Business Management Articles
/ Manufacturing Management


by Rene T. Domingo (email comments to

In this new era of demanding customers and tough competition, coping with the pressure to produce goods of higher quality, at lower costs and with faster delivery requires systems and equipment with the highest reliability than can assure continuous and flexible operation. In most industries, faulty machines are the primary source of quality problems and defects. To achieve zero defect levels maintenance has to play a vital frontline role and shed its backroom image. Zero downtime is a must for companies aspiring to be world class.

In the Indianapolis 500 race, victory is determined not only by the dexterity of the driver and the power of the car, but also the efficiency of the maintenance crew. When we are on board a plane, whether we land "safe and sound" depends equally on the skill of the pilot and the quality of the maintenance on the ground. If problems occur during a flight, the pilot may be able to do something within his capability as a pilot but problems due to faulty maintenance are almost beyond solution. In much the same way, when factories go to full mass production, it's always too late to stop badly maintained machines from turning out mountains of defects, or frequent breakdowns that disrupt delivery schedules.

The maintenance staff should concentrate not only on prevention but also on teaching operators to do minor repairs and adjustments. Management should empower operators to integrate this as part of their daily work routine. Operators are the first to spot machine problems through their senses- sight and sound. Most of the time, they can perform the minor adjustments that prevent major breakdowns and production of piles of defects in the future-without waiting for the maintenance staff. In Japan, most operators do not go home until their broken machine is fixed. They treat their equipment with "tender loving care;" a poster written by one Japanese on his machine says, "This is my machine and I will die for it."

Because of maintenance-capable operators, it takes on the average 15 minutes to fix a machine in Japanese factories, while it takes three hours in US factories which rely on conventional maintenance. In one company, when lack of lubrication was discovered as the cause of 70% of downtime, the responsibility of lubrication was immediately given to the workers, after they were trained by the maintenance people. And as the maintenance department handed over many of its tasks to the production people, it became a leaner but meaner and more effective service center.

One of the biggest obstacles to maintenance performance is the label "maintenance" itself. Unfortunately, "maintain" subconsciously implies "maintain the status quo." This attitude is opposed to the spirit of kaizen or continuous improvement. If attitudes do not change, the maintenance people will cause the continuous improvement program of the company to drag. In most companies, when a new equipment arrives, the primary goal of the production and maintenance people is to install it and run it as close to rated capacity as possible. However, in many Japanese factories, the first thing they would do is disassemble the machine, and modify it so that it can run beyond its rated capacity.

Maintenance should be involved not only in preventing breakdowns, and fixing machines, but also in continuously improving the performance and capabilities of existing equipment, systems and processes. Among the innovations maintenance can perform are fool-proofing machines so that they will stop automatically when defects are produced or received from preceding stations, and installing visual control systems on equipment so that at anytime, anybody will know the status of the machine without having to ask. An example of this could be a traffic light system attached to each piece of equipment: a green light means it is operating normally, red means breakdown, and yellow means set-up or waiting for incoming parts or materials.

Maintenance is now commonly referred to as Total Production Maintenance (TPM) to signify its new role of improving productivity and profitability. TPM ensures the continuous competitiveness and responsiveness of any manufacturing organization. Just like the two carpenters of which one said "I am making a door" and the other said "I am building a cathedral,” maintenance people should shift paradigms from "I am fixing a machine” to “I am increasing market share and profits”.


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