No Mystery; No Maintenance; No Magic- The story of “Jack”



Have you ever observed a company that works hard at improving productivity, identifying and removing waste from their processes, improving flow, only to have minimal improvement? It’s a mystery! We work diligently on all of the lean concepts yet we don’t see the expected results. Where’s the magic we anticipated? No smoke and mirrors here, there must be some facts we aren’t seeing- something is missing!

We gather all our experts together and begin brainstorming when in walks a maintenance technician who overhears the discussion. “If you give me the Monument Machine for a couple of days, I will fix your problem”, he says. We do. He fixes it, and suddenly we see the overall improvement we expected. The Monument Machine had been running at half speed to maintain quality and WIP was growing in front of it. Overtime was required to feed the rest of the plant, tweaking was the norm and efficiencies slowly plummeted. Jack fixed it! We have a hero! Problem solved! Let’s go, right?

Not so fast…. Slowly over time we see the gains wane. The magic is gone and the mystery returns.  The evil Monument Machine demon has returned and we didn’t learn from our experiences. We have run to failure….literally…..again! Wouldn’t this be a great definition for insanity? Let’s back up and bring back the magic with effective maintenance.

To have operational excellence, we have to have maintenance excellence. Let’s look back at Jack, our hero. He recognized the root cause, but was also part of the problem. It’s called the “fixin” culture and it’s deeply rooted in manufacturing today. Jack was able to see that over time the Monument Machine was deteriorating. He used his senses to notice the clutch smelled like it was burning, he could hear the machine getting noisier over time. He could feel the grinding vibration in the gearbox and knew not to touch the motor or he could get burned! He knew that he had to replace the contactors that kept burning up and that the leaking gearbox presented a slip hazard. But every time the machine broke down, he would “Fix” what broke and move on to the next cry for help. We allowed him the resources to repair the Monument Machine and restore it to like new condition and everyone was happy. We failed the company (and Jack) when we didn’t provide him with the resources to maintain it over time. Our culture reverted to “fixin” and not maintaining!

Let’s put a moral to the story. Many effective companies would excel with effective maintenance management. In a “fixin” culture, companies spend more on unplanned maintenance than they do on capital improvements. An unplanned breakdown cost 4 to 5 times that of a planned maintenance activity.  30% of breakdown expenditures are unnecessary and therefore waste resources and time. In this environment, a maintenance technician spends 2 to 4 hours per day in non value added activities (wrench turning)!

Interested in removing the mystery, bringing back the magic and helping Jack become a more viable and productive contributor to the company?  If you feel like you’re stuck in the “fixin or fire fighting” mode, stick around for my next blog…..It starts at the top-A plan.