“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me” is a phrase I remember from my childhood that may not be true. One need to look no further than today’s highly charged political environment to see that words can matter. In asset performance management (APM) this is also true. At the recent International Maintenance Conference (IMC) one of the most common laments from both end users and vendors in the APM space was that too often, the reliability and maintenance space is still viewed as a cost center. Leaders and executives in most companies just did not see maintenance and reliability staff as valuable contributors to the growth and future of their organizations. One of the causes of this perception may be the result of the way we have referred to the tasks we perform and the names of the tools we use.
One of the Highest Value Areas of APM is Reliability-Centered Maintenance
When talking about ways to achieve operational excellence when it comes to using physical assets in a business reliability always comes to the forefront of the discussion. Whether talking Overall Equipment Effectiveness ) or reliabilities impact on safety, or energy efficiency; the discussion always comes down to the fact poorly maintained and unreliable assets are the fastest path to problems. The entire evolution of maintenance; moving from reactive, preventive, predictive, condition-based, and ultimately reliability-centered maintenance is in an effort to improve reliability and hence availability. Given that reliability is such as desirable state, why then isn’t it more widely supported and respected by management?
Is Maintenance the Wrong Term?
While we tend to believe that reactive maintenance is old-fashioned and preventative and predictive maintenance are modern inventions, it is not entirely true. Preventative lubrication has been around for centuries; ever since man started lubricating the wheels on their ox carts with tallow. Likewise, predictive maintenance has been around nearly as long with people using their sense of touch to gauge heat and vibration on bearings of all kinds. Admittedly, these measures were crude but they were predictive in nature. These things were done in the name of maintenance. But just what is maintenance? According to Merriam-Webster the definition is: Maintain: to keep in an existing state (as of repair, efficiency, or validity): preserve from failure or decline <maintain machinery>
Hence maintenance is simply maintaining the status quo. That clearly does not create a vision of a powerful profit enhancing activity or something of great value. Maintenance implies no change. So how can we expect management to embrace maintenance as a powerful ally in the pursuit of operational excellence when it’s very meaning is to preserve things as they are?
Centered or Based – Which Term is Better?
The third element of RCM is “centered.” If maintenance is maintaining the status quo then what is the modified reliability-centered really implying? Again, according to the dictionary centered is: Centered: mainly concerned about or involved with something specified.
So, reliability-centered means that we are about using the tools associated with reliability to maintain the status quo. Not exactly an inspiring image. Perhaps a better term would be reliability-based. The definition of based is: Base(d): the fundamental part of something: the starting point or line for an action or undertaking.
This choice of words implies that reliability is only the starting point, not the central theme.
Reliability-based Operational Excellence or Operational Risk Management
I argue the better terminology would be to drop the term maintenance and opt for either Operational Excellence, or if that is to abstract for your business then Operational Risk Management. Either term indicates that we are striving to improve, be different and better. It implies contribution to the business instead of being a cost center that must be minimized. While this debate may seem trivial I argue it is not. Words do impact perception. Constantly tell someone they are immaterial and worthless, and you probably create an individual that believes they cannot achieve greater things.
By labeling our technicians and mechanics as maintenance people we are setting the stage that their reason for being is to maintain things as they are – not to strive for continuous improvement. It may be a small thing, but words and names do matter. By referring to our activity in a more positive sense we can start the process of elevating what we do from being a “cost of doing business,” to an activity associated with contributing to the performance and growth of the business.
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