Operations & Maintenance

7 Tips For a Better Preventative Maintenance Program

Ryan Chan

Every asset does not require preventive maintenance. Sometimes the cost of preventive maintenance (PM) exceeds the cost of reactive maintenance and limited downtime is acceptable for repairs. But assets that directly impact the utility of a facility or the output of a manufacturer need a preventive maintenance program. This type of preventive maintenance program helps asset managers prevent unscheduled downtime and saves a company money.

For expensive assets that directly impact a company’s bottom line, the cost of reactive maintenance is relatively high to the preventive maintenance and increases over time.

Maintenance and repair cost of preventive and reactive maintenance

When creating your preventive maintenance (PM) plan, proper implementation is vital. To make your preventive maintenance program the very best it can be, consider the following pointers in each step.

1. Focus PM Tasks on Specific Failure Modes

Half of every dollar companies spend on preventive maintenance programs are actually wasted, often because the tasks maintenance crews perform don’t actually prevent anything. When creating your PM plan, focus each task on preventing a specific failure mode.

Failure-mode oriented inspections and PMs will help you target tasks on preventing breakdowns that could have a high impact on your operations. That means less time wasted on PMs that accomplish nothing and greater equipment effectiveness.

2. Apply Skills Where They’re Needed

As you determine which PMs you need to perform on each piece of equipment, it helps to outline what kinds of skills are needed for each task. Most of them can be carried out by your in-house staff, and often, simple tasks such as inspections won’t generally need highly skilled tradespeople.

On the other hand, some tasks may require more specialized skillsets, in which case your most experienced technicians—or even outside talent—may be necessary.

Ultimately, it comes down to making sure you have the right people for each job.

3. Create Efficient Routes

Your inspection routes should follow an efficient path. If technicians are zig-zagging back and forth through your facility on a routine inspection, it will take more time than it needs to.

In addition, multiple smaller routes may be more efficient than one long one. A massive inspection route may put a drain on your technicians, making it more difficult to complete on time. Breaking things up can also help you focus the instruments and tools used in the inspections on the specific tasks your personnel will be performing.

Maintenance schedules can also benefit from establishing a pre-planned route. Tasks performed during a given shift can follow a similar route to those established for inspections, minimizing travel times and potentially improving schedule compliance.

Note: An average of about 20% of work hours are lost to travelling about the facility, so streamlining routes can improve productivity significantly.

4. Inspect Frequently

Each inspection should be scheduled frequently enough to catch problems before they have a chance to develop into major breakdowns. As such, a good rule of thumb is to take the average time it takes a failure to develop (or a failure development period) and cut that in half to get your inspection frequency.

Take the bearings used in a mixer, for instance. If they are normally projected to last two weeks from the time they start showing signs of wear, you’d want to inspect them weekly. If you inspect them once every two weeks, they might completely wear out between inspections, causing a complete stop in production.

Tip: The tools you use in inspections might alter failure development periods by allowing you to detect issues further in advance. The end result is more time to resolve the issue before it develops.

Preventive Maintenance Matrix

5. Use Manufacturer Materials to Establish Frequencies

When determining failure development times, it helps to look at the materials provided by manufacturers. Often, the manufacturers of the replacement parts and equipment you use will provide failure development times in their materials, making the task of establishing inspection frequencies much easier starting out.

Note, however, that the running speeds and stresses in your processes may significantly alter the rate at which any given part could wear out, so experience within your facility is still valuable.

6. Stay on Schedule

Most PM programs include specific time-based intervals, and those should be carefully adhered to. As you plan and schedule preventive maintenance tasks for your program, make sure you stay on schedule. Failing to complete PMs on time (or at least within a day or two of when they should be completed) can result in extra wear on parts that should be kept well maintained.

Measuring PM schedule compliance can help you gauge how well you’re staying on schedule, with deviations giving you an idea of areas where your team isn’t quite making it. For instance, if PMs on one piece of equipment doesn’t tend to be completed on time, there may be an issue with accessing that piece of equipment, or it might be too far out of the way of your current routes.

Tip: A standard rule of thumb is to complete tasks within 10% of their scheduled frequency. That means if a task occurs every 30 days, it should be completed within a three-day period of its due date (or no earlier or later than a day and a half).

7. Involve Operators

Your operations crew can help with preventive maintenance, taking much of the load off your maintenance technicians and freeing up precious time. Simple tasks such as cleaning, inspections, and minor repairs can frequently be entrusted to those who engage with the machines on a regular basis.

In addition, your maintenance team should be in consistent contact with operations, keeping them aware of when planned tasks are scheduled to occur. Doing so facilitates cooperation when equipment needs to be taken offline for PM, ultimately expediting the process.

Common PM Mistakes

Along with using the above steps and tips, it’s important to avoid the mistakes facilities often make when implementing PM programs. Some of the most common PM mistakes include the following.

Unclear Instructions

Failing to include clear step-by-step instructions in your PMs leads to an increased chance of failure. Each PM task should include what to look for, which measurements to use, and what to do for each task.

Tip: Preventive maintenance checklists can make your PMs clearer.

Completing Tasks Too Early, or Too Late

Most people are aware that PMs should not be completed late, but they shouldn’t be done too early either.

For instance, suppose an inspection that should be performed every 30 days is completed on the 20th of one month, the 1st of the month following, and then the 30th of the month after that. Your intervals are roughly 11 days for the first cycle (too short) and 59 days for the second (too long). Proper training and scheduling practices can help remediate this problem.

Over-Maintaining Equipment

It’s also possible to schedule PMs too frequently, thus over-maintaining equipment. Numerous tasks are performed which do little, if anything, to improve equipment reliability, and in some cases, performing certain tasks too often can actually damage equipment.

Lack of Prioritization

Some facilities may try to apply PM too broadly. The truth is only a fraction of all components used in your facility’s processes will need routine maintenance, and some assets may be most efficiently managed with a run-to-failure approach. The key is to prioritize your assets and focus your efforts on the most critical.

Economic value of a preventive maintenance program

Pencil Whipping

Unfortunately, maintenance personnel may sometimes declare a PM complete without actually doing it. Training, communicating goals, and optimizing workflows may help remedy that.

Inadequate MRO Inventory

As you assess which failure modes are most critical, make sure you have sufficient replacement parts on hand to satisfy your program’s demands, accounting for order lead times and costs as necessary.

Failing to Track PM

One final mistake, and one which can exacerbate the others, is failing to track the results of your PM program. Without monitoring your data, you won’t be able to see your progress, and it can be easy to let your program fall by the wayside.

Put simply, a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) is your best friend throughout this entire process.

See the Results in Action

A properly implemented PM program will help you improve reliability in your facility while decreasing maintenance costs. When you establish and track your PM program, you’ll be able to see the results over time.

This story was expanded and updated in March 2020.

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