Several years ago I visited a state-of-the-art power plant that had a net generation of 260 megawatts, which is enough electricity to serve 75,000 homes. I was there for an executive meeting of the Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals, which included presentations about this unique plant and its workforce.

It was a green plant in more ways than one. The technology was designed with “green” in mind, and it was a new plant with all of the potential that comes with that. The result was a world-class example of total productive maintenance (TPM).

The opportunity with the most risk was the marriage of maintenance and operations. This was to be a very intense front-end workload with major operating cost impacts. For example, there were 55 craftsmen comprising five 11-person supervisor-less teams on rotating shifts, with the rotated-out team devoted to planning and project type work.

The unique part was that all were experienced craftsmen in performing the required maintenance activities as well as plant operations. There were two managers: a plant manager and a maintenance manager. Every three weeks, corresponding to the shift rotation, they traded places.

During the process of planning for the plant and its operation, management decided to do away with supervisors, planners, maintenance engineers and schedulers. Could not the maintenance/operators perform these activities? Well, yes, if it was laid out and appropriate training was provided to all concerned. It was decided that all of the functions of a world-class operation would be present and active, however resident within each team.

There were approximately 20 people interviewed for each position. Most unsuccessful applicants were uncertain about self-directed teams. After the first employees were selected, they and following hires would make up the interviewing teams. The position requirements included:

  • The employee was a journeyman in a technical craft
  • Had a willingness to work in a team-empowered environment
  • Be cross-trained to be multi-skilled
  • Be trained on and support world-class maintenance principles
  • Be trained and willing to operate the plant equipment
  • Be willing to do whatever the shift required in concert with the other 10 team members.

Work-order planning and within-shift scheduling would come from within the team. Training coincided with the plant construction, taking advantage of the contractors and equipment vendors participating in installations, while simultaneously developing preventive, predictive and corrective maintenance procedures.

Extensive training also covered the soft skills required for self-managed work teams and working in this open environment. All administrative, planning and estimating, preventive and overhaul, operating, performance evaluation, stockroom, and maintenance engineering procedures were developed by the team members with guidance from the two managers, the plant technical staff and company employees from other plants. The 55 craftsmen owned the operation of this generating facility.

A computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) was specified by the teams, and world-class estimating, planning and scheduling were loaded into the system. Preventive maintenance (PM) tasks were assigned to the four shifts, and the rotating teams did not change this basic schedule unless it was agreed across teams. Each team developed expertise within itself for estimating and planning work orders along with analysis of maintenance and operational performance.

Every three weeks, a member from each team would be chosen within the team as a shift representative through whom the other shifts communicated, and the managers would convey pertinent information. After a year, the two managers thought that maybe the representatives should be paid extra for this three-week term. To a man, the 55 craftsmen decided that management should take that additional money and divide it up to increase the hourly rate for all. "This is a team effort."

Over the two years the plant had been in operation, team members all attended additional outside training, some began college programs, and all participated in continuous evaluations of the preventive and predictive maintenance activities. The result was that the plant continued to see continuous improvement, proving that implementation of TPM is possible even without supervisors.