What is Lean Maintenance? The Proactive Way to Maintain Systems and Machinery

“Lean” is a term being used quite a bit these days—it covers lean manufacturing, lean enterprises, and more. Central to running a business as “lean”—or on as few resources—as possible is to focus on lean maintenance.

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What is lean maintenance?

Lean maintenance is a proactive maintenance philosophy and strategy that aims to support reliability in the most efficient way possible (“lean” meaning it’s lean in terms of cost).

It’s founded on the concept of Total Productive Maintenance (TPM), which is an initiative for getting everyone involved in maintenance tasks and management. It considers how each person at every level of an organization can support maintenance and reliability.

Note: TPM is a complex topic all its own. Implementing it is a process best taken step by step by team members.

The main goal of lean maintenance is to keep costs to a minimum, while supporting high uptime and efficiency. Its end result is more profitable and sustainable operations.

Proactive vs. reactive maintenance

Lean maintenance is ultimately a proactive maintenance strategy, meaning it aims to take care of problems before they develop, rather than after a breakdown occurs. The advantages of proactive maintenance include:

1. Less downtime

Major equipment failures take longer to resolve than minor upkeep tasks, and that means more downtime. By preventing major faults and breakdowns through proactive maintenance, you maximize uptime and allow your machines to produce at full capacity.

2. More profitable production

As your machines keep moving at full capacity, you’re better able to keep to production timelines. Doing so allows you to fulfill orders and maximize revenue.

3. Safer work environments

Equipment failures not only cause expensive downtime, but they also pose a safety risk to your personnel. Operators working on well-maintained equipment have less chance of suffering injury than those working on something that could unexpectedly break down.

5 lean tools used by manufacturers

Lean maintenance makes use of several tools, processes, and strategies. Some of these are fundamental to lean maintenance, whereas others play more of a supporting role. The most common tools used include the following.

1. 5-S process

Central to lean maintenance and TPM is the 5-S process. This process is intended for regular personnel, and it represents steps the average worker can follow in order to support maintenance processes.

5-S stands for:

  • Sort – Determine which materials to keep on hand and which to discard.
  • Straighten – Organize everything to minimize wasted time.
  • Shine – Keep equipment, tools, and work areas clean.
  • Standardize – Plan when and how the first three S’s will be performed.
  • Sustain – Perform audits, support new practices, and sustain the previous 4 S’s long-term.

Tip: Like many components of lean maintenance, 5-S is cyclical. Once you have everything in place, you perform audits and keep improving the way you practice each part.

2. Mistake-proofing

In lean maintenance, mistake-proofing refers to making plans and implementing procedures to keep mistakes to a minimum. Mistake-proofing might include:

  • Making sure preventive maintenance procedures are well defined
  • Creating detailed job plans
  • Color-coding lubricants and cleaning supplies
  • Labeling all equipment
  • Creating complete change management processes

The better detailed and user-friendly your plans, procedures, and processes are, the less likely you’ll waste resources due to human error.

3. Kaizen events

Kaizen events are short-term projects put on by management in order to help a team improve in some way, such as in implementing 5-S principles. Typically, these events don’t last longer than a week, and they’re led by a facilitator.

Tip: Make sure your facilitator has experience with the principles of lean maintenance. If you’re using a third party vendor to run kaizen events, check their track record with past clients.

The end goal of a kaizen event is to support continuous improvement. While each event may be treated like a one-off, they should be conducted regularly in different areas of your company. That way, your team members get multiple opportunities to practice 5-S principles and other aspects of lean maintenance with the benefit of ongoing feedback.

4. Modern CMMS

Lean maintenance relies on self-directed teams performing tasks automatically, and that requires routine tasks to be scheduled as efficiently as possible. Computerized Maintenance Management Systems (CMMS) can assist with lean maintenance by streamlining maintenance planning and scheduling processes, work order management, and other components.

5. Maintenance analysis

Continuous analysis of your maintenance processes is key to making sure they are as lean as possible. Areas of your maintenance analysis might include:

Tip: Implementing a CMMS can help with many of these areas of maintenance analysis by making key information more accessible.

Setting up a lean maintenance workflow

The process of implementing lean maintenance doesn’t happen all at once. It takes time, and you need a number of elements in play to make it work. The following steps will help you get your lean maintenance process set up.

1. Form a maintenance team

You’ll want to start by forming a maintenance team. You’ll need team members who have experience working on the specific assets you’ll be managing since they’ll have a strong sense of what has gone wrong with each. The team might include maintenance technicians, but it could just as easily be composed of machine operators.

2. Choose a leader

The next step is to choose someone to lead out on planning and scheduling maintenance tasks. This person should have a general knowledge of how each machine should be managed, but they also need strong leadership and organizational skills as well.

Tip: A maintenance manager or supervisor would be excellent for this role.

3. Pick systems to manage

Again, lean maintenance doesn’t happen all at once, and it’s often best to start with just one system. Choose one that needs the most help—probably the one that contributes most to maintenance costs or production downtime—and start there. As you learn from implementing lean maintenance practices with that system, you’ll be able to expand to other systems more easily.

Ideally, you’d eventually extend to all systems in your facility, taking maintenance costs down throughout your organization.

4. Schedule lean maintenance

Once you have a team, a leader, and a system in place, start determining what tasks need to be done and schedule the best time to complete each.

Within a preventive maintenance strategy, those tasks will be scheduled on a recurring time-centered basis. If you have condition monitoring instrumentation in place in the system, maintenance scheduling might be based more on when PdM alerts are triggered by your CMMS.

Tip: Just as important as when maintenance is scheduled is who it’s assigned to. Make sure you have the right person for each task.

5. Work in cycles

Lean maintenance involves recurring tasks, and that means your team could face spikes in workloads at regular intervals if you’re not careful. To keep workloads at consistently manageable levels, work in cycles, with your team cycling through different systems to make sure they get to all of them.

This is especially important if you have a lot of machinery or numerous systems to maintain.

6. Repeat

Since lean maintenance is proactive, it needs to be repeated regularly in order to make sure each piece of equipment stays in top working condition.

As you repeat each cycle of your lean maintenance procedures, conduct audits to make sure it’s working as efficiently as possible. If you see areas where time or resources are being wasted, make changes to help your team operate more efficiently.

UpKeep CMMS helps spearhead lean maintenance

As mentioned, a modern CMMS—such as UpKeep—can help make lean maintenance much easier to implement. Here are a few ways UpKeep can do just that.

Calendar-based preventive maintenance

Since lean maintenance relies on repeated tasks, a CMMS that provides calendar-based PM scheduling is vital to supporting your efforts. You can quickly set tasks to recurring based on their completion date or on a strict time frame, all from a computer or tablet.

It’s also possible to schedule maintenance based on equipment runtime—such as mileage, machine cycles, and so forth—rather than set dates, allowing you to make PMs more time-based.

Maintenance checklists

Including maintenance checklists with each work order helps you mistake-proof your maintenance tasks. Whenever one of your team members receives a work order, they’ll get a detailed list of everything they need to do in order to mark it complete.

Run reports for PM tasks

Your CMMS will allow you to view completed tasks -- filter tasks by technician, team, location, asset, and more. This allows you to create custom reports that assist with lean maintenance evaluation and future planning.

Key Takeaways

Lean maintenance is a comprehensive strategy that strives to make maintenance tasks as efficient as possible, all while keeping assets in top condition. It incorporates numerous elements, and therefore requires some time and preparation to implement, but the end result is reduced maintenance costs and improved equipment reliability.

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