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Are all maintenance organizations overstaffed?

Most maintenance organizations are overstaffed--not by having too many people on staff, but through using more total maintenance hours than necessary. Total maintenance hours include regular staff hours, overtime staff hours, and contractor hours. As an example, one particular newsprint mill making 500,000 tons/yr of recycled paper is a top performer at less than 0.3 total maintenance hours per ton of production, while most operations we work with are using over 0.5 total maintenance hours per ton.


If you work in a highly reactive maintenance organization, you are trapped in a "circle of despair" (see illustration). This means you waste time doing the wrong things, such as reacting to problems on short notice. You have to correct problems as fast as possible, and the correction quality is typically less than perfect. Often, the same problem needs to be repaired again soon. This circle of despair continues and absorbs time you could have used to do the right things in the first place.

Most maintenance organizations use more total maintenance hours than necessary because they use a system that does not allow people to be truly efficient. Mill leaders must correct the system. I use the term leader because too many managers just manage the status quo.

Some examples of doing the wrong things include:

* Maintenance is driven by cost instead of actions that drive down cost. Maintenance managers become more focused on budget constraints than on delivering reliability. A focus on improving reliability will produce faster, better quality production throughput and lower costs.

* Reacting to equipment breakdowns. Our studies show that over 50% of all maintenance work is avoidable. Excessive maintenance work occurs when the basics--maintenance prevention, inspections, and good operating practices done concurrently with planning, scheduling and execution--are not performed well.

* Reacting to emotional priorities. Most maintenance organizations are still viewed as service providers, not providers of equipment reliability that work in an equal partnership with operations. Operations departments are still viewed as "customers" ordering work from the maintenance organization. Along with many other wrong behaviors, this particular mistake leads to maintenance professionals attempting to please the customer by responding to requests from operations instead of delivering what is best for the business.

* Top management oxymoron. Top management usually agrees to all of the above but often responds, "Reliability is top priority but we must cut costs first." I call this statement an oxymoron because better reliability drives down costs while a focus solely on lower costs drives down reliability.


This is a very difficult predicament. Achieving consistent and sustainable lower costs is a long-term goal, but as a manager you are working in a system that forces you to make short-term decisions. Remember that a valid maintenance job can never be eliminated--it can only be postponed. When you postpone maintenance, you will often pay much more to solve the problem.

Call for Papers: From October 2-6, 2006 the only event in the world entirely devoted to Reliability and Maintenance for the Pulp and Paper Industry will take place in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. If you would like to present a paper, please submit a short abstract to attn: Christer Idhammar. If you are a vendor you are welcome to present a case study with a practitioner. For more information visit


Christer Idhammar is president and founder of IDCON INC., Raleigh, North Carolina, USA. IDCON is a consulting company providing worldwide education, training and implementation of better operations and maintenance practices. For more information, go to:



RELATED ARTICLE: Circle of Despair
 1. Emotional Priorities
 2. React on perceived problems
 3. Fail to do PM
 4. React to break downs
 5. Poor quality repairs
 6. No action on PM reports
 7. More failures
 8. Lower reliability
 9. Higher cost
10. Cut cost
11. Lower reliability
12. Higher cost
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Author:Idhammar, Christer
Publication:Solutions - for People, Processes and Paper
Date:Mar 1, 2006
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