Proactive Maintenance's Unruly Cousin

Jim Fitch, Noria Corporation
Tags: contamination control

Indeed it’s hard to justify spending time and money on things that aren’t yet broken when your maintenance staff is hog-tied, fixing the things that have broken. When breakdowns occur . . . well, you know the drill . . . not much else gets done until things are up and running again.

Let's face it, breakdown maintenance is just plain unruly. It’s defiant, won’t conform to a schedule, and belies the budget. Breakdown maintenance is destructive and wasteful. It highjacks precious manpower and robs resource-limited organizations of operating capital. And worst of all, it has an obscene sense of timing.

It's really quite amazing - the behavioral distinctions between organizations ruled by breakdowns compared to those that passionately embrace proactive and planned activities. When breakdown maintenance invades a company, it takes command over the schedule. Rooting it out can be tough, but still doable. It usually involves adopting a new philosophy. Consider this:

  • Craft goes where failures are,
  • PdM specialists go where failures will be,
  • Proactive maintenance specialists go where failures are to be denied.

The strategy of cleaner, drier and well-oiled is the drumbeat of proactive maintenance. The deliverables are maintenance activities that are planned and controlled. Failure root causes are targeted with precision and systematically monitored. Faults and failures become infrequent and less severe. Coupled with a good predictive maintenance program, even these failures can be corrected within the maintenance schedule.

But how does an organization actually regain control of its workweek and begin denying failure using proactive maintenance? Figuratively speaking, perhaps the single tool needed to make the transition is a shoehorn. Emergencies are “breakdown shoehorns” that work against us. They make the time, they energize an organization, and once again, the critical repair is made. Yet the cost of business interruption and lost production can be enormous.

You’ve heard the expression, “why is there always enough time to do it over, but never enough time to do it right the first time?” Restated in a maintenance context, “why is there always enough time (and money) to fix a broken machine but never enough time (or money) to prevent it from failing?”

While “breakdown shoehorns” are destructive, they show us what we’re capable of accomplishing. We see raw determination and willpower in action. These are important lessons. Now we know we can do it, but how do we get that wedge (shoehorn) to start working and put proactive maintenance in place?

Declare an emergency! This will take management’s support and a proclamation that it’s a business imperative. It will take buy-in at all levels, and it requires drive and willpower.

Begin by developing a thorough plan and seek input from all personnel involved. Include a budget and timeline. The timeline must have a drop-dead date that’s real. Build in a reward system for success and perhaps even penalties for failure. Then squeeze it into existence. It won’t be easy. Work schedules will have to be compressed. Participants will have to pick up the pace by working harder and smarter.

Consider this: If everyone managed to wedge in a 20-percent increase in daily productivity, this equates to 20 additional workers for a 100-person maintenance organization. Even if there are only 20 of you, it’s like adding four more workers to your staff. That’s probably more than enough manpower to get the job done.


About the Author

Jim Fitch, a founder and CEO of Noria Corporation, has a wealth of experience in lubrication, oil analysis, and machinery failure investigations. He has advised hundreds of companies on developing their lubrication and oil analysis programs. Contact Jim at

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