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Are most maintenance organizations overstaffed?

by Christer Idhammar

Yes, I think that most maintenance organizations are overstaffed, not necessary with own staff, but they use more total maintenance hours than necessary. Total maintenance hours include your own internal hours, overtime hours and contractor hours. As an example a newsprint mill or a linerboard mill making 600,000 tons recycled paper per year on two machines is very good at less than 0.3 total maintenance hours per ton while most operations we have been working with are using about 0.5 total maintenance hours per ton.

If you work in a highly reactive maintenance organization you will be trapped in a circle of despair and you are wasting too much time on doing the wrong things. A circle of despair is when you have to react to a problem on a short notice. You then have to correct the problem as fast as possible; the quality of the correction will then be less than perfect. This leads to that it soon has to be repaired again and this circle of despair will continue and absorb all time you could have used to do the right things.

The reasons why most maintenance organizations are using more total maintenance hours than necessary is that they waste too much time on doing the wrong things and this is because they work in a system that does not allow people to be as efficient as they can be. To correct the system is the responsibility of leadership. It is the most important thing a leader can do. I use the term leader because too many managers are just managing status quo.

Some examples on doing the wrong things include:

  • Maintenance is driven by cost instead of actions that drives Cost. Maintenance managers become more focused on the budget constraints then on delivering reliability. Instead the focus must be to improve total reliability. It is well proven that a focus on improving reliability will produce faster quality production throughput and lower costs.
  • Reacting to Equipment breakdowns. Our studies show that between 50% and 70% of all maintenance work is avoidable. The reason for this is that the basics of maintenance prevention, inspections and the right operating practices concurrently with planning, scheduling and execution are not done well.
  • Reacting on emotional priorities. Still today most maintenance organizations are viewed as service providers and not providers of equipment reliability in an equal partnership with operations. Operations are still viewed as the customer ordering work from the maintenance organization. Among many other wrong behaviors this leads to a mindset to please the customer by responding to their requests instead of delivering what is best for the business.

Top Management oxymoron.

Also top management 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 the fact is that better reliability drives down costs while a focus on lower costs drives down reliability. It is a very difficult predicament to solve. The solution to achieve consistently and sustainable lower costs is long term, but as a manager you are working in a system that forces you to make short decisions.

The focus on cutting costs is in most organizations done by deferring maintenance work. A valid maintenance job can never be eliminated, it can only be postponed and you will then often pay much more later.

If cutting costs by elimination of people without any improvements in people productivity will result in increased maintenance hours. You might have fewer employees but more overtime and contractor hours. Short term savings and long term loss.

If the focus is to improve total reliability you will see short term cost and long term continuously improved production throughput and lower costs.

Christer Idhammar is a world-renowned and multiple award winning Reliability and Maintenance Consultant and Guru. He is the Founder and CEO of IDCON, INC in Raleigh NC, USA; A reliability and maintenance training and consulting company to the Pulp and Paper Industry worldwide since 1972.