Staying in touch

As a Maintenance Manager its sometimes easy to get caught up in meetings and other time-consuming activities to the point that you forget that the real reason for your existence in the plant is to keep it running reliably. It takes effort to keep you finger on the pulse of what’s happening in your department and in the plant in general.

After I retired from the pulp and paper industry and set up our consulting business, I was asked by a large pulp manufacturer to audit the maintenance practices in use in their mill. At the time they were very short of maintenance supervisors, so to allow one of them to take some time off, I offered to extend the time for the audit so that I could, at the same time, act as a relief supervisor.

In the short time I was there I realized that I discovered more about their operation and the challenges faced by the Maintenance people from my supervisory role than I did from the structured audit process. It was a lesson I wished that I had learned when I was a maintenance manager.

In the article “Who makes a good maintenance manager?” I suggest that “If the opportunity exists, an excellent start for a new maintenance manager, whether he or she is promoted or hired from outside, is to spend a week as a relief supervisor in each area of the plant. It is the best way to assess the tradespeople and the systems within which they are required to work”. I know that if I had taken that advice as a new maintenance manager I would quickly have been in a much better position to know where the best opportunities for improving maintenance service lay.

The same principle can be applied at all management levels. For example, if a maintenance supervisor has a lubrication mechanic on his or her crew, he should make a point of accompanying him on his rounds to understand any issues with safe equipment access, the ability to keep lubricants clean and all the other details that aren’t readily visible unless you look. Similarly, activities such as taking a daily schedule and walking around the jobs listed to see if they are actually being done, and if so, inquiring about the availability of parts, tools, equipment and technical information will give you, as a manager, the ability to recognize any excellent planning work that is being done. Or try following a PM inspection route to see if any equipment problems are being overlooked. For example, in one mill where the millwrights, vibration analysts, oilers and operators all had documented inspection routes, I noticed a key process pump where the packing was fully taken up and was leaking a large quantity of water and pulp. No-one had entered a work order to repack, although the pump had been checked off on all the inspection forms. Just because systems are in place it does not mean that they are working effectively.

Without consciously looking for those valuable activities that prevent problems, it is easy to just focus on the problems and reward only the fire-fighters.

Another valuable exercise is to take a very bright spotlight and wander around the plant, looking at places where the sun doesn’t shine. Look up through the pipe racks and cable trays and check the condition of the sprinklers, the pipe hangers, the structural steel and the roof decks and you may be surprised at what you see. You may find that a formalized “Level of preservation” infrastructure audit is worthwhile.

Set time aside to do regular housekeeping/safety tours and focus on the places that are most important to your own Maintenance people, like shops, storerooms, tool cribs, service manual libraries and lubrication storage areas. Take photos of both the good and bad things you find and use what you see to reinforce the right behaviour. Like the oil barrel in the picture.

All oil drums stored in operating areas were so clean that you could eat your lunch off them.



Putting aside time to focus on what’s happening “at sea level” will put you in a much better position to encourage the kind of behaviour that is needed for long-term success.


Don Armstrong

Veleda Sevices Ltd