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by David Felin, Missouri Enterprise Project Manager

Lubing machinery can be a hot, thankless activity. It also happens to be an extremely important one.  Since most maintenance personnel with some degree of seniority don’t particularly want to do this job, partly because they feel their skills are better utilized elsewhere, this responsibility frequently falls to “The New Guy”. It’s a dirty job that anyone can do, right?  Not really.   

Here’s a likely scenario:  The New Guy is sent out on his PM (preventive maintenance) route armed with a grease gun and starts lubing motor bearings.  If a little is good, surely a lot has to be a lot better.  Being The New Guy he doesn’t necessarily know about that little plug he’s supposed to remove on the bottom side of the bearing housing when lubing it.  He also doesn’t know a grease gun can generate well over 2,000 psig of hydraulic pressure, as he happily pumps the motor housing full of grease.

This kind of situation happens all the time, where a job that seems so simple gets delegated to the low man on the totem pole.  Without proper training, it’s done poorly or flat out incorrectly, and ultimately causes problems instead of preventing them.  Machinery runs less efficiently than it could, or systems go down due to inadequate or improper maintenance.  To minimize such problems, there is a widely recognized solution called “Total Productive Maintenance” (TPM).

TPM was developed by Japanese industry, building on the original preventive maintenance (PM) concepts and methodology originally created in the USA in the 1950’s. TPM is a methodology applied to the maintenance of production equipment that strives to achieve perfect production.  Perfect production, as defined by TDM, requires:

  • No Breakdowns
  • No Slow Running or Minor Stops
  • No Product Defects
  • No Accidents

The overall premise of TPM is to maximize the operational efficiency of equipment to meet these objectives. There are eight so-called “pillars” in TPM, and two critical ones are “Autonomous Maintenance” and “Planned Maintenance”.

Autonomous Maintenance places the responsibility for basic machine tasks in the hands of machine operators.  This ensures their machines always receive necessary maintenance in a timely fashion, but just as importantly this leaves the dedicated maintenance staff additional time to complete more complex tasks.

Planned maintenance, on the other hand, is the scheduling of maintenance activities based on factors such as known or predicted failure rates. Frequently, this requires scheduled downtime for machinery. So, with routine maintenance being carried out by the machine operators, the full-time maintenance staff can concentrate on issues requiring a greater degree of technical ability, such as repair or replacement of machine parts.

All too often, when a company decides to implement TPM, it may not have the skilled maintenance personnel to do it effectively, and they have to rely on The New Guy to run their machines and implement their scheduled maintenance. It’s a common problem, so naturally, there’s another critical pillar of TPM to address it, “Training”. 

A newly hired machine operator may have no idea how the machine they operate functions, let alone how to maintain it. Operators need to develop the skills necessary to maintain their equipment on a regular basis, and they also need to learn how to identify emerging problems before they affect the operation of the machine.

Maintenance personnel, on the other hand, must learn more advanced techniques for proactive and preventative maintenance. This is an ongoing process, with time and experience continually adding to their skillsets.  As Geoffrey Chaucer once said, “The life so short, the craft so long to learn.”

Unfortunately, many maintenance people only acquire their knowledge through experience. The problem with learning only through experience is it takes years to acquire knowledge, and almost all of it is learned by having to deal with problems; that means they’re learning while your equipment is down or having problems.  That’s why Missouri Enterprise developed its Up and Running! program to provide the maintenance training new personnel needs to acquire the skills and abilities  to keep your plant in operation.  Experience over time will always be important, but it’s critical they get started with fundamental skills. 

Managers also play an important role in all this. To make TPM implementation as effective as it can be, managers need to be familiar with TPM principles, and they need skills to be effective at coaching and developing their employees.  Missouri Enterprise has seen great results in this area from its Training Within Industry program.

It’s important to point out that we’re talking about very critical, fundamental skills.  Every manufacturer relies on these basic maintenance skills, whether they have the needed skillsets in-house or not.  The most efficient and profitable operations recognize that if they invest time and effort into training and developing their maintenance staff, they’ll experience greater efficiency and less downtime.  The return on investment is easy to achieve, because quite simply, nothing is more important than keeping your machinery up and running efficiently.