Understanding the Economics of Maintenance and Reliability

Jeremy Wright

Understanding the Economics of Maintenance and Reliability

To get something for nothing in this life is extremely rare. There is almost always some form of investment to gain a return. The investment can come in many forms, but the most popular are money, time and energy. Along with this investment, there is also some potential risk that must be weighed against the prospective gain.

In terms of maintenance and reliability, these investments are becoming mandatory for top companies. Many organizations have come to realize that without investments in future reliability and production cost reductions, the competitive future will be rough.

How can you be certain that you are maximizing the return on your investment? Are there strategies that can be employed to ensure success? Success can hinge on resources, and it’s no secret that those with the most resources often win.

In a program implementation, several avenues can be used to reach the end result. There is certainly a finite amount of resources. Money, for example, merely changes hands during day-to-day transactions. In theory, it is held constant and can’t be generated from thin air (unless you are the government, and that is a topic for a whole series of debates). Energy can be transferred from one form to another, but it also is held constant, neither being able to be created or destroyed (according to the law of conservation of energy). Time is similar. You can’t magically create more time from thin air. Something else these resources have in common is that they all can be managed.


Money is the easiest of the three to manage. In developing a world-class program, it is possible to funnel enough money into the program that there is seemingly no choice but for it to be successful. Hiring the best consultants in the world is one way to use money in exchange for the time and energy of your own resources. In this case, you are trading one for the other. This can be both good and bad. On one hand, hiring consultants provides experts who likely have experience and understand all the nuances.

They should know what works and what does not, as well as offer a host of other advantages. On the other hand, if there is no buy-in from the onsite team when the consultants turn over the project at its completion, the likelihood of sustained success decreases. This often occurs when the only thing invested is money. There is no program champion, no one invested in the project left behind by the consulting firm.


While travelling the globe assessing lubrication, maintenance and reliability programs, not once have I heard, “I have nothing left for my guys to do.” Out of all the plants I’ve visited, I have never seen guys just sitting around with nothing to do. It seems there is always firefighting and reactive maintenance happening all the while inspections are being performed to gradually move the needle closer to predictive maintenance and ultimately to proactive maintenance. So where will the extra time it takes to assess, design and implement a world-class program come from?

I’ve rarely seen a resource dedicated solely to proactive or predictive tasks. Only the best companies understand the value in spending time wisely on the front end (proactive maintenance) as opposed to the much costlier back end (reactive maintenance). Sometimes organizations may even fully understand the value and yet still make poor decisions and actions.


Energy is defined as the strength and vitality required for sustained physical or mental activity. You can exert energy toward your goal in many different ways. Knowing the type of energy and passion your team has will be important in understanding the path to a successful program. Are your workers enthusiastic about making changes for the better? If so, you need to give them direction. They must know what success looks like. Otherwise, they will waste energy chasing their tail and searching for success when all they needed was a clear path.

Are your team members more reserved and methodical? These types of personalities must understand the “whys” and have a thorough education before they take on a project. In this environment, if you start down a path that is incorrect, the course correction will be agonizing.

At the beginning of any undertaking, it should be mandatory to take a step back and evaluate your specific resources (time, money and energy). Once these are fully understood, a precise plan can be formulated that will maximize the return on the investment you are about to make. Start looking at these investments as what they are: finite resources. If they are spent unwisely, you usually can’t get them back.

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