Podcast Masterminds in Maintenance

S2:E19 8 Key Steps in Implementing a Better Preventive Maintenance Program with Torbjörn Idhammar

Caitlyn Young

Torbjörn Idhammar is the President and CEO of IDCON, a reliability and maintenance management consulting and training company.


In this week’s episode of Masterminds in Maintenance, we are excited to have Torbjörn Idhammar, President and CEO of IDCON Inc., on the show! Torbjörn has tons of experience in improving preventive maintenance implementation, especially in fields like steel, oil and gas, and mining. He gives Ryan and our listeners an in-depth look into ways maintenance organizations can improve and create better preventive maintenance programs in a plant or mine! Listen today!

Episode Show Notes

  • 8 steps towards better preventive maintenance
  • How to measure effective preventive maintenance
  • What’s the future of preventive maintenance?

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00:03 Ryan Chan: Welcome to Masterminds in Maintenance, a podcast for those with new ideas in maintenance. I’m your host, Ryan, I’m the CEO and founder of UpKeep. Each week I’ll be meeting with a guest who’s had an idea for how to shake things up in the maintenance and reliability industry. Sometimes the idea failed, sometimes it made their business more successful, and other times their idea revolutionized an entire industry. Today, I’m super excited. We’ve got Tor Idhammar here on the show. Tor is the president and CEO of IDCON, a reliability and maintenance management consulting and training company. He’s got 25 years of experience here in this industry, worked at 60 different plants across 15 different countries. It sounds like you must be on a plane a lot. Welcome to the show Tor. I’m really excited to have you.

00:44 Torb Idhammar: Great to be here. Thanks, Ryan.

00:45 RC: I would love to start things off by having you share a little bit more about your background, how you were first introduced to this wonderful small little niche of maintenance and reliability.

00:56 TI: My dad started a business IDCON in 1974 in Sweden. Moved over here in ’85. So I was never gonna work for my dad, but I was introduced to my first maintenance and reliability seminar when I was 14 years old. So he took me a whole week and sent me through one of these seminars, and then we’re talking 1980’s. So he had started one of the first CMMS systems in Sweden, and he thought that, well you do an internship, in Sweden we do internship as early as high school. So we do a week in different businesses. So it’s a [01:25] ____ and listen, so I had to sit through a week there and learn about CMMS, the first one. It was the first PCs were coming out. The ABC 80’s and stuff. And then I worked through college, at IDCON here in the US, I went to North Carolina State University. And then I went to Lund University, took my Masters Degree in Mechanical Engineering. Military service, somewhere in between there, there was a lot of maintenance work. So I had a lot of maintenance kind of experience, and then I started working in Sweden and wasn’t really planning on moving back and doing this, but long story short, we said we wanna travel, me and my girlfriend at the time, then became my wife and we moved over and we just stay for three years. And, bam, 27 years later doing this.


02:09 RC: Yeah, I mean what a crazy twist of events, said, yeah, you’d never work for your dad, but how things have evolved and it seems like time just flies by.

02:19 TI: It does. It’s crazy. Yes, for sure, it’s crazy.

02:23 RC: I know that you and I were just speaking about a paper that you just wrote actually, on the eight key steps to implementing a better preventative maintenance program. Could you tell us a little bit more about what that is?

02:36 TI: People have different definitions. We define it as all the actions to find a failure early, meaning we can clean equipment, we can keep it cool, etcetera. We can balance, we can align, that’s what we call PM. What we don’t call PM is the corrective plan and schedule because we don’t want the overlap in definitions. The first thing I think what people miss a little bit in PMs is that we used to go ahead and we’d dive into saying, “Okay, let’s just start documenting PMs.” We don’t do any project management stuff like setting up, “Oh, what’s the scope of PM? Do you need to include… Do want operators to do PMs? Do we include the lubrication?” And the biggest piece of that is getting management on board actually. That is the hardest part. And we don’t actually ground the PM implementation with a good project plan, telling management what is it gonna cost, what am I gonna get out of it. The next one is to document the PM, and there’s several steps in there, it’s not gonna lump in one and all. Typically for most of us is to review the PM, we need to review the current PMs we have, so saying, “Okay, what is it we have, what is it we should have?” Basically.

03:37 TI: The next step that was often missed too is the systematize. So when we talk about, like you Ryan, you do CMMS softwares and asset management, offer a lot of great technology tools. In my experience, people say, “Let’s just improve the PMs,” so we put it all in SAP. And I’m saying, “Okay,” Or Maximo, or whatever you have. The problem is you’re gonna put your vibration routes in SAP, it’s like, “No, no, we have a separate software for that.” But we need to systematize and think about how do you actually get the documentation that we have now created that’s beautiful and simplified and effective, how do you actually get it out to the people in an effective way? And by the way, don’t we need to train people and don’t we need to do something around management to teach them how to manage our new documentation? There’s a lot of assumptions there. So that’s the third step. And then I think the fourth and last step is just relentless follow-up. Making sure these PMs are being done. So that’s the short version of those all eight steps that we were talking about.

04:32 RC: Yeah, no, I love it. And what I heard, if I were to summarize that. One, there’s a cost to doing PMs. Theory is great, but when you actually start looking at the cost, you have to weigh the benefits versus the cost. I hear having a centralized system is extremely important, you can’t be doing PMs in 17 different places, because when you try to draw conclusions off of all of these PMs, you have to be able to report on it in a holistic view. And then the last piece here is relentless follow-up. Obviously, you’ve seen so many different companies, so many different industries. What are the most common pitfalls that you’ve seen in implementing a successful PM program?

05:14 TI: So many times I heard that people say, “Well we support it guys, don’t worry about it, let’s go ahead and just implement the PMs.” Well, what does support mean? I would just ask that question to the managers. And I think it’s a fair question, sometimes we’re just afraid to kinda push back a bit. But basically it’s a lot of things, but I think number one is provide resources. So when you start your PM program, be clear to the management, “I need these resources.” As too as a manager supporting also need that relentless follow-up. Come back to that. So if PMs are not being done, if you’re a manager, you need to find out why they’re not being done, there may be good reasons for it. Another thing is, like I mentioned, I think that people make a PM a complete documentation exercise. So, as engineers, we tend to say, “Oh, great the theoretical part, here’s a gearbox.” How do we inspect it? How do we prevent failures early? And we make these beautiful inspections and we start… And we document all this, but we have no discussion around, “Okay, are the guys actually gonna expect this?”

06:08 TI: So we can’t make it a documentation project. And I’m gonna have a short note about RCM, reliable center maintenance, that’s a methodology to at the end get your PMs and also get your critical spare parts defined. Of course, as a reliability engineer, you need to know RCM, but if you’re gonna do a full-blown, and I mean a full-blown classical RCM, it’s just too time consuming. And then we don’t systematize, so we don’t train our guys and gals how to do it, we operate inspections, “Here to do this list,” and they don’t even know where the bearings and motors are. So people are told, “Here’s the route,” and we still write these routes in Word, Ryan. It’s insane. And so therefore, all the inspections end up on the same frequencies like, “Well, that’s just too much. I can’t schedule in Word.” So every inspections it’s done weekly, and somebody says, ” No, let’s do them daily.” I’ve been to plants that do them every shift, I’ve been to plants that do them daily, I’ve been to plants that do them monthly and the same equipment basically. The last one I would say is that we’d build all this and we get them launched and people actually going out and doing this inspection then we don’t fix what we find. That’s the next one. So we go out and we find all these problems and then, “Well, who’s gonna fix them?” And it’s like, “Well, we don’t have to fix them.” ‘Cause we’re going out fixing break-downs so we don’t have time to do our PMs. Right.

07:22 RC: I’m gonna ask a very, very broad question, most commonly, do you see companies over-maintaining, over PM-ing their equipment, under PM-ing their equipment, or is it they’re PM-ing and maintaining the wrong assets and the wrong equipment, or do you think that it’s a more training issue? What do you think is not really a problem?

07:46 TI: I mean, the short answer is a combination of those, but if you had a really well-trained person doing PMs and you have management that knew that this was important, so we divide time and resources, you don’t really need a system for that, temporarily. You can send somebody out and say, “Do the PMs, you know what to do,” I mean in theory, right? But people change, people move position, so therefore we need the systems around it. So what I see is all of those things, I see people… It seems to start like this, we don’t have many PMs in the system when we were a greenfield plant, so it’s like, “Oh, we cut that out of the budget, we save some money,” so now we start adding PMs, we’re creating a culture, basically habit, plant habit of, “Oh, we have a failure we used to add a PM,” have a failure we add a PM. And after a few years, all of a sudden we have these random PMs, we have 12 PMs on this gear box and we have nothing on that cylinder. Because we just add when we have failures, we don’t have time to do them, so we don’t execute those PM’s that we have because what’s the point? Because I just go back to the same darn gearbox all the time. So instead of just thinking through, “What does this equipment need in each ABC?” And let’s just stick with that. And if we do that, we’re gonna prevent 90% of the failures or some failures can’t be prevented, that’s something that some people don’t understand because we don’t have a failure developing period.

09:04 RC: You start slipping on one and it perpetuates the other three, and it becomes that downwards spiral, which I think, again, is a great transition into this next question around measuring the signs of an effective PM program. Will love your thoughts on this because I struggle with it, with our customers, people in the industry.

09:25 TI: There’s a lot of things. So how do you see a good PMs? If you look at it from a more philosophical standpoint, really good maintenance is really uneventful, is actually really boring, cause everything just works. You’re the main tag man, I’m not saying maintenance people will just with their feet up not doing anything like the main tag man, when you just come in and the environment is just completely different. You don’t have any people on shift. Why don’t you have any people on shift? Because a plant can run 16 hours and have one instrument guy on shift. That’s it. Because we don’t have any breakdowns. So those are typical signs. And when it comes to measuring that, I think it really comes back to more the culture or the plant habit. But if you’re gonna set this up in CMMS, you definitely want to have PM completion. Did I do the PMs I said I wanna do? But that is based on, that you actually have good PMs to start with, like you said, right?

10:14 RC: Exactly.

10:15 TI: And if you don’t have that, what’s the point in measuring that? And then if you do, assume you have good PMs though, let’s say we go through the PMs and say, “We have good PMs, let’s make sure we complete… ” pretty simple, let’s make sure we complete the good ones, and then whatever we find from those PMs goes into our planning and scheduling system, they’re prioritized and we fix them. And I don’t know your clients, like I’m guessing that your clients have an issue because they don’t have the fundamentals, they don’t have good PMs to start, so there’s no point in measuring chaos.

10:42 RC: That’s a really good point. And I find that often times, we’re trying to measure chaos. This is a great, again, transition into a positive topic around, what’s the future of PM, PM optimization, implementation, what does that look like?

11:00 TI: Artificial intelligence is coming. Artificial is coming, I think, it’s coming faster than we think. So I think machine learning is really coming, the little itty-bitty I know about machine learning has been changing our thought process. And if I understand it right, and you can correct me here, ’cause I think you’re more in this field, Ryan. But when you’re thinking as maintenance people is like, “Okay, if the motor goes over 175 degrees Fahrenheit, it is a no-go.” We gotta look, listen, feel, smell and take a temperature and if vibration goes over 0.25 inches per second, let’s do something. Call some type of action. Which is all good, if we can get to that point it’d be great, because we’re not even there yet.

11:37 TI: But I think the next thing what happens is the gearbox failed, and then you say, “What were the conditions when this gearbox failed?” Well, the vibration was this, temperature was this, and you say, “Okay, that is condition.” So then we teach our machines, “When you see this condition here,” then the machine says, “That’s no good. No good when we see this.” And we do that over and over again, the machines slowly learn that these are… And they’re gonna find patterns that we don’t find. And I’m actually in contact with a couple of companies that launched this at central control centers, they have AI in 15, 20 factories, and they are monitoring equipment. And they are obviously learning. It’s early stages. And what’s made this possible is the Moore’s law of computing. Some people say that, in 2023 we’ll have a computer or laptop that for a thousand bucks is as good as a human brain. And then in 25 years after that, we’ll have a computer that can go as all the collective human brains.

12:35 RC: And you hit the nail on the head, and I’m personally really excited by it, even though, it’s a little bit scary. [chuckle]

12:41 TI: Yeah, people think the machine’s gonna take or over something like that, but one point I wanna make is things so important that human computer is the powerful thing. So we think something’s gonna happen and never really happened that way in technology. And I can see that our business here is gonna change, and that’s why I’m trying to learn a little bit more about it, because we may be more looking at how do we maintain sensors, and the condition monitoring equipment, and it’s gonna evolve somehow, some way.

13:07 RC: Last question from me, Torb. What’s something you wish more people knew about within the maintenance and reliability space?

13:14 TI: I don’t think it’s that important that we need to… There’s things that we can learn, don’t get me wrong, but I think the problem is not knowing things, I think the problem is that we don’t execute. And all the plants that I go to, day after day, I’ll talk to the plant manager and he or she will tell me, “Look, we really need to improve our planning and scheduling, we need to improve our PM,” whatever it may be, but they have a problem executing. We gear our consulting a lot towards that help on the floor, because the managers, they kind of know what to do, they may not know exactly how to do it, they don’t know all the steps, and they need a little help there for sure. Because if we talk about maintenance, any type of maintenance, unless you actually get a crafts person to do a job more efficiently and with higher quality, you haven’t accomplished anything. We set up a beautiful lubrication route in one plant, ran eight lubricators, everything was set, the volumes, the type, everything. But they weren’t doing the routes. And it took them six months just to get people to do the routes. And it had a number of different issues, training and union rules or whatever it is, but execution is what people need to understand that, that needs to happen to.

14:21 RC: Torb, how can our listeners follow you on your journey and connect with you?

14:25 TI: Well, the easiest way is to go up to a website, and you get a little pop-up box. It’s really annoying I’m sorry, but that’s what the marketing people tells us to do. If you type your email address in there, we do videos every week, we do articles, and I’m gonna connect with guys like you, of course, and get these podcasts and things out. And that little eight-step guide, you can find it there, if you sign up at some point you’ll get it. Of course feel free to call me, email me, easiest is [email protected]

14:53 RC: Thank you so much again, Torb for joining us, and thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in into today’s Masterminds in Maintenance. My name is Ryan, I’m the CEO and founder of UpKeep. You can also connect with me on LinkedIn or shoot me an email directly at [email protected] Lastly, you can also find me on the maintenance community on Slack, the largest community for maintenance professionals in the world, where we host weekly conversations, contests, all centered around maintenance. I hope to connect with everyone soon until next time. Thanks again, Tor.

15:20 TI: Yeah, thank you, take care.

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