Application of Lean as Applied to Equipment Reliability

Dec. 29, 2008
Tools such as 5S, quick changeover, standard work, and visual management can improve and streamline equipment maintenance.

Recently, I was touring a site of one of the major logistics companies in the world. During the tour, I was amazed at the emphasis placed on ensuring that the commitment to the customer was met. At every step of the process, there were a series of contingency plans to make sure that the objectives were accomplished and customers were satisfied. As impressed as I was regarding the dedication to the customer, I could not help but wonder whether the organization had fully utilized lean concepts as they apply to equipment reliability.

One of the fundamentals of lean is using the 8-step problem-solving process or some other version of Plan-Do-Check-Act to find the root cause and implement a solution. As our guide explained that having idle equipment is necessary for "just-in-case" situations, I mentally questioned whether the redundant equipment was an interim solution or that the problem-solving process was not as robust as it should be. Few organizations have developed the discipline to properly analyze and clarify problems, succumbing to the firefight mentality of ready, fire, aim. Furthermore, adherence to the "5 why" methodology is absent from most company cultures and results in fixing symptoms and applying "band-aids" instead of taking permanent corrective action. The final weak link is the failure to implement a standard work and, subsequent, audit system to ensure compliance. Without proper analysis and permanent countermeasures to address the true root cause of equipment reliability issues, organizations have little choice other than to have redundant equipment or excess capacity for that "just-in-case" breakdown.

The 8-step problem-solving process is a powerful lean concept that must start from the top. Leaders must encourage that the process is utilized and foster an environment that promotes data-based analysis.

Another lean concept that can dramatically improve equipment reliability is the equipment design element. Standardization is vital to accelerating breakdown analysis and repair. It also means that spare part inventories can be dramatically reduced and preventative maintenance procedures can be more easily maintained.

Equipment design also is key to minimizing the time to pull scheduled maintenance on equipment. Many organizations factor in that some quantity of equipment will be out-of-service for preventative maintenance rather than focus on design aspects that could minimize scheduled maintenance downtime and subsequently reduce overall capital expenditures. During a recent tour of a distribution center, I was amazed at the lack of standardization of equipment and can only guess at the resulting inefficiencies that it produces.

Organizations that adopt lean concepts are often the most frugal with capital spending. My first supervisor explained to me many years ago that a piece of equipment should run at its peak performance the day before it will be replaced by better technology. The point he was trying to make was obviously centered on proper utilization of lean concepts such as total productive maintenance in order to maximize both equipment longevity as well as performance resulting in less capital expenditure and higher productivity. Shared ownership in equipment maintenance between the user and the supporting maintenance department is essential to success in this effort.

Another opportunity that is often overlooked is utilizing lean tools to improve equipment reliability. Tools such as 5S, quick changeover, standard work, and visual management can improve and streamline equipment maintenance. For example, few organizations utilize quick changeover techniques to minimize preventive maintenance. These tools that have proven so successful in eliminating waste in manufacturing processes will be greatly beneficial in improve equipment uptime in any industry.

Almost every organization in any industry faces tough competitive forces that drive the need for the implementation of lean concepts. Many organizations have struggled with implementing lean due to the lack of stability in their processes. A major contributor to this instability is often the lack of adequate equipment reliability. Without high levels of reliability, organizations are forced to use countermeasures that are contrary to lean in order to achieve the performance that the customer demands. Subsequently, these organizations face hard times when their competition successfully meets customer expectations in a manner that reduces waste as opposed to adding waste such as redundant equipment. Lean methodologies are proven to improve competitive viability in any industry, and equipment reliability is essential to a successful lean transformation.

Chuck Parke brings 22 years of real-world experience to the University of Tennessee Center for Executive Education. During his career, Parke successfully led large organizations in various industries and effectively utilized the concepts of lean enterprise, most recently as division vice president for Whirlpool Corp. Parke teaches principles of leadership and the implementation of lean methodologies in UT's degree and non-degree programs and is lead faculty in UT's non-degree course Establishing Reliability Excellence for Lean Implementation.

For over 50 years, University of Tennessee (UT) faculty have played a major role in the supply chain/logistics arena -- conducting innovative research, publishing leading-edge findings, writing industry-standard textbooks, and creating benchmarks for successful corporate supply chain management. 2009 U.S. News and World Report ranked the University of Tennessee College of Business Administration a Top-25 school among top-tier public universities, up 12 positions from last year. The college's supply chain management/logistics program now ranks #5 among top-tier public universities. Certification is available.

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