Building a Solid Foundation for Maintenance Operations

Maintenance strategies, as I suggested in a previous article, should be developed in three stages:

  • Determine the maintenance requirements of each asset in its operating context
  • Decide what resources are needed to fulfill those requirements
  • Decide what systems are needed to manage the resources.

This process was compared to building a house where maintenance requirements are the foundation, the resources needed to fulfill the requirements are the walls, and the systems needed to manage the resources are the roof.

It was also mentioned that if the assessment of maintenance requirements focuses on what each asset does rather than what it is, the way in which the requirements are perceived is completely transformed. In other words, such an assessment changes the size, shape, and location of the foundation upon which the maintenance enterprise is built. If this review is carried out correctly, the foundation is also usually smaller than it would be otherwise. A smaller foundation means that the entire structure (resources and systems) built on that foundation is also smaller.

Of course, as every builder knows, the integrity of any structure depends first and foremost on the integrity of its foundation. So if we want to build a maintenance enterprise that is robust enough to satisfy all the expectations of its customers, we must ensure that its foundation is always the right size and shape, in the right place, and sufficiently solid to bear all the loads placed upon it.

Building a solid foundation means that the building project must be planned properly, the ground must be prepared correctly, the foundation must be properly designed, the right materials must be used, and the foundation must be built by people with appropriate knowledge and skills.

Planning the project means that clear objectives must be established, resources allocated, and a plan prepared.

Preparing the ground means that everyone in the organization served by the maintenance enterprise must clearly understand what maintenance can and cannot achieve, and what he or she must do to help achieve it.

Designing the foundation and selecting the right materials means systematically defining the functions and required performance standards of each asset, deciding what failure modes are reasonably likely to cause it to fail, assessing the effects and consequences of each failure, and selecting a failure management policy that deals appropriately with the consequences of each failure.

Using appropriate people means that the exercise must be performed by groups of people who have a thorough understanding of each asset in its operating context, working under the guidance of someone who profoundly understands the process being used to assess the maintenance requirements and who has a long-term vested interest in the success of the project.

In terms of this structural analogy, it is worth noting that many maintenance enterprises spend immense amounts of time, energy, and money on maintenance management systems (roofs) and on tools such as condition monitoring (part of the walls) but spend little or nothing on clarifying perceptions about what must really be done to cause the assets to continue to do what their users want them to do (the foundation).

The result is elegant roofs and walls built over a foundation that is the wrong shape and size, in the wrong place, and not nearly strong enough to support the loads imposed upon it. The end result is a maintenance enterprise that is not nearly as effective as it should be.

This is not to suggest that we don't need computerized maintenance management systems or condition monitoring. Of course we do, in the same way that nearly every building needs a roof and walls. However, the roof and walls must fit their foundation, and the foundation must be able to support the rest of the structure.

In essence, the only way to develop a truly viable, long-term maintenance strategy is to invest an appropriate amount of time and energy in every element of the process. In particular, you must avoid the temptation to concentrate too heavily or too soon on maintenance technologies and systems without first ensuring that everyone shares a clear, common, and correct understanding about what must really be done to ensure that every asset continues to do what its users want it to do. MT

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