Anyone who has ever done plant maintenance improvement work is inevitably accused at times of just not knowing what it’s like in the “real world” of maintenance. So, here are some of the things I remember from that “real world” of maintenance.

  • You can’t ever get on the paging system because it is always tied up with people paging for maintenance help.
  • Maintenance personnel have to carry more than one beeper because one is always busy.
  • Maintenance personnel really need to work on their responsiveness because they have trouble responding to more than one page at a time.
  • Maintenance personnel are constantly driving by in really fast yellow carts with bright flashing lights and sirens. (Some are actually dressed in blue tights with red capes.)
  • Everyone really supports the planning and scheduling of maintenance work, as long as they can get a one-day turnaround on their work orders.
  • The only maintenance scheduler who could ever come close to handling the job used to be a short-order cook.
  • Some people say, “We’ll get to the PMs sometime, but we’ve just got too many repairs to make.”
  • Others say, “We don’t have time to keep the machines in good condition. We’re too busy with projects to modify them to make them work better.”
  • Some people believe voice mail is the maintenance schedule.
  • Some believe e-mail is the maintenance schedule.
  • Others believe they are the maintenance schedule.
  • The maintenance backlog got to be so big that we made some real money selling it to a lumber company.
  • Everyone agrees that maintenance needs to focus more on strategically supporting the business, but from the discussions, that seems to mean that we need to be able to do emergency repairs faster.
  • People say we just can’t worry about the cost of an emergency repair. It’s like Jack Bauer says: “Whatever it takes.” The time to worry is at month’s end, when everyone is really excited about how far you are over budget.
  • There are cab drivers on permanent contract to pick up parts from suppliers.
  • There are limo drivers on permanent contract to pick up parts at the airport.
  • We have a couple of machines that vacationed in Hawaii on frequent-flier miles built up on parts air-shipped in for them.
  • Everyone says it is just so much faster to buy a part than to try to find it in the parts room.
  • If you really need a maintenance mechanic, you can usually find one on the receiving dock waiting for rush parts to show up.
  • At any given time, there are more maintenance people trying to find or buy parts than there are working on machinery.
  • We had to expand the parts room so all the people looking for parts could fit in.
  • There is no point even considering anyone as a parts supplier who only delivers once a day.
  • When asked about how maintenance is scheduled, people quote the “S*** Happens” slogan from the movie “Forrest Gump”.
  • We don’t bother updating the weekly maintenance schedule since we never get any of the work on it done; it is always good for next week.
  • We discussed whether it was possible that a machine could need so much ongoing maintenance, that it was theoretically never available for production.
  • One of our mechanics works an incredible amount of overtime. We think it may be that he really can’t go home anymore, as his attack chihuahua doesn’t remember him.
  • People stopped using beepers for maintenance emergencies and went back to the audio paging system because it was too difficult to get that tone of frantic urgency across with more than just a hint of accusation on a beeper.
  • The police department keeps showing up asking about mechanics who left their homes days ago, telling their families they were just going in for a few hours to help out.
  • Our hardware bins are overflowing with really neat nuts, bolts and fittings that we’re sure are really useful for something, but we always seem to run out of the ones we actually use.
  • The plant manager put in some low-priority work orders that he told us we could get to when we had time, but the maintenance manager said we better get them all done by noon.
  • Our planner is a great mechanic who really helps us find the quickest, best ways to do things, and always makes sure we have everything we need. We get a lot more done because of him, and avoid a lot of lost-time issues we would have otherwise. But managers keep asking why we’re wasting such a great mechanic on paperwork when he could be really helping with emergencies.
  • Operators have come up with a lot of small improvements that they need our help with, but we’re told we can’t waste our time on them since we really need to stay focused on the big issues, because that’s obviously where all the money really is.
  • There was a role clarification meeting between operations and maintenance management, and it seems like the outcome was quite clear. It’s definitely their job to break the machines, and our job to fix them.
  • We had some informal shared meetings between maintenance and operating folk to discuss current issues and, you know, it was really amazing how many things we actually agreed on as the right thing to do.

About the Author

Currently working as a consultant, John Crossan retired after spending 30-plus years with the Clorox Company. His roles for much of the past 14 years were mainly focused on improving operations by fostering the installation and ongoing implementation of basic manufacturing and maintenance procedural mechanisms across 30 varied plants in the U.S. and Canada. Prior to Clorox, John also held operational and engineering roles with Johnson & Johnson and the Burndy Corporation. He can be reached via e-mail at john@johncrossan.com or online at www.johncrossan.com.