The Science of Profit Centered Maintenance

In the past few years, there has been a growing focus on the business side of maintenance. In a few circles, the terms “profit centered” and “profit centric maintenance” have been coined to suggest a frame of reference slanted toward maximizing revenue through improved plant reliability while managing maintenance costs. I suggest to you that, as professionals, we must not only embrace these concepts but also expand our tool kits to apply these concepts as a management science.

In my career as a maintenance technologist and manager, I have encountered some companies who treat the maintaining function as a prime driver of company revenues and profits. I have worked with many more who attempt to manage for an acceptable level of equipment failure with minimum maintenance costs.

In each situation, there is a prevailing management philosophy with anecdotal evidence and logic behind that chosen philosophy. The science driving decisions is limited.

In the best situations, to justify the cost of improvements to reduce expense or increase reliability, performance targets are established based on benchmarks or intuition. The value of those targets is quantified to create a business justification for the changes. In the worst scenarios, changes are proposed but implemented with minimal success because of weak justification and promotion relegated to philosophical arguments and war stories. In addition, the behavioral science we apply in our change processes is frequently antiquated.

Even at professional conferences, I see many presenters, both practitioners and consultants, seemingly preaching a preferred approach to maintenance management through an almost endless array of parables. While these sessions are often entertaining, the religions occasionally conflict and provide little management science to optimize plant profitability.

In my opinion, our profession’s focus in the past several years on best practices and benchmarks has done a great deal to align our vocabularies and give us a qualitative frame of reference to compare operations and maintenance processes. I believe it is now time we advance our expertise and professionalism with an integrated set of quantitative management models and situational standards that will promote real optimization.

Like a chemical engineer who can define and control the interrelationships among chemicals and process variables to maximize product yield and throughput, we must more clearly identify and quantify the linkages among maintenance processes to optimize plant reliability, capital productivity, and work force effectiveness.

Although there are many mathematical tools to help the maintenance professional, they are not well known nor do they deal effectively with many of our more common challenges. For example, we need to be able to map a predictive relationship between planning, schedule compliance, and craft skills with true technician productivity. We need a generalized quantitative, statistical understanding of the impact that equipment condition has on reliability, and plant availability specifically. We need to agree on a few common derivatives of the EOQ (economic order quantity) model to set optimal spares levels instead of trial and error or hunches.

We clearly need more robust approaches to forecasting the economic value of work process changes including the likely rate of change after factoring in behavior management issues. Similarly, we need an overall change management model that incorporates the latest practices in industrial psychology.

These are but a few of the quantitative tools we need to move our profession from experiential, anecdotal, and sometimes superstition to a management science.

It is the job of professional organizations and educational institutions to help take us to the next level. But they will not do so without pressure and support. I challenge professional practitioners and maintenance managers to be proactive, to contact the professional organizations, educational institutions, and information providers that they work with, and push for action that will make our profession more profit centered through the use of quantitative decision models and management science. Or, let me know your thoughts and needs and I will do what I can to get them into the hands of appropriate leaders. MT

Jim Humphries, vice president of performance technology for Fluor Enterprises, Greenville, SC, has spent over 25 years in operations and maintenance. He is a licensed professional engineer (P.E.) in South Carolina and Virginia, a certified plant engineer (AIPE), and a certified systems integrator (AIIE).

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