Mercedes-Benz Journey to Reliability Excellence
Mercedes-Benz Journey to Reliability Excellence
Mercedes-Benz U.S. International (MBUSI), an SUV and sedan plant in Vance, AL, was undergoing some organizational changes in August 2011. Ken Hayes had rotated through several senior management positions throughout Mercedes and was returning to maintenance and engineering after eight years managing body and assembly production operations. He was dissatisfied by a lack of growth in the maintenance systems and decided to benchmark other Daimler facilities to see if there were practices he could apply at MBUSI. Realizing maintenance challenges were very similar in the other plants, he searched for a different approach.
Three years later, in October 2014, the organization was decentralizing and preparations were underway for a major model update. Ken, now responsible for maintenance strategies plant-wide, requested Justin McCarthy (author of this article) as maintenance strategy engineer, who would be responsible for looking at better approaches. Justin was a fairly new maintenance engineer, which made him a perfect fit for defining a new system. Ken wanted someone fairly new to avoid falling back into past bad habits. He called a two-hour meeting with his maintenance managers from each of the shops – body, paint, assembly, facilities and central standards – to start defining a vision of what maintenance excellence could look like. Despite the fact that each shop worked to build the same cars, it was painfully evident that the estimated 350 maintenance technicians and engineers were following different processes. The only thing the managers seemed to agree on was that the maintenance organization was too busy putting out fires to truly solve anything. Maintenance needed a completely new system!
Ken quickly established a maintenance war room and made the two-hour managers meeting a weekly staple. Through perseverance, the group continued to debate what the vision should be. Even though all agreed that maintenance needed a change, it was an uphill battle to convince the managers to believe it could be done. So many times while brainstorming maintenance utopia, one or another of the managers would interject with reasons why it couldn’t change. Any time Ken heard, “But that’s the way it’s always been…,” he would passionately explain: “There’s a lot of power in this room! If we can agree on a path forward for our dream and justify it, we will have all the resources we need to make it happen.” He began hanging change management banners to brand his war room.
Figure 1: Branding in the maintenance war room
It was probably six months of discussions before the managers truly accepted that they could change the way they do business! Finally, they agreed on a vision statement: “Become the Benchmark Maintenance Program by Adopting a Proactive Mind-Set Through Evolution Not Revolution.”
In March 2015, Justin participated in a reliability “boot camp” that explained what reliability is, why maintenance should care about it and how to implement a reliability program. One of his teachers was Ramesh Gulati, who wrote the book on reliability. Justin convinced Ramesh to visit Mercedes to meet with Ken. The fact that Ramesh’s vision aligned so closely with the group’s convinced the managers that they were on the right track.
The team needed to understand what a world-class maintenance program looked like. They benchmarked close to 20 plants across the U.S. and Europe. And they didn’t just limit themselves to the automotive industry. They visited aerospace and chemical processing plants, refineries and pharmaceutical manufacturers, they even shadowed the maintenance manager of a theme park! They learned that every maintenance department faces similar challenges and none had truly figured them all out. The biggest takeaway was that the best programs had adopted a reliability-centered mind-set at all levels of the organization.
All managers went through reliability training and immediately began funneling technicians, engineers and even colleagues from other departments through a three-day reliability boot camp. Feedback from the classes was interesting; most agreed this was how maintenance should be, but few believed these changes would ever happen at MBUSI. They’d seen too many unstable “flavor of the month” initiatives flame out after losing management support.
In the face of this adversity, Ken decorated the war room wall with more banners to remind the team that this was a long-term journey. The banners read: “The Greatest Danger in Times of Turbulence Is Not the Turbulence, It Is to Act with Yesterday’s Logic;” “If You Always Do What You’ve Always Done, You’ll Always Get the Same Result;” “Sharing Knowledge Brings Obligation;” “Train the Organization;” “The First Step Toward Change Is Awareness, the Second Is Acceptance and the Third Is Desire;” and “Follow the Process.”
Figure 2: A team-developed quick win: a kitting program
The maintenance managers took this feedback to heart. They realized that the emotions, past struggles and reluctance to change would be the biggest challenges in changing the mind-set of the organization. To show how serious they were about this dream, the maintenance managers sponsored their first certified maintenance and reliability professional (CMRP), hired a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) specialist with a reliability background to optimize its SAP system and began hosting monthly maintenance meetings attended by every technician to share plant updates and reliability news. They piloted a kitting program that became popular with technicians and tested vibration sensors that prevented a major breakdown. Ken recognized the importance of divorcing these changes from past failed initiatives. His mantra became: “It’s not what we do….it’s how we do it.” Presentation slides were branded, tools looked different, words from past initiatives were excluded from managers’ vocabulary and managers ensured that maintenance technicians got to present the quick wins to upper management.
The scope of the program laid out by Ken and the maintenance managers was massive. Their quick wins created some momentum, but to get upper management’s full support, they still needed to financially justify it. In October 2015, Ken hired a group to complete a three-week assessment of the maintenance organization. The findings this group reported to the upper management team were even more hopeful than expected. The maintenance department was the best they’d seen at reacting quickly, but there was a major opportunity to increase efficiency and substantially reduce costs by adopting a proactive system. This got the attention of the chief financial officer! Ken and his team’s quick wins showed upper management that the maintenance team would support the new system and now they were convinced there was significant financial justification. All that remained was to put together a plan to achieve sustainable results.
The maintenance managers defined and prioritized seven initial “work packages” based on potential benefit and the culture’s readiness to adopt them. Ken quickly realized that this program was becoming an “elephant” to be eaten one bite at a time. For lack of a better term, this nebulous reliability transformation had been called “Maintenance 2.0.” But, in formalizing the program, Ken and the team announced it would be called the Maintenance Excellence and Reliability Program or MERP.
Despite the fact that 170 people had been trained during the three-day reliability class, the maintenance technicians still reacted negatively when MERP was announced. Many even believed it was secretly a head count reduction initiative! Some very clever interpretations of the acronym emerged: “Maintenance and Engineering Reduction Program,” “Make Everyone Regret Participating,” “Maintenance Engineers Resort to Prayer” and Ken’s favorite, “Mercedes Executive Rewards Program.” It was clear that if the group wanted to achieve its vision of adopting a proactive mind-set through evolution instead of revolution, the maintenance teams needed to be involved in defining the new standards. So, up went another banner: “Participation at All Levels.”
Figure 3: MERP’s gear logo illustrates how intertwined the tools are
Figure 4: Each shop’s MERP rollout plan
Based on the organization’s current resourcing situation, the group decided to support three work packages at once: criticality, problem-solving and planned maintenance execution. The team used its reliability training and best practices from benchmarking to define a high-level framework for these three work packages. Each package was assigned a maintenance manager as a sponsor and a cross-functional team of technicians and engineers with representation from each shop. These teams would design sustainable processes and standards to fit the framework. Finally, an engineer from each work package team was selected to be team leader and plant-wide standard holder. Each work package lead received a week of off-site reliability engineer training before enrolling in eLearning courses specific to his or her work package.
To manage all this change, remove roadblocks, identify and mitigate risks, and communicate progress plant-wide, the maintenance managers formed a program management office (PMO). The PMO was responsible for engaging with each work package team, escalating issues to appropriate managers and reporting progress monthly to upper management. Upper management agreed to support this plan and formed a steering committee that includes the chief executive officer, chief financial officer, each shop’s vice president and Ken.
Finally, the program’s structure was set! In July 2016, the three cross-functional teams were pulled from their day jobs and committed 100 percent of their time to MERP. The teams were initially apprehensive. They required regular assurance that neither immediate results were expected of them nor were they being held to a timeline. The manager-sponsors worked closely with their team to provide structure. First, they facilitated a charter definition for each work package. The teams listed their short-, mid- and long-term goals before outlining the tasks needed to achieve these goals.
Immediately, the teams recognized the benefits of working cross-functionally. They learned a lot by comparing practices between the shops, which ultimately resulted in more robust processes designed to work anywhere in the plant. The group did not want this to be another top-down program, so participation was encouraged to drive buy-in. The message was clear: MERP is not any one person’s program, it’s everyone’s program. Ken would pop in on these discussions to provide support and reassurance, while ensuring that each team followed the vision. The group noticed a very positive reaction; the teams took complete ownership and developed pride for the work they had accomplished.
Pulling resources from the floor also created a lot of stress for those who had to pick up the slack. Ken countered this by generating excitement for MERP. He hosted an interactive fair in the plant’s atrium with predictive maintenance tools to demonstrate the benefits of a proactive system. He created MERP Monthly, a monthly newsletter for sharing MERP updates with maintenance and engineering plant-wide. MERP hard hat stickers and challenge coins were distributed to participants. Trifold brochures explaining the purpose of the work packages were placed in all engineering offices and maintenance team centers. An article was written in the company’s newspaper highlighting the vision and status of MERP. Ken made sure to attend every monthly maintenance meeting and training session to address questions and spread passion for the vision. He even convinced the chief executive officer to express his excitement for MERP during the quarterly all-teams meeting.
Over the next three months, the teams developed sustainable world-class maintenance tools and processes, specifically for MBUSI’s culture and “DNA.” The criticality team designed criticality matrices to quantify which assets are most important to the goals of the business. Next, team members created a comprehensive failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA) template that assigns a risk weighing for every potential failure mode on a critical piece of equipment. Their equipment maintenance plan tool converts results from the FMEA into an ideal task list for maintaining a piece of equipment, including time-based preventive maintenance (PM) actions, operations tasks and predictive checks. Finally, their PM optimization dashboard suggests tweaks to PM frequency. The team involved maintenance technicians throughout to collect input and gut check their ideas.
The problem-solving team completely revamped the plant’s approach to problem-solving. Its root cause analysis scorecard ranks problems based on criticality and several other factors to focus efforts on the most important problems. This new process limits an engineer to two problems at a time so he or she can concentrate on fully solving a couple of problems rather than attempting to “bandage” many. The team’s problem-solving tools enable an engineer, with the help of a cross-functional team, to consider every potential cause of a problem and financially justify proposed countermeasures. Additionally, the problem-solving team defined a breakdown management process so maintenance teams would be more effective at managing breakdowns.
MBUSI has scheduled outages every weekend. It’s vital that this time is used as efficiently as possible because it’s typically the only opportunity to maintain equipment! The planned maintenance execution team optimized the work planning process. Every job to be completed, no matter if it’s done by maintenance, a contractor, or another department within MBUSI, must be requested through SAP at least two weeks in advance. This ensures appropriate maintenance support on weekends and gives planners the time they need to plan and kit all maintenance jobs.
Each new tool was reviewed by the PMO and other work package leads before being finalized. The group found that each tool seemed to rely on tools from other packages. This created the system!
By November 2016, the three work package teams were ready to test their tool to ensure they would all work together. The MERP steering committee decided to do the pilot in the body shop’s underbody zone since this area of the plant was struggling the most. The teams received a lot of feedback from the floor during the pilot. For example, the criteria for triggering the problem-solving team’s breakdown management process were initially confusing, so the team redesigned its breakdown management notepad to serve as both a process map and a reporting tool. The primary goal was to eliminate waste while adding value to the maintenance organization. The team focused on keeping the tools simple and effective.
The group noticed a shift in maintenance’s attitude plant-wide. Questions about whether management was committed to the program almost disappeared and most technicians were more curious about how the changes would affect their daily job. One of the vice presidents shared that he was stopped by someone who said, “MERP is successful because…………” That was enough said!
By February 2017, Ken and the team were convinced that the MERP tools were ready to be rolled out to the rest of the plant. Each maintenance manager collaborated with the work package leads to create a rollout and training schedule for their shop. Since each work package team had cross-functional representation from each shop, now each shop had a technician-trainer who was intimately familiar with each work package.
A standardized training plan was critical for a successful rollout. First, everyone affected by the rollout received high-level training to explain the goals of MERP, followed by more detailed training for each work package. Specific tool training was given based on job role. Currently, the plant is eleven months into the rollout and two-thirds of the way through the training plan. MERP is part of daily business for almost every maintenance technician and engineer at MBUSI and the plant is already realizing gains. To date, 409 people have been through the three-day reliability class and 263 through the two-day root cause analysis class. The plant now has 13 CMRPs and one brand new certified reliability leader (CRL).
MERP will not be finished when the three work packages are rolled out. Today, the group is actively supporting five new work packages: storeroom, predictive maintenance, technical training, SAP and an autonomous maintenance work package that involves the operations department. With the overwhelming support received from upper management, the group will create a legacy of the benchmark maintenance program through evolution, not revolution.
MBUSI Quality and Environmental Certifications:
- Certified to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) Quality Management Systems standard: ISO/TS16949:2009
- Certified by TUV Management Services to ISO14001 – Environmental Management Systems, Certificate Registration No. 12 104 11297 TMS