Maintenance Phoenix

Common Traps in Your Proactive Maintenance Plans

Posted by Mike Gehloff on Mar 2, 2015 1:49:45 PM
Mike Gehloff


Let’s face it. Often times, our proactive maintenance strategies are a mess (I decided to just get that out there in the first sentence and not try to dance around the issue). Show of virtual hands, Thumbs Up if you feel that your proactive maintenance plan is the right one for you – one that produces real results and is streamlined and efficient. Thumbs Down if you feel that this program is a paper-tiger, eats up far too many valuable resources, does not provide the value that we really need, and is one of your most significant opportunities for improvement. If you voted Thumbs Up, this article is probably not for you. If you voted Thumbs Down, please read on.

Just for the sake of definition, when I refer to “proactive maintenance” in this post, I am considering both preventive maintenance (PM) and predictive maintenance (PdM).258_istock_mousetrap-e1305753476352

Both of these activities are proactive in that they are performed before the asset failure occurs. The difference between the two being that preventive maintenance is generally intrusive in nature (requiring equipment downtime) while predictive maintenance is non-intrusive in nature, at least until an abnormality is actually found that must be addressed.

Let’s look at a few common traps that I find many maintenance organizations falling victim to.

Trap 1: We will just copy the Owner’s Manual

When your equipment is manufactured, the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) finishes the build, boxes up your equipment in a wooden crate, and throws in an owner’s manual.

You get the same manual whether you work on an off-shore oil platform, a steel mill, or an ice cream factory. If something doesn't seem right with this situation, that’s because it’s not.

I do not believe that the maintenance strategy that you would employ on a piece of equipment on an off-shore oil platform is the same as the strategy you would employ on the same equipment in an ice cream factory. We are looking at two different environments and set of production expectations. This should logically yield two different (but perhaps similar) maintenance strategies. The same logic would apply to the same asset installed in two different locations within your own facility. It goes back to what function does that asset serve, and how bad would it hurt if I lost that function.

So, where is the disconnect? Let me say that I do not think that the OEMs are purposely trying to hurt you. They are in the business of making and selling equipment (and a few repair parts on the side). They don't know your business like you know your business. They cannot possibly anticipate how you are going to use their equipment and what it means to you if you experience a failure.

PS: This same trap applies if we simply try to copy the maintenance strategy from another facility or department without some analysis and modification.

The Solution:

Definitely use the OEM information as a reference point for the design of your maintenance strategy, but make it your own. Look carefully at each asset; ask yourself, how is it likely to fail given what I expect of it (failure mode) and if it did fail, how much would I be willing to invest to avoid that situation?

Trap 2: More is better

The failed logic here is that if one proactive maintenance task is good, then two is better, and 10 is 10X better… You get the idea. This is faulty thinking. The correct answer to the question of how much proactive maintenance is necessary is: “Just enough to achieve the desired result. Not too much, not too little.”

As you can see in the graph below, there are 3 costs associated with proactive maintenance:

  1. The cost of performing the proactive maintenance.
  2. The cost of repairs that must be made as a result of the chosen level of proactive maintenance.
  3. The cost of equipment downtime associated with both failures and the downtime required to perform intrusive preventive maintenance tasks.

We can see from this graph then that the correct amount of proactive maintenance to perform is that which yields the lowest possible total cost associated with these 3 factors.


On the left-hand side, we see a situation where we put little effort into proactive maintenance. This will produce a situation where we have a high amount of equipment downtime and repair costs.

On the right-hand side, we see a situation where we perform too much proactive maintenance. We have lower costs of repair, but higher costs of performing proactive maintenance and a higher level of equipment downtime associated with the preventive maintenance component. If we are in a highly risk adverse industry, such as an airline, we might choose this option.

In the middle, we see a combination of factors that yield the lowest possible total cost.

The Solution:

Judge each task individually on its own merit and make sure that it is in fact producing value. If it is an inspection task, I like to use the following rule of thumb:

If we perform an inspection 6 times in a row and do not find an abnormality that requires a repair, then something is wrong. Either we are performing the task too often or it does not need to be done at all.

We cannot afford to ask this question at a random interval, this questioning attitude needs to be part of our way of doing things; an integral part of our overall process. See Traps 3 and 4 for more details!

Trap 3: Who owns this?

Often, I will ask a maintenance group, “Who put all of those inspection tasks into your EAM software?” If we do not know and cannot identify an owner, we have a problem.

If we don't know who put them in the system, then it is likely that we don't know who would modify or delete them if we see an improvement opportunity. We have likely fallen into the trap where we are continually carrying out inspections for the simple reason that “the computer told us to do it.” Not a good enough reason.

Without this owner, we must make the claim that we got it “perfect” the first time around; something I suspect we are willing to claim.


The Solution:

We need to have a process owner(s) identified who is responsible for routine review of our proactive maintenance strategies, and who will lead the effort to continually refine and improve upon what we are doing. I say “lead the effort” as this is not a one-man task. It requires the knowledge and experience of the people actually carrying out these tasks to create the best possible strategy.

Trap 4: I’m glad that is done!

See number 3 above, but the trap here is that we see the creation of our proactive maintenance strategy as a one-time effort… Something that can be completed and forgotten.

The truth of the matter is that this is something that we must continually study, review, and improve. The only true indication of success is a decrease in maintenance-related downtime with an associated reduction in maintenance costs. That's it! No opinions, just results.

The Solution:

Set a review of the maintenance strategy as a regularly scheduled task, with an emphasis and greater effort being placed on those assets considered to be of a higher criticality. Is this a quarterly task on your top 3 assets? Is this an ongoing task for the reliability engineers? Have a plan and strive to execute it. Your results will tell you if you are doing enough.

Trap 5: The paper looks good!

If I had only gotten in on that 3-ring binder craze we all went through in the ‘80s and ‘90s, I would be a rich man right now. Admit it, we place a little bit too much value on the nice looking procedures with lots of details and pictures. Oh and the number of pages! Sometimes in north of 100 pages. They must be good!

This is something that I work on non-stop with maintenance planners. The page count, and the colors, and the level of detail do not mean a thing without results. We have to accept the fact that in many cases not a single person reads the procedures that we give them.

My firm belief is that it is time for a simplification of such things. Only just enough detail to produce the best possible execution of the task:

  • Safe
  • Efficient (least amount of manpower, materials, and downtime)
  • Quality (we have performed the task and performed it well – minimal rework)

The Solution:

We have to go and see for ourselves. Confidence in the paper itself is not good enough. Successful organizations monitor the execution of their proactive maintenance plans with the same vigor that they perform safety observations. Maintenance supervisors formally audit and observe tasks being performed, speak to the people performing them and get their input, and match the level of effort with the results.

It does not take much. Formally observing as few as 2 maintenance tasks per month and putting your observations back into your continuous improvement loop will produce fantastic results.

Trap 6: It's the Law

This one is a bit tricky but solvable. I often run into teams of people who are carrying out inspection and intrusive PM tasks with the justification being “we know it is of little value, but it is regulatory so we have no choice.”

In some cases this may be true, but more often than not there is some room for improvement – hard fought as it may be. With some notable exceptions, regulatory agencies do not often tell you specifically how to address a problem, rather they tell you that there is a potential problem and insist that you develop a strategy to properly address it.

chips1 Ponch and John

They do this in order to prevent what I have heard referred to as “malicious compliance.” Malicious compliance means that we perform a task with no intention of it providing value, but rather only because we feel that we are forced to comply. When a regulatory agency tells you specifically what to do, people will find the easiest way to comply with the requirement. We very well may still experience the terrible outcome that the regulatory agency was predicting, but we are covered because we complied with their requirements. Results were never in the equation.

The Solution:

I recommend that you choose your fights carefully on this one, but when you find yourself carrying out a proactive task that represents a big drain on your organization (cost, manpower, downtime, risk of human error leading to a failure, etc.), then I want you to politely research and ask the question “what is really required?”

Go back to the source and find out what is really required. Are we actually required to perform what is written on the work order, or are we simply carrying out an ill-conceived plan designed years and years ago.

When it comes to compliance issues, I have found that we really tend to overdo it, I would guess in anticipation of some future audit where we can easily prove that we have gone above and beyond.

Let me be clear, I am not promoting a mindset where we cut corners and act recklessly. I am asking that we calmly and rationally address the core issue at hand and develop the right strategy to address the stated risk.


Managing a proactive maintenance strategy is hard work. It takes ownership and commitment and a firm understanding that perfection is always out of reach for us. We have to care and nurture this program so that it is one that produces results. Results are the real value and something that we often fail to focus on.

Best of Luck and Mahalo

Tags: PdM, Uncategorized, Maintenance Strategy, PM, Preventive Maintenance, asset reliability, asset management, Excellence in Maintenance, failure elimination, Maintenance Function, Maintenance KPIs, Maintenance Procedures, Maintenance Processes, optimal asset reliability, PM Metric, Proactive Maintenance, Procedure Based Maintenance, reactive maintenance, Reliability Based Maintenance, Reliability Processes

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