Maintenance Fundamentals – The Basics Matter
In maintenance we are often looking for a single solution to a very complicated problem. We hope that by implementing better technology, newer equipment, or newer improvement processes we can solve our maintenance issues. On a positive note, more often that not we can probably save our money on the above equipment, technology and processes; however, there is no easy fix. We frequently find that the most complicated problems arise from small, unobserved sources; these are the very elements that we tend to pay too little attention to because they are small or viewed as too basic.
Let's use lubrication as an example. Many organizations do not invest enough thought, skill, process, training, or execution follow-up into the basics of lubrication. If you have ever tried to define how much grease to apply to one bearing grease fitting, you quickly gain an understanding of how unclear the fundamentals can be in a plant. Worse yet, if we fail to define the basics, we risk high variation and lack of standardization in the process.
The same logic applies to cleaning, PMs, sanitation (in food environments), or even maintenance shop organization. Failure to execute the basics well will have significant impact on the output and reliability of the organization.
When I trained in the Toyota Production System concepts, the Japanese teachers would stress the importance of 5S at our plant (Sort, Set, Shine, Standardize, Sustain). At first I could not understand the strong emphasis of 5S. I knew that the efficiency of the organization would increase, but the return would be low and difficult to measure. My teacher turned to me one day and said “Greg, why do you think your organization is ready for oil analysis or Reliability Centered Maintenance when you cannot even hang the broom back in the proper spot when finished with the job” I realized that if we did not have the basic discipline to hang a broom, run a grease gun properly, or clean a workspace, we would never sustain more complicated processes. Basics matter and matter a lot.
I walk into plants every week that are missing the maintenance basics. I do have the advantage of an outside set of eyes; however, organizations must groom internal people to spot equipment defects, identify lack of cleaning to inspect, and recognize poor lubrication practices, as the starting point for eliminating larger problems. Just like our safety mind-set, more hazardous opportunities to fall or be injured can lead to more actual safety incidents. The more equipment defects (leaks, missing bolts, cracks, etc.), missed lubrication points, or unclean areas, the greater the likelihood of larger problems arising.
The good news is that it is not that costly to re-focus and re-establish expectation for doing the basics well in your plant. The bad news is that the final exam is one year from now, a measure of how focused and sustainable your efforts have been. Remember, the basics matter!