns are random. According to Winston P. Ledet et al., 63 percent of breakdowns are due to misoperation. Random breakdowns in careful operations or careful maintenance are at the source. Some of them can be addressed through training, poka-yoke (i.e., mistake proofing), precision standards and a shift in emphasis to intentional precision operation and maintenance.
  5. Logically, then, most of your breakdowns have nothing to do with maintenance! Blaming breakdowns on inadequate PM or generally bad maintenance efforts is just like blaming doctors for the epidemic of obesity. Of course, doctors must deal with the sickness that results, but they are no more responsible for the epidemic than the maintenance department is for most breakdowns. Likewise, an obese person visiting the doctor more often (i.e., increasing the PM frequency) will not fix the problem, although it might detect an issue earlier, which is a good thing.
  6. For better or worse, your maintenance department can only impact a small part of the overall reliability of your equipment. Reliability is complex! There are inputs, decisions and opportunities during every lifecycle. If you want reliability, you must start at the business case or conception of the asset and make good decisions and continue to make good decisions until the asset’s end (i.e., when it no longer contributes adequate value to the organization). If reliability in your company is for maintenance to figure out and be accountable for, you will miss the boat.
  7. Most of the lifecycle costs of a motor purchased today is electricity, yet the incentive for purchasing is on price. Electric usage is practically ignored. You might argue that the present value of the future savings doesn’t justify it. But, do the math, it does. Lower electricity also means lower heat and usually longer life.
  8. You deliberately choose equipment with high maintenance costs. It’s the same logic as buying inefficient motors. Let’s face it, buying cheap equipment is easier than figuring out the best equipment for the application. And, by the way, you have created a monster. By buying on price alone, you bankrupt any original equipment manufacturer (OEM) with the temerity to build quality. Most of them turn to the dark side and make up lost profits with margins on parts and services. Of course, there are still good ones out there, so figure out who they are and buy from them before they, too, turn to the dark side.
  9. New plants, lines and facilities are designed, built, commissioned and operated intentionally with excessive maintenance costs for the next 25 years. The cause is short-term thinking, using incentives for on budget and on time performance to the exclusion of lowest lifecycle cost, maintainability and successful start-up. There is a basic reluctance on management’s part, living deep in silos, to share the information and experiences of brother and sister disciplines. Sharing and communicating are the antidotes.
  10. Spare parts are the life blood of maintenance once something does go wrong. Their reason for storage is not to make it convenient for maintenance. The real reason is simple: You stock parts to reduce the risk of downtime from having to wait for parts. Attempts to cut spare parts inventory generally increase the cost of producing your product due to downtime while waiting for parts. This is because you got rid of the wrong parts. By the way, you still wasted a ton of money and now you don’t even have the downtime buffer that the parts represent.

Joel Levitt

Joel Levitt, CRL, CPMM, CRL, CPMM, is the President of Laser Focused Training. Mr. Levitt has 30 years of experience in many facets of maintenance, including process control design, source equipment inspector, electrician, field service technician, maritime operations and property management. He is a leading trainer of maintenance professionals and has trained more than 17,000 maintenance leaders from 3,000 organizations in 25 countries in over 500 sessions. Since 1980 he has been the President of Springfield Resources, a management consulting firm that services all sized clients on a wide range of maintenance issues. Prior to that Mr. Levitt worked for a CMMS vendor and in manufacturing management. 

He is also a frequent speaker at maintenance and engineering conferences and has written 6 popular maintenance management texts and chapters of 2 additional reference books. He has also published dozens of articles on the topic. Mr. Levitt has served on the safety board of ANSI, Small Business United, National Family Business Council and on the executive committee of the Miquon School. He can be reached at or visit

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