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Cincinnati’s Metropolitan Sewer District’s - Maintenance Reliability Program Delivers Results


MSD faces many of the same challenges other organizations face – tighter budgets, increasing regulatory requirements, retiring workforce (disappearing knowledge) and aging/degrading infrastructure. Like many asset-based organizations, MSD has a long history of operating and maintaining a complex, capital-intensive infrastructure. While MSD has a strong preventive maintenance program, the amount of corrective maintenance (CM), defined as repair work due to unexpected failures and associated system downtime, was undermining efforts for advanced operational strategies through automation and energy savings.

In 2007, MSD’s Wastewater Treatment Division had put the initial elements of a modern asset management program in place, with an updated asset hierarchy, equipment strategies, modern planning and scheduling practices, and maintenance key performance metrics. The proactive work ratio had improved close to 50 percent, reliability was holding steady and predictive maintenance was being applied to critical assets. But the metrics showed that gains from the overall program had leveled off. MSD had made substantial progress by laying the foundation for improvement and was ready to take efforts to the next level.


MSD resolved to refocus its efforts and started with its most important assets – its people. In late 2011, using an employee involvement process, MSD leadership engaged operations, maintenance and engineering staff to define the division’s mission, vision, core values and strategic areas for improvement. The process identified five desired maintenance reliability outcomes:

  • Increase proactive maintenance to shift from a reactive to a more proactive culture;
  • Improve system availability/reliability and avoid forced outages;
  • Reduce downtime by building internal predictive maintenance skills and improving the planning and scheduling process;
  • Improve safety;
  • Reduce reactive maintenance costs.

These desired outcomes became six strategic goal areas in which MSD focused improvement efforts: Focus on Core Business, Communication, Training, Reliability, Maintainability, and Maintenance Planning and Scheduling.

The mission, vision and strategic goal areas were then used to launch the implementation process through additional staff involvement. They are used constantly throughout the organization to help link the MSD’s overall purpose to daily activities and changes to practices.

MSD uses a team-based improvement approach centered on a group of change agents called the positive energy (pE) team. The team is composed of champions (crafts, crew leaders, supervisors and reliability engineers) who had volunteered to participate with positive energy in implementation activities. Chartered sub-teams made up of selected pE team members and other division staff carry out implementation activities. Over the past 1-½ years, the pE team and chartered sub-teams have:

  • Completed two RCM studies;
  • Created a centralized predictive maintenance function;
  • Purchased and implemented predictive maintenance technologies, including laser alignment;
  • Adopted advanced planning and scheduling practices;
  • Performed a lubrication practices audit and go-live support of an upgrade to Maximo 7.5.

In addition, the team has created the “Find of the Week” communication to highlight positive work performed by the staff, completed more than 20 training workshops and presented numerous program updates at the semiannual State of Plant Process Maintenance presentations at each treatment plant.

At the onset of the program in 2011, MSD hired internationally-recognized experts Anthony “Mac” Smith, P.E., CMRP, Jack Nicholas, Jr., P.E., CMRP and Doc Palmer, P.E., CMRP, among others, to help take the living reliability program, predictive maintenance (PdM) program, and planning and scheduling practices to the next level. MSD brought Smith, Nicholas and Palmer to Cincinnati in November 2011 to perform a gap analysis that set the stage for a two-year maintenance reliability program implementation plan with the staff. They also helped MSD set an ambitious goal to reduce the 2011 level of corrective maintenance by 50 percent in two years through the successful implementation of best practices. MSD utilized a program management consultant to coordinate and support the overall effort.

The program focused on the core business by encouraging and practicing open and frequent communication with training operations, maintenance and engineering staffs at all levels in maintenance best practices, improving the reliability engineering function, building an internal predictive maintenance capability, and implementing advanced planning and scheduling.

The pE team immediately established the “State of Maintenance” presentation to communicate changes and progress across the division. Maintenance management, supervisors, crew leaders and craft persons together presented the “State of Maintenance” twice yearly to all plant operations and maintenance (O&M) staff at each of the seven treatment plants. The maintenance group also sends out weekly results using the “Find of the Week” (Figure 1) to share how maintenance preserves plant process functions and helps avoid reactive costs.

MSD also hired its first reliability engineer (RE) in 2011 and began building a sustainable internal maintenance reliability function. MSD integrated reliability functions with work execution, planning and scheduling, and other business processes using a continuous improvement philosophy based on measurement, best practices and cross-functional teams. This required a mind-set change in the culture to shift from preserving equipment to preserving system functions.


Figure 1: MSD’s Wastewater Treatment Division’s “Find of the Week”

Based on lessons learned from prior reliability improvement efforts and guidance from Smith (author of RCM – Gateway to World Class Maintenance), MSD implemented defect elimination; root cause analysis; classical reliability centered maintenance (RCM); experience centered maintenance (ECM), a form of maintenance task analysis; and a new comprehensive risk threshold identification procedure to prioritize non-bad actor systems for ECM. The reliability program is based on the plan-do-check-act model of deliberate continuous improvement, as shown in Figure 2.


Figure 2: Living reliability process flow used at MSD’s Wastewater Treatment Division

MSD also refined its reporting tools to track key reliability metrics, including failure count/ rate, mean time between failures, mean time to repair, mean time to restore and system availability.

In 2011, many of MSD’s PdM activities were conducted by outside contractors. Lubrication sample collection, ultrasonic analysis and low-voltage offline and online motor circuit analysis (MCA) were conducted in-house by maintenance crew personnel with varying results. With guidance from Nicholas (author of Predictive Maintenance Management and other authoritative guides), MSD developed a five-year PdM master plan that includes a centralized and decentralized approach. MSD created a centralized PdM team from the maintenance crews to increase the effectiveness and cost efficiency of predictive maintenance. Decentralized plant crews ensure PdM-generated repairs are timely addressed before functional failure.

The five-year PdM master plan includes roles and processes, such as data collection, post-maintenance and baseline testing, and data management/communications; safety, training and certification requirements; initial capital and periodic investments in equipment; calibration services; consumables; and software. Budgets are projected five years out for all anticipated PdM program expenses.

MSD identified and built predictive maintenance key performance indicators, including PdM cost avoidance, PdM generated work trend and equipment health status.

MSD had implemented maintenance job planning and weekly scheduling practices in the past with dedicated planners and schedulers, but the benefits had leveled off short of expectations. Palmer (author of The Maintenance Planning & Scheduling Handbook) evaluated existing practices in 2011 and made recommendations to increase awareness of planning and scheduling benefits, continuous improvement philosophy and coordination/communication requirements.

Several key planning and scheduling recommendations made by Palmer have helped the staff improve work order business processes to increase plant availability and manage cost. The staff implemented a deficiency tagging process to help communicate repair needs more effectively. Operations and maintenance worked together to improve the work order priority system and make it time-based (e.g., need it today, within a week, or within a month) rather than subjectively based on level of urgency (e.g., emergent vs. urgent vs. routine). Adding clear definition to the priority system (1-5) addressed MSD’s ability to get the right work done at the right time. Planners also focused on continuous improvement of job plans through work order feedback from craft persons in the field. And finally, weekly scheduling became goal-driven by matching a batch of work to 100 percent of a crew’s weekly available manpower a week in advance for each crew. A schedule performance report is used to follow through on the success of each weekly schedule by measuring how many scheduled work orders were completed and how many low and high priority work orders broke the schedule.

MSD identified and built key performance indicators to improve planning and scheduling, as well as productivity, including the “red, green, blue report” shown in Figure 3. Other planning and scheduling key performance indicators include schedule success, work backlog, work order priority success, work orders completed per month and percentage break-in work.


Figure 3: The “red, green, blue report”


In the nearly two years since the program began, MSD’s Wastewater Treatment Division has made tremendous progress building teams, making improvements and producing results, which are measured using the division’s business intelligence software. MSD’s exceptional staff delivered results in 2012 and 2013 that included:

  • Maintenance work order cost reduction of over $500,000 in 2012, with similar results in 2013.
  • Increase to 70 percent proactive labor today from 46 percent in 2011.
  • Monthly emergency failure rate decreased by 55 percent.
  • Increase in reliability by 33.6 percent across all equipment at all seven plants.
  • Improvement in maintainability (reduction in downtime due to forced outage) by 23.6 percent across all equipment at all seven plants.
  • Documented cost avoidance over $650,000 due to proactive maintenance activities.

MSD has made great strides implementing its strategic plan to meet workforce, service level and financial needs, establishing a leadership position in advanced business practices among its peers. In 2013, MSD was recognized for the “Best Emerging Maintenance Reliability Program” by Uptime Magazine. MSD’s positive, energetic staff are eager to continue increasing performance beyond current levels. The empowered team approach, combined with proven best practices, promises to be a successful foundation for sustained success.

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