Evolution of Maintenance Man

Jim Fitch, Noria Corporation

In the world of maintenance, there are two kinds of companies - those who are modernizing their maintenance programs and those who will. Companies on the trailing edge face one of two risks depending on their industry and geography:

  1. Losing revenue to competition as demand for production capacity heats up.

  2. Losing profits to competitors who export from low-cost labor markets abroad.

Averting these risks requires a process called change. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. Change can be evolutionary or revolutionary. Evolutionary change is incremental, more manageable and lower in risk.

However, for those laggards who have put off the inevitable, time may be running out. For them, the end to business- as-usual has arrived.

Catching up to already fast-paced competitors who are further along in the maintenance evolution may require sizeable short-term budgets for training, new tools and knowledge technologies.

Some of these companies may have to leapfrog over evolutionary and move straight to revolutionary. This would involve rapidly reinventing their work environment, maintenance practices, metrics and culture.

Instead of controlled and well-managed incremental improvements, breakthrough innovations may be required instead. Revolutionary change can be disruptive and often a source of stress and distress in the workplace.

Proactive Man

Today’s modern maintenance professional is a knowledge worker. This is not the same thing as a knowledgeable worker. Knowledgeable workers have knowledge but often are not encouraged to use it. In contrast, knowledge workers also have knowledge but are empowered to deploy that knowledge. They work from the neck up and are expected to take initiatives and innovate.

Proactive Man epitomizes the concept of the knowledge worker in the maintenance and reliability profession. Those players in the knowledge economy must push information and knowledge all the way to the plant floor and onward to the far reaches of their company, both internally and externally.

Companies who embrace the proactive maintenance philosophy encourage initiatives that are proactive and reprimand for maintenance practices that lead to repeated machine failures.

Think about your own company. What would be easier, getting approval for a capital expense to replace a broken machine or approval for a budget to monitor and prevent failure of a machine that is presently operational? What if it were just the opposite?

You get smiles and signatures for the proactive requisitions (“let’s keep the machine from breaking”) and frowns and interrogation for reactive requisitions (“we need more money to fix the machine”).

The Reactive Man of maintenance past was wrench-driven and accountable for fixing what broke. Present-day Proactive Man is knowledge-driven and is accountable for preventing failure and optimizing reliability.

Ask for Forgiveness not Permission

You may be saying “all of this sounds great, but let’s get real - management will never figure it out.” True, managers rarely have the vision to initiate maintenance transformations like this on their own.

However, it doesn’t mean they are lethargic. Many know that doing nothing is a recipe for repeating the past, and certainly not a pathway to reliability solutions. Noria has published numerous case studies and articles on the advancing opportunities to modernize maintenance and the virtues of the proactive maintenance philosophy. You can find these articles in the learning center at www.noria.com.

One last suggestion … perhaps the best plan doesn’t depend on management at all. Be a change agent and take charge. Remember, it is often better to ask for forgiveness for what you did rather than to ask for permission for what you want to do.

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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 advise...