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But the boss had a ready answer.  He next handed me a copy of a study done by some “Maintenance Consultant” that outlined the proposed ITT Maintenance Improvement Program (MIP) and said, “All you need to do is read this and then go down to the Maintenance Department and implement the recommendations”.  When I asked if the Maintenance Manager had been advised of this plan of action, the response was “You can brief him when you get down there”.

Needless to say, I was not welcomed with open arms in the Maintenance Department.  However, I studied the report and all of the suggestions about doing Preventive Maintenance and Work Order Planning, and proceeded to sign myself up for some courses and seminars on the subjects.  This seemed a normal approach for an engineer.  We went on to implement a PM/PdM Program with vibration monitoring and periodic inspections and developed a group of planners who learned to plan and schedule most of the repair work.  In the end, Digester Utilization went from an average of 83% to well over 95% and the mill became profitable for the first time in several years.

Over the years, I have often pondered the striking success of that first program and others that have been similarly effective, and have come to the conclusion that the first step in any production reliability improvement effort is to become proactive in your approach to the business.

If we define “Maintenance” (Big M) as, ‘Everything we do to ensure that our production asset reliably produces quality product”, we will then have a broader definition than what is commonly understood in most organizations today.  We will have a definition that fits into and supports the concept of a Performance Culture, according to the characteristics and benefits as follows. 

The results of operating within a Performance Culture include:

  •  A Top-down Goals-Driven Paradigm
  •  A Functionally Integrated Organization and
      Management Team
  •  Disciplined, Process Oriented
  •  Mutually Supportive and Accountable Functions
      (Operations, Maintenance, Procurement, Engineering, etc.)
  •  A Learning Organization; Individually and
      Collectively Seeking Continuous Improvement
  •  Management Making Data-based Decisions and
      Focused on Leading Indicators
  •  A Defined Process for Continuous Defect & Loss
  •  A Planned, Scheduled & Measured work environment
  •  Common and Capable Information Tools Usage 
      Across the Organization

The results of operating within the Performance Culture include:

  •  Systemically Improved Production, Loss Reduction
  •  High Equipment Availability
  •  Reduced Waste and Expense
  •  High Product Quality
  •  Predictable Production Levels
  •  Intimate Knowledge of Process and Equipment Condition
  •  High Levels of Ownership, Accountability and Cooperation
  •  Minimized Conflicts Among Competing Interests
  •  A Safe, Satisfying and Productive Work Environment

Certainly one can make a strong argument that having the operations, engineering, and logistics functions within any organization have a significant impact on Big M and production reliability.  When I visit with management of companies and plant sites, I often hear the comment, “Maintenance is responsible for keeping the plant running so we can meet our production targets,” or “We need maintenance to repair equipment that fails as quickly as possible, so that we can get production back on line.”  This approach reflects misunderstanding of the role that all parts of the organization play in the Big M process.  In order for Big M to be successful, given the definition above, we must be in control of all aspects of the business that can have an effect on Big M.  The general areas that must be included in the Big M management process include Managing Efficiency, Managing Reliability, Managing Materials, Managing Design, Managing Information, and Managing Performance.

Managing Efficiency

Everyone knows that the maintenance organization is responsible for planning and executing the various types of repair, preventive, and predictive work that is required to maintain a reliable plant.  However, the operations or production organization has responsibility for control of at least 50% of the work management process in most industrial settings.  The steps controlled or impacted by operations are shown in green in the Work Management Process diagram in Figure 1.


To properly identify work, it is important that operations personnel are trained in the requirements for preparing a good notification or work request, incorporating a complete description of the problem and information including all that is known about the problem at the time that it was noticed.  When prioritizing work, the responsible party must use reasonable judgment in assigning the correct level of priority. In most organizations, priority 1 and 2 notifications are schedule breakers and cause the maintenance organization to respond in an emergency or urgent mode, much less efficient than a planned mode as well as resulting in more accidents and reduced work quality.  A planned maintenance organization requires about six to seven weeks lead time (backlog) in order to develop job plans, order materials, and schedule the crews.  The Operations Department is always in control of the daily and weekly work schedule through the number of schedule changes and interruptions that they request.  They should be a key player in the work turnover process to insure that the work is properly executed, the jobsite cleaned, and the equipment ready to return to full functionality.  The bottom line is, “If every job is critical or urgent, then nothing is important.”

Around the world, in all industries, maintenance craft efficiency tends to be less than 30%.  In world class facilities, maintenance craft efficiency tends to be above 50%.  In all my travels and visits to plant sites, I have never met a Maintenance Manager who had too many people!  Improving maintenance efficiency has the following effects:

  •  The maintenance organization will get more work done.
  •  Material expenditures will be reduced.
  •  Production reliability will be improved.
  •  The unit cost of production will be reduced.

Managing Reliability

I am continuously amazed at the number of senior managers who tell me, “We continue to have the same equipment failures and production issues repeatedly”.  In a Performance Culture, we do not accept unexpected events or unplanned production losses.  As a “learning organization” we have people and processes dedicated to identifying the root cause of unexpected events and eliminating those causes to preclude future occurrences of the same event.

In the Big M concept, the most important things we do are focused on preventing repairs, and not on repairing things.  It is a basic characteristic of a Performance Culture, “A Defined Process for Continuous Defect & Loss Elimination.”  One of my friends is fond of saying “Every machine has a reliability strategy; the problem is that we often don’t know what the strategy is”.  Unfortunately, there is a lot of truth in this comment.  Once a facility is caught up in the day to day rat race of a reactive approach to maintaining the assets, it is very difficult to change to a Performance Culture and move to a proactive approach to production reliability.   There are two key business processes for managing reliability:  Root Cause Analysis (RCA) and Reliability Centered Maintenance (RCM).

The RCM approach is a structured decision-making process that makes use of reliable historical failure data, but can also work in the absence of good data.  In Figure 2, as in Figure 1, the green activities are those that cannot be performed by maintenance or reliability engineers.  They require input from operations, engineering, and logistics personnel.


The RCM analysis will be performed using facilitated workshops as well as individual engineering analyses.  The prime objective of RCM workshops is identification and development of maintenance plans to address the dominant equipment failure modes and mechanisms.  The most important step in the process is “Implement the Results”.  Spare part requirements and stocking levels are assessed and will include the review and evaluation of the equipment bills of materials (BOMs) and the identification of the recommended spare parts.


The impact of the materials management organization on Big M is well known around the planet.  It is impossible to Manage Efficiency or Manage Reliability if inventories are inaccurate or parts and maintenance materials are damaged or of poor quality.  In many organizations, the materials control function is either missing or carried out part time by one or more groups, often times in addition to their normal work.  The materials control function should be responsible for material forecasting, including the identification of critical equipment spare parts.  They should perform periodic inventory audits to determine and adjust inventory accuracy.  They should monitor shelf life items to insure that expired materials and parts are removed from inventory and replaced as necessary.  They should identify special storage and handling requirements for unique items like:

  •  climate control for bearings to prevent
      corrosion or damage
  •  periodic hand rotation of electric motors
      to avoid bearing damage
  •  climate control for digital and electrical
      components to prevent damage

The materials warehouse should provide a work order material staging area, where parts and materials for planned work orders can be staged and kitted prior to delivery to the jobsite.  Critical spare parts must receive special treatment by the purchasing group.  Once an item is identified as “critical”, it should only be procured from approved sources such as the original equipment manufacturer.

Managing Design

Perhaps the singular most damaging mistake in industry today is the common practice of overlooking production reliability concepts during the design, construction and start-up of major new facilities.  The global cost of this poor management practice is truly astronomical.  New facilities experience excessive unplanned downtime resulting in excessive costs and loss of critical production due to quality and quantity issues.  These losses can be avoided by implementing proper business processes and good operational planning during project design and construction.

Designing for RAM (reliability, availability, maintainability) will return significant benefit during early operation of the facility.  The term “Reliability” is defined as the probability that an asset will function as intended over a specified period of time under a specified set of conditions. Availability, on the other hand, is the percent of time an asset will function as intended.  “Maintainability,” refers to the effort required to keep or return equipment to the condition needed for it to perform its intended function.  Reliability and Maintainability work together to determine Availability, which in turn, provides opportunity to enhance Asset Utilization (AU) production reliability.  A Performance Culture is a learning organization; individually and collectively seeking continuous improvement

During the project design we have the opportunity to assess the planning for operation of the new facility and to evaluate any design issues that will have a negative impact on operations and maintenance of the new facility.  Conduct a RAM assessment of the design and publish a report highlighting any required action items.  Design asset data structures and configure, install and test the ERP or AMS system, load asset and parts data and design reports.  Conduct a Reliability Centered Maintenance (RCM) study to establish asset criticalities and maintenance strategies.  Develop spare parts and maintenance materials requirements and plan proper receiving documentation and storage.  Acquire, document and store spare parts and maintenance and operating materials.

Managing Information

Two key characteristic of the Performance Culture are:

  •  Management That Makes Data-based Decisions
      and Focused on Leading Indicators
  •  Common and Capable Information Tools Usage
      Across the Organization

To make intelligent decisions regarding management of Big M, managers need reliable performance data.  Raw data itself is meaningless without tools for converting the data into usable knowledge.  A properly designed, multi functional tool must be configured to yield useful analysis of the raw data collected.  I am constantly amazed at the preponderance of companies who complain that the maintenance history data in their ERP system is useless.  Most of our clients are using SAP, implemented at a significant cost. However, many of them have been unable to implement an effective process to accurately capture performance data.

Most analysts agree that a well implemented ERP should trim operating costs, predict demand more accurately, streamline production, and improve customer service, thereby saving a company millions of dollars in the long run.  In the short run, the picture is often radically different.  Many companies have found that ERP investments resulted in a negative return on investment (ROI).  In some cases, the difficulties encountered during implementation led to decreased productivity, loss of personnel time to training and learning new processes, declines in customer service, and a lower bottom line.  Companies may find that they don’t have either the reports or the information they need, despite the huge amount of data the system produces.  Why?  Because:

  1.  There may be inadequate training;
  2.  They may not have designed the specific
       reports they required;
  3.  It may be a cultural issue.

Managing Performance

The key to a Performance Culture is the ability to measure performance at a number of levels (Management Making Data-based Decisions and Focused on Leading Indicators).  The key to being able to make good data-based decisions is having reliable, accurate data that is used to develop and trend Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s).  There are two levels of KPI’s that must be used to measure and continuously improve performance:

  1.  Leading Indicators that measure behaviors
       and business processes

  2.  Lagging Indicators that measure the results
       of the correct behaviors

By trending the leading KPI’s, managers can understand whether performance in certain areas is improving, degrading, or maintaining at a constant level.  By understanding the relationships between the behavior measures and the results measures, managers can take action before the fact, instead of waiting to see the results and attempting to take remedial action.


It is a widely accepted fact that production reliability based on optimum utilization of production assets is the most effective method for improving profitability, while reducing the unit cost of production.  In order to fully achieve this, it is very important to get all parts of the organization focused on improving Big M performance.  Companies that have established a Performance Culture within their manufacturing or producing assets understand the importance of Big M.  In these organizations, all departments understand their share of the responsibility, and work together with common goals and performance measures to insure optimization of Big M.

James Davis, PE, CMRP is Vice President and Managing Director, SAMI Arabia for Strategic Asset Management, Inc.  As Managing Director, SAMI Arabia, James is working with regional companies to develop and implement Asset Management Strategies as a way of achieving Operational Excellence (OpEx) through better Asset Utilization in oil related and non-oil related industries, both in existing brownfield operations and in greenfield projects.  James first worked in the region when he joined Saudi Aramco in 1980 and helped to organize and start-up their new facilities in the Yanbu Industrial City.  After several successful and rewarding assignments, James left Saudi Aramco in 1995 to enter the field of management consulting, where he has played a significant role in helping a variety of international companies improve operations and profitability.

James is currently working with representatives from Saudi Electricity, SABIC, Saudi Aramco and others to organize a society for maintenance and reliability professionals for regional professionals.  He has published numerous papers and articles on subjects ranging from Implementing Effective PM to Enterprise Reliability Database Systems.  His most recent article, “Operational Excellence for Greenfield Projects” is being published in regional and global media.

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