Gary Weber recites an enviable metric: 1%. That's the percentage of production time lost to unplanned equipment breakdowns at Laminations' Appleton, Wis., manufacturing plant, estimates the company's vice president of manufacturing. Laminations manufactures edge protectors made from recycled paperboard, used as protective packaging for shipping.

The 1% is a good metric, but it didn't tell the entire maintenance story at Appleton in early 2011. "When we dug deep, we found that at times operators were continuing to operate equipment at less-than-optimum conditions," with needed maintenance being deferred or delayed, Weber said. When those situations occurred, productivity would dip and waste would increase.

While the issue may not have qualified as a maintenance nightmare, it presented a maintenance improvement opportunity. So, too, did a 5S program (workplace practices centered on cleanliness) that had not achieved hoped-for gains.

But that was then. To resolve the dual issues, Laminations in July 2011 introduced TPM, or Total Productive Maintenance into its 100,000-square-foot Appleton plant. Early signs show promising returns.

Kaizen Event Launches TPM

TPM is a comprehensive program to maximize equipment reliability and availability in which -- among other components -- production operators are trained to perform routine maintenance tasks on a regular basis, while technicians handle more specialized tasks. It is tightly aligned with lean manufacturing.

"One of the things we needed in this facility to make things stick was some structure," Weber explains. "TPM gives you that structure."

In July Laminations held its first kaizen event to implement TPM on one of three production lines in the facility. Weber specifically chose the middle line for the initial effort. "The reasoning was it would be visible to the other people in the plant. They could see what was going on and be curious," Weber says. "We wanted to see if we could get momentum going."

Training preceded the kaizen event, as did several months of preparation. "We didn't spring it on them all at once," explains Doug Bengson, continuous improvement guide at consulting firm Headwaters Excellence Partners. Headwaters assisted Laminations in its first kaizen effort. During the preparation, team members discussed issues surrounding maintenance, at the same time "taking pains not to point fingers," Bengson says.