We, in maintenance, often complain about how hard it is for us to "sell maintenance to top management". There are several things we can improve upon when we talk to top management. In this article, I will outline typical situations that I have seen in industry and offer some suggestions.

Table 1. A 10-year business plan for a typical motor vs. a good motor.

For people in maintenance, the word "maintenance" should mean something more than repairs. However, for people less experienced, "maintenance" often means just repairing stuff and, hopefully, doing that on an expedient basis.

The product of maintenance work is not repairs or service to operations. The product of any effective maintenance department is equipment reliability. Do you see the difference? If reliability is the product from a maintenance department, repairs will be done in a planned and scheduled fashion with great attention to detail. Shafts will be aligned to one-thousandth of an inch, we will balance equipment to 1.0 G, lubricants will be filtered to 3 microns, etc. If the product is repair and service, it can be done in any fashion.

Advice 1: Change the problem statement to "How do we sell equipment reliability to top management?"

A process industry company that my firm worked with set its maintenance budget at $14 million. It was $14.5 million the previous year. The maintenance budget was decided with little or no information on the actual need of maintenance in the plant. The company figured that the cost of maintenance should improve over time and, therefore, go down. It was determined that $14 million was the right number. The maintenance manager hadn't provided a different suggestion, nor did he have an (official) opinion about the new budget.

In my opinion, every maintenance manager should have a five-year plan where all big and costly maintenance jobs are listed and, hopefully, spread somewhat evenly over the years. He or she should present this plan to plant and corporate managers. If reliability is managed well, the maintenance budget varies from year to year - sometimes up, sometimes down - but the general trend is down because we work on reliability improvements.

Each year, a detailed maintenance budget should be built based on the needs of the plant. A realistic and trustworthy budget must be estimated starting from scratch (zero-based budgeting).

Advice 2: Build a five-year maintenance budget/plan that contains all major maintenance jobs that you know of and build a budget each year from scratch to present to management.

If you talk to someone less knowledgeable on any subject, make sure you are specific. That way, people can understand and believe your reasoning. A maintenance supervisor that I know wanted operations to inspect and clean motors. He argued hard that motors will last longer if they are maintained correctly. Operations agreed but didn't do anything to counter the usual excuses people use when they don't want to do something. The argument maintenance presented was correct but unspecific.

Instead, our firm helped the supervisor put together a 10-year plan for a typical motor vs. a good motor for the operations and mill managers. We discussed costs for a specific motor of importance over 10 years. Together, we came up with the estimate found in Table 1.

The example was specific, and we did it for several motors in the plant. Management understood the full extent of the request to clean and inspect motors, and did so because it was specific. The costs associated with doing nothing were compelling.

Advice 3: Be specific in your arguments in order to put a scale to benefits and costs.

If you are going to present a case to improve reliability, you need to talk in simple financial terms, and you need to have the courage to make a commitment to the potential results. Your machine, area, line or plant should have a financial number on downtime cost. Once there is a number for downtime cost, the number can be used when estimating downtime savings (maintenance language) to dollars (management language).

In many plants, the downtime cost is situational to production at that time, which makes the calculation a bit cumbersome. However, it can usually be accomplished.

Advice 4: Since the product of maintenance is reliability, you must know what your product is worth. Calculate the cost of downtime.

Torbjörn (Tor) Idhammar is partner and vice president of management consultant firm IDCON Inc. IDCON specializes in reliability and maintenance management. He is responsible for all IDCON projects and consultants, including training and implementation support for reliability management assessments, preventive maintenance, operator-based reliability, planning and scheduling, materials management, and root cause problem elimination. He is the author of "Condition Monitoring Standards" (volumes 1 through 3). Contact Tor at 800-849-2041 or e-mail info@idcon.com. Also, visit www.idcon.com.