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Effective Maintenance Structuring - Do It Now

More of the same has only served to bring us back to where we are. Now that we've entered the 21st century, we maintenance professionals have got to get serious about moving in a different direction, specifically in improving our core services. One issue we must work on is getting fanatical about moving from reactive to proactive. Interestingly, one approach to our reactive vs. proactive battle might be found in an early 20th century concept. Now there's juxtaposition, solving an epidemic problem in the 21st century with good ol' fashion 20th century thinking. Consider it the maintenance equivalent of blood letting, or leech application.

Consider this too, we might in fact be passively contributing to the cause of our reactive nature without being aware. For example, I have noticed in American manufacturing that there is an overwhelming ignorance in establishing a proper maintenance structure. We have by default, structured ourselves to be wholly reactive. Take this simple test. Is your maintenance structure designed to simultaneously address these three activities?

•Preventive Maintenance

•Corrective Maintenance

•Emergency Maintenance

Now up the ante. Same questions, but this time, raise the bar. Can your organization simultaneously:

•Complete 100% of the preventive maintenance activities, on time, every time?

•Plan and Schedule 100% of all corrective maintenance

•Commencing priority 1s within 24 hours

•Commencing priority 2s within 7 days

•Commencing priority 3s within 14 days

•Complete 100% of all emergency work, and not sacrifice preventive or corrective maintenance?

Most maintenance leaders cannot provide objective evidence that their organizations can respond to these issues, in force and with earnest. What is keeping us from being successful? It may be that we are structured wrong; in fact we are not even giving ourselves a chance to support the mission correctly.

Why are these three maintenance services important? The importance of preventive and planned corrective maintenance is that these two systems are primarily responsible for moving organizations from a reactive mode to a proactive mode. In order to address preventive maintenance, though, we have to spend time focusing on preventive maintenance. In order to address corrective maintenance, we likewise have to focus our attention on corrective maintenance. At the same time, we must also respond to emergency work. Preventive, planned corrective and emergency work has an egalitarian relationship; they pull equally against our resources and we act in kind by trying to cover all the bases while in a crisis mode. We must, however, be prepared to and structured to address all three at the same time.

We can't, in direct contrast to this notion, address any of these needs simultaneously because of our maintenance structure. In fact, we operate and manage as if there is a hierarchical relationship. Emergency work takes precedence over corrective; taking priority over preventive. Don't believe me? Do you know of a time when a mechanic working on a corrective maintenance work order was 'pulled' from that job to work on an emergency job? Do you know of a time that a PM was not completed because operations would not shut down the machine, or the technician was needed to work on a priority job?

Our own ignorance and failure to see what is plainly in front of us has literally kept us from moving from reactive to proactive. We aren't guilty of malfeasance; but we are guilty of applying rigid thinking to a malleable problem. It is the totality of our inability to identify our structure and act accordingly that makes this a root cause.

Traditionally, a maintenance organization takes on a centralized or decentralized structure. A centralized organization places the maintenance department outside the functional center of production, where all needs are met from a separate and common base (see Figure 1). At least in a decentralized structure (Figure 2) there is an attempt to divide up the elephant and give each section of the plant a focused effort. Neither is as effective in the 21st century as they could be, and as a result, we sometimes morph versions of these traditional structures; each providing segmented service and response, seeking out that magic 'sweet' structure that will satisfy all our needs; often in vain.

centralized maintenance organization

decentralized maintenance organization

To be certain, there is nothing wrong with a hybrid maintenance structure. What is a common pitfall, though, is a continuously changing maintenance organization, moving in an effort to find what fits best, to find a home, never really arriving at that final evolution. Our maintenance organizations become the Lost Patrol of fable, always looking, but never finding their way home - or their rightful place.

Morphed Maintenance Structure

An absolute 'tell-tale' sign that your structure does not fit your needs resides at the bottom of your computerized maintenance management system work order file. If you have a low priority work order (or several) that have been in the 'system' for over 1 year; your structure is not working. If operators classify every work request 'urgent', ''safety', or 'priority 1'; your structure is not working. These are symptoms of a loss of trust in the work order flow. Loss of trust because we've failed to establish a maintenance structure that can cover all needs at the same time.

The rubric for a successfully responsive organization is to design a structure that can equally handle PMs, corrective, and emergency work; each without hesitation and without sacrifice to the other.

My introduction to this concept occurred in 1995 as the maintenance department manager of a major cookware manufacturer. I had just separated from the U.S. Air Force as a senior aircraft maintenance officer, and I was keenly aware of the value of a well-organized, well-staffed, well-disciplined, and well-funded maintenance operation. None of these adjectives matched what I found in my first 'civilian' job. Quite honestly, I was shocked at the poor level of maintenance organization.

This particular company had been in business since 1776; and it was now 1995. They were quite literally the poster-children for reactive maintenance. They had no preventive maintenance, no CMMS, no storeroom, no predictive maintenance, and absolutely no idea that it could be different. I was about to rock their world in terms of structure and give them a working definition of proactive maintenance.

There are two practices, I told them, that will move you from reactive to proactive, and you have to be committed to them in order to make the transition. The first is a disciplined preventive maintenance program; and the second is a planning and scheduling process. Preventive maintenance has to be done with 100% commitment from maintenance and operations. The resistance to compromise should be sacredly guarded. If we believe that preventive maintenance helps us to identify tomorrow's breakdowns, why would we sacrifice 100% compliance?

Planning and scheduling brings in the corrective concept of catching little issues before they become tomorrow's headline failures. There is slightly more flexibility in planning and scheduling than in preventive maintenance. A 90% compliant planning and scheduling effort is most noteworthy and would be a great benchmarking achievement. Planning and scheduling allows us to address the corrective maintenance work orders identified earlier, many coming from the PM process.

Emergency work, quite honestly, is selfexplanatory. Performing dedicated and absolute PM compliance and maintaining a great deal of truth and integrity in our corrective maintenance activities will ultimately net less emergency work.

I told my maintenance team that we had to get out of our reactive mode. So, what was my plan to move this 219 year old company from heavily reactive to heavily proactive? The answer, quite simply was in the structure!

Our first move was to create a dedicated preventive maintenance crew. This team literally created the preventive maintenance program from absolutely nothing. They researched what technical manuals we did have, interviewed more seasoned maintenance technicians, and performed a lot of trial and error. They became, in time, a very dedicated and a very well informed PM crew. These technicians worked on day shift and performed preventive maintenance; 40 hours a week and nothing else.

We developed our off-shift (midnights and afternoon) maintenance personnel into what we called at the time, "hit crews". My logic was simple; between 3:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m., I only needed a workforce staffed and equipped to keep the plant running. There were no heavy corrective repairs or projects on the off shifts. Hit crews were well equipped and very knowledgeable cross functional teams charged with responding to equipment breakdowns. Using any means necessary (legal and safe), they were commissioned to keep the equipment running until the cavalry arrived (day shift). I have since heard this concept referred to as "Do It Now", or DIN squads.

We also created a team of line mechanics on day shift. There were four production lines in the plant, and each was assigned their very own maintenance mechanic. The primary role of this millwright was to walk the line, all day, make small adjustments, repairs, and any scheduled corrective repairs as needed. On day shift, emergency repairs were handled by the line mechanics and hit crews as required; otherwise line mechanics performed scheduled work. PM crews continued their PM duties, uninterrupted.

Organizationally, we took on the structure: shown in Figure 4.

revamped maintenance structure

This structure gave me an ability to complete 100% of my preventive maintenance, on time, every time. We had the simultaneous ability to address any emergency work, and to work closely with our operational partners to schedule and repair corrective work with our line mechanics. The collaborative nature of the operations/ line mechanic structure put the scheduling monkey squarely on the back of those holding the reins to equipment access. Our operational partners had to make equipment available, or risk permanent shutdowns. For our part, we never scheduled work we were not ready to perform. Our results were stunning: a move from 95% reactive to 5% reactive in only 18 months.

I have since come to learn that some organizations have capitalized on this approach and have added priority 3 (low priority) work orders to the tasks for the Hit Crew, or Do It Now Crew. When there are no emergency calls, this dedicated team can work on those work orders that seem to congregate and clog the backlog with older and "overdue" work-orders. Thus, the priorities are handled as in Figure 5.

maintenance crew work priorities 

Consider your structure. Complete this simple paper-work exercise with your maintenance supervisors; answer these three questions:

•Are we completing all PMs on time, every time?
•Are we responding to all emergency work requests WITHOUT pulling someone from scheduled maintenance or deferring preventive maintenance?
•Are we completing every corrective maintenance or routine maintenance work order within 6 months?
If you cannot answer yes to each of these questions, maybe you need to re-organize to bring your reactive, preventive, and corrective work under control through a different maintenance structure. If so, I suggest that you Do It Now!

John L. Ross, Jr, Ph.D., is a Sr. Consultant with Marshall Institute Inc., an international maintenance and reliability consulting and training company based in Raleigh, NC ( John has over twenty-two years of experience in maintenance and manufacturing, including the Air Force, consumer goods manufacturing, and steel manufacturing. He can be reached at 

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