Have you ever heard the expressions: �If it isn�t broken, don�t fix it,� �Fix it, but don�t change anything,� or  �Let it run until it breaks?�
These were the prevailing maintenance philosophies with most businesses more than 20 years ago. In the early 1960s, some companies had already rejected this conventional wisdom and were starting to make progress in improved equipment uptimes and reduced operational costs. By 1975, these programs under many different names but with similar goals started to be embraced by corporate management; some industries � such as the food and beverage industries � lagged behind for various historical reasons.
Now, the conventional wisdom has changed from �routine maintenance is about preventing failures� to �routine maintenance is about avoiding, reducing or eliminating the consequences of failure.�
As interdependencies of equipment grew and as computer programs started to drive business processes, maintenance became more sophisticated and more technical. More maintenance specialists became a necessity. With that evolution of maintenance and the establishment of modern computerized processes, came the need for additional training. Historically, maintenance mechanics took care of all the equipment in the facility including electrical, electronics, sheet metal, welding, troubleshooting, etc. With the advent of interconnected processes, not only did maintenance have to specialize to gain the knowledge necessary to keep businesses running efficiently, but the maintenance person had to learn the inter-relationships of all the equipment within the process. Before those electronic ties, the maintenance person could troubleshoot just one machine or piece of equipment and be right 99% of the time.
Within the last 15 years, efficient businesses have grown to understand that maintenance needs more than adequate training. Training also has to extend to facility and factory management so they can establish effective programs, set clear long-term objectives and daily priorities and understand the daily activities of the maintenance staffs.
All maintenance courses should have an underlying premise: to make the business run efficiently, the maintenance practices and philosophies have to change. These courses must emphasize how to do things the correct way to improve asset utilization and bring profits to the bottom line, not just reduce maintenance costs. In some cases, the absolute maintenance costs per facility or factory will increase so that the cost per parcel out the door is less.
Maintenance Management Training
People who have members of the maintenance staff reporting to them but have no direct experience in maintenance need to have some training on how to make maintenance most effective. Typical executive positions that need this exposure include director of operations, VP manufacturing and VP operations. In the past, there have been training courses titled �Finance for the Non-Financial Managers.� Now we need to have �Maintenance for the Non-Maintenance Manager.� This course would include content on the impact of maintenance on the bottom line, maintenance planning and scheduling, maintenance benchmarking and guidelines for maintenance reporting to executive management. While around 35% of the parcel operations typically benchmark other firms, it is apparent that fewer than five percent benchmark maintenance operations, internally or externally.
Maintenance-related managers, such as facility engineers, maintenance superintendents, maintenance supervisors and maintenance planners and schedulers, need a more detailed management training course. Central topics could be: What impact does planning and scheduling maintenance work have on crew efficiencies, and how can effective maintenance organizations be established?
Maintenance Planning and Scheduling
A course on maintenance planning and scheduling is for anyone involved in the maintenance planning and scheduling process; however, maintenance supervisors who work alongside the planners/schedulers need this course to assure that the team is working on the same page. In smaller shipping and distribution facilities, a person might have both jobs. Although not encouraged because of the need for dedicated persons in both functions, the business volume may not support two positions. In larger facilities, one planner/scheduler may support several maintenance supervisors; usually the supervisors are on different shifts.
This training course should center on inter-active exercises that instruct the teams in the use of daily planning and scheduling. Many different real world examples are needed to polish their skills. The separation of duties between supervisors and planners/schedulers should also be established so that the management organization creates an interactive team but with specific individual job functions.
Maintenance Stores and Warehousing
This type of training is for persons working in maintenance stores or those who have management responsibilities for maintenance stores. Training should include real life simulations of how to control inventories by balancing costs and inventory levels. Furthermore, training should include inventory classifications or how to set priorities, inventory consolidation and the set up of physical stores.
Maintenance Systems
Over 200 computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS) units are on the market, with some vendors having multiple packages aimed at different levels of activity; therefore, the training for all the packages varies widely. Each package requires some degree of training. The most widely used and probably one of the least effective types is one-on-one training. This is usually done at the owner�s workstation, where the person is subjected to repeated interruptions. There are also generic classes, which are open by the vendor to all persons who have purchased its software. Usually, these classes consist of persons with varying levels of experience. The introduction to these classes may bore many of the attendees, but it is highly critical to others. Another type of group class is the same type of class, the difference being that the attendees are from the same company but different departments; therefore, what is expected from the software varies widely between accounting, materials and maintenance supervision. The instructor in these classes has to field many questions on the fly, and the struggle is to remain focused on a pre-set agenda so that all of the areas are covered equally.
The best CMMS training is targeted training. This involves a group of employees with similar objectives and job duties being taught from a pre-developed training manual that incorporates all of the customization that has been done by their company. It requires more up-front work by the instructors to understand how the standard package has been customized and how individual job duties interface with the CMMS. Consistently, when CMMS users have been surveyed, this type of training has been targeted as the best.
Maintenance Skills
For the maintenance mechanic or technician, skill levels need to be increasingly more specialized and more comprehensive. Gone are the days when one hour with a vendor�s representative gave the maintenance mechanic enough information to maintain, troubleshoot and adjust a given piece of equipment. Typical skills that are needed for parcel shipping and distribution facilities include troubleshooting, hydraulics, vehicle maintenance, welding, basic instrumentation and basic electrical.
These skills are needed regardless of the type of equipment being maintained. The range of equipment being maintained includes conveyors, racks and shelving, vehicles, forklifts, warehouse management systems, RF systems, computers, heating/ventilating/air conditioning, office furniture, system plumbing, security equipment like cameras, safety equipment, air compressors and alarm systems. Some of these may be maintained by contracts with third parties. But to assure that the third parties are performing to your company standards, the maintenance supervisor needs to have these basic skill levels.
These skills are normally acquired through community colleges, trade schools or special courses set up by the company. Several of the mainline engineering publications advertise books and training outlines that are excellent and can be taken by mechanics over an extended period of time, with refresher studies every six to 12 months.
Equipment Knowledge
Equipment training for the maintenance mechanic or technician also needs to include maintenance supervision. The vendor that furnishes the specific equipment will often provide on-site or local training. This training needs to be closely monitored because it is often the most neglected area of training, and the instructors may be knowledgeable about the equipment but not good with communication skills. Sometimes this training is or can be included in the price of the equipment. Training of this nature could be provided by motor manufacturers, forklift manufacturers, rack and shelving suppliers, RF system suppliers, security system suppliers, air compressors, air chiller manufacturers, water treatment suppliers or HVAC manufacturers.
Look long and hard at your training needs. Maintenance is important in your parcel shipping and distribution facility, and it needs to be efficient to reduce overall facility costs, realize bottom line savings and increase customer satisfaction. Maintenance is an added value activity in your facility.
Donald H. Decker is a principal with The Hayo Consultants, a general management consulting firm that specializes in the areas of maintenance and materials management. He may be contacted by email at hayocon@aol.com or by phone at 505-237-0313. For more information, visit hayoconsultants.com.