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Operations Versus Maintenance

From an Operations point of view, running the equipment and producing product 100% of the time is the ultimate goal. However, from a Maintenance point of view, taking the equipment down for repair or renewal is equally as important. Anyone who has worked in both Operations and in Maintenance will tell you that there is a completely different experience of manufacturing between the two functions. The clearest difference I observed was the "consequences of doing nothing." In much of Maintenance work, if something is not going right, the work can be stopped with no detrimental effect. In Operations, if something is going wrong and work is stopped, the situation usually worsens. The reason this is generally true is that all of the dynamic energy is disconnected from the equipment before Maintenance work is started. Therefore, in Maintenance work, all that is required is to deal with the potential energy in the situation. In Operations work, the potential energy is stable but all of the dynamic energy must be directed to the proper places to avoid negative consequences. One conclusion that can be made about the difference between Operations and Maintenance is that Maintenance deals with the potential energy in a situation while the Operations people have to deal with the dynamic energy in a situation.

John Bennett's model of experience consists of three elements: function, being, and will. In this framework of experience, Bennett equates behavior with the functional element of experience. From a functional point of view, the causes of value loss are defects. Defects accumulate in equipment and, over time, cause loss of function in the equipment. The role of Maintenance is to remove these defects in order to restore the proper functioning capability of the equipment. The behavior of people dealing with these defects is what determines which Stable Domain the organization will occupy. If people wait until something breaks to repair it, the organization is in the Reactive Domain. If people repair things before they break, the organization is in the Planned Domain. If people find the root causes of the defects and eliminate the root causes, the organization is in the Precision Domain.

In the framework of experience, Bennett equates energy with the "being" element of experience. Since Operators deal with the dynamic aspect of energy, the more appropriate term for operator response is action. Behavior, on the average, can create the proper functioning but in the dynamic dealing with energy, the average behavior is not sufficient. One wrong action in a year that causes an explosion can ruin everything that was created by good behavior in the previous year.

Many Maintenance people complain that they can't get Operations people interested in high reliability. So why would Operations people have an aversion to high reliability? When you analyze the activity of the Operations people in most modern manufacturing facilities, the equipment is highly automated so it takes care of itself when running routinely at a steady state. The need for quick, precise action comes when the process is upset by some event.

Actually, operating people would not have an aversion to reliability if they had 100% utilization. If equipment never broke down, there would be no need for quick action and therefore no need to practice quick, appropriate responses. If, however, equipment broke fairly often, the operating people would get a lot of practice and would improve at performing the proper action to avoid any kind of major catastrophe or setback. The problem comes when the reliability gets high enough that each shift has very little experience in dealing with starting and stopping equipment. Most of the catastrophic events in manufacturing plants happen when equipment is being shut down or started up. This is the time when people are in control rather than the automated control system. Most control systems are not designed to deal with all the various ways upset conditions can happen. The role of the Operating people is to handle the times when the control systems can't cope with the upset that is happening.

The Stable Domains, from an Operations perspective, have Utilization as the measure of performance on the vertical axis and Action as the measure of people's role. In the Reactive Domain, the action is automatic, as a response to a stimulus, done through habit or by the instrumentation. The Reactive Domain from an Operations point of view requires failures to trigger action and therefore some loss of utilization. This domain is stable because the practice of dealing with failures creates the skill and competence to handle the next event.

In the Planned Domain, people take action that is sensitive to the history of deviations from the targets as well as the current deviation. This control is accomplished by supervisory control. Here the operator takes action based on his experience of past patterns of deviations from targets. This is a problem for highly reliable facilities as there is very little experience to draw from to adjust targets based on history. The experience, where it does exist, is often in the habits of the more experienced operators and is typically not documented but is part of their muscle memory or mental recall from past events.

In the Precision Domain, people are conscious of the process being controlled and take action based on the expected outcomes of changes in certain input signals. This type of control requires very sophisticated calculations and is often done today by computers. In order to achieve this mode of Operation, sometimes the signals used to make these calculations can be in error, and it is difficult for the operators to diagnose the problem when the control system is not producing the right result. So again, reliability reduces the opportunity to learn from experience.

So how can this dilemma of Availability versus Utilization be reconciled?

A third element of experience is common to both Maintenance and Operations. That element is the "will" in the situation. A simple way to express this element is that a manufacturing organization exists because it has the will to produce a product that is needed by some portion of society. When the organization loses that will or has less will than the competition, it cannot exist for long. The role of leadership in our view is to get in tune with the "will" of the situation and to deal with the dilemma created by the conflicts between Availability and Utilization.

In our opinion this means that the conflict between Operations and Maintenance with regard to reliability is larger than either of the functions and has to be resolved as a leadership issue. A tool that we use in our Supervising the Change workshop, allows participants to experience each of the three domains in The Manufacturing Game, and each is facilitated with a different management style. We are currently working on a new computer model of the Operations side of manufacturing and leadership. We hope to articulate more of our understanding of how to resolve this dilemma in future articles at

Article submitted by:  By Winston P. Ledet, The Manufacturing Game

Winston Ledet

Winston Ledet is a leading consultant and internationally known workshop instructor on proactive manufacturing and maintenance. He has 27 years of experience with E.I. du Pont de Nemours, serving in a variety of assignments. He is one of the creators of The Manufacturing Game® as part of his work at DuPont. Winston formed his own consulting firm, Ledet Enterprises, Inc., in 1993, using The Manufacturing Game® to help drive improvement efforts in process industries, as well as discrete part manufacturing sites around the world. 

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