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Maintenance: an activity (still!) underestimated with great impact on global productivity

19 August 2020
Article by Lea Nogueira Lima, INEGI’s Industrial Engineering and Management consultant. 


Many managers see the problem of productivity as something exclusively linked to the production of goods or services, leaving aside internal resources of great importance for the company's global success: maintenance teams

However, there are several studies that highlight the impact of these operations on the generalized profitability of companies1

However, the difficulty in retaining talent in these areas and the consequent turnover of resources is a major obstacle. According to a study by ManpowerGroup, the most difficult jobs to fill are specialized jobs such as electricians, welders, and mechanics2

Maintenance functions are typically characterized by many overtime hours, endless lists of unfinished tasks and unusual work schedules. In the long term, this dynamic contributes to the increase in the stress levels of the team, having a negative impact on the efficiency and productivity of the work performed and, ultimately, on the loss of human capital. 

Strategies that boost productivity 

There are several strategies and tools to improve the productivity of maintenance teams, with standardization of processes being one of the main ones. 

The standardization of processes includes the application of technical standards for the solution or prevention of problems, and allows, both in industry and services, to reduce the variability of tasks, avoid wasting time and resources, facilitating the integration of new employees. For this, it is necessary to guarantee a simple visual code and a set of rules that are easily interpreted and that can be followed equally by different people. 

Standard work is also a great tool to achieve maximum performance with minimum waste. 

Designed to improve processes and operations, contributing to increasing productivity and reducing the stress levels of teams, it is based on a set of procedures and sequences for each process and each employee through the definition of simple, clear and visual rules. Likewise, the objective is to reduce failures, minimize cycle times and organize the workspace. 

A good example of standard work, applied to maintenance teams, are One Point Lessons (OPL). These are an illustrative tool for the transmission of knowledge and encouragement of self-learning, aiming at training and qualifying people in a quick, clear and objective way. Through the OPL, it is possible to have a clear idea of the work to be performed at each stage of the process, minimizing the probability of error for the most experienced employees and improving the learning curve for new employees. 

These gains are the reason why this methodology is commonly used to promote Autonomous Maintenance, one of the eight pillars of TPM (Total Productive Maintenance). 

This aims to boost the joint work between the production and maintenance teams to ensure better operating conditions for the different equipment. Through autonomous maintenance - small adjustments and adjustments made by the production teams - it is possible to reduce interruptions due to unscheduled stops, increasing the efficiency of the entire process. The involvement of production teams, enables maintenance teams to be focused on activities with greater added value, contributing to the improvement of their productivity. 

Furthermore, it is also important to highlight the importance of effective management of spare parts warehouse operations, since the need to ensure the availability of different resources makes it common for them to be under the responsibility of maintenance teams. 

Implementing continuous improvement practices in order to optimize the flows into and out of the warehouse and properly manage the existing stock are decisive actions. As they are the central point where all the spare parts are located, as well as tools and consumables used in the different interventions (autonomous, preventive and even corrective maintenance), the good management of these operations is essential to guarantee the quick availability of the different resources during the interventions. 

Profitability results from the combination of good practices 

Increased productivity is intrinsically linked to efficiency. Simplifying processes and streamlining actions are the basic premises of the various strategies mentioned, which INEGI has successfully implemented with several customers.  

In most cases, low productivity is the result of ineffective practices and processes. Despite the fact that maintenance is an activity subject to unforeseen circumstances, due to its interdependence in the operational sphere, it is certain that better planning will translate into more productive technicians. A proactive attitude, adopting tools and good management practices, is the key to reaching a higher level in terms of efficiency and productivity.