Developing a reliability-focused culture helped a textile manufacturer’s maintenance organization spread improvement throughout the company.
By Jane Alexander, Deputy Editor
The rich history of a large textile manufactuer tells a story of ingenuity, openess to change and savvy decision-making over time. The company’s guiding philosophy has always been to exceed customer needs. Maintaining old-fashioned business ethics while integrating new strategies and practices has supported that philosophy along with the company’s ability to achieve its business goals.
This case study highlights not only the common mistakes made by maintenance organizations, but also major events that: 1) strengthened this manufacturer’s leadership position in its industry; and 2) reinforced the fact that its maintenance organization is a key contributor. Accomplishing all this required a total shift in mindset, as well as the vision and dedication of one TPM manager and his plant—referred to as “Plant A” for purposes of this article. They took the first big step in spreading reliability-focused improvement efforts throughout the company. Marshall Institute was asked to help guide the company on this transformational journey.
The old ‘peanut-butter’ thinking
In maintenance terms, according to Marshall Institute’s Greg Folts, the “peanut-butter manifesto” describes an ineffective approach that many companies follow: spreading resources too thinly (like peanut butter on bread) in an effort to be more efficient. “Plant A’s maintenance team,” Folts recalls, “clearly was operating in this mode. In the words of the facility’s TPM Manager, ‘Maintenance was trying to be everything to everyone and was viewed as a support service to production rather than a strategically focused value-driver.’”
Folts says that while production and maintenance were hitting performance marks and tracking metrics, many measures were being manipulated to meet corporate expectations. The plant’s maintenance approach at the time was of a firefighting and reactive nature, the result of which—in addition to affecting cost and productivity—was low confidence in the equipment and possibly even lower confidence in the maintenance department. Production staff had little equipment ownership and harbored a “renter” mentality. Overall company performance remained competitive, but maintenance and production lacked a continuous-improvement attitude and strategy.
Plant A’s TPM manager tried to correct the prevailing “if it ain’t broke…” attitude, yearning instead for something similar to what Tiger Woods exhibited in his early days. Folts remembers him describing how Woods had won Torrey Pines one year by 15 shots, but instead of talking about his remarkable victory in a post-win interview, “he was hung up on the five shots he left on the course.” This TPM manager and his plant also knew they were capable of doing more.
The new reliability mindset
Set on embracing a continuous-improvement philosophy, Plant A’s leadership recognized the need to look beyond its own sector to other industries on the journey to becoming the “best of the best.” Although the organization had engaged in prior improvement efforts, Folts says such initiatives had been viewed as “necessary evils.”
This time, the TPM manager built the case for investing in maintenance by challenging leadership questions, including “What is the role of equipment?” and “How imperative is maintenance to the organization?” In answering these questions, the importance of maintenance was highlighted and leadership agreed to invest.
The following three goals were scoped by leadership, and Plant A officially embarked on its pilot reliability-improvement journey:
- It focused the efforts by driving cultural change;
- It improved maintenance systems and practices; and
- It looked at predictive and condition monitoring by identifying equipment issues and coming up with solutions.
- To achieve these goals, the improvement team developed a strategy tree, ordering and prioritizing tactics and areas of focus, including:
- Implementing Total Productive Maintenance (TPM).
- Improving equipment installation, operability, maintainability and reliability.
- Embedding tools and practices, such as Basic Equipment Care; Root Cause Analysis (RCA); Preventive Maintenance Optimization; and Failure Mode and Effect Analysis (FMEA).
- Improving systems, with a focus on optimizing use of the site’s CMMS (Computerized Maintenance Management System) for Work Management; Planning and Scheduling; Preventive/Predictive Maintenance Program; and Storeroom operations.
- Providing/improving training and communications, with a focus on TPM; a Preventive Maintenance Leadership Team; a Reliability Performance Team; a Maintenance Focus Team; an Equipment Improvement Team; and overall skills enhancement.
Folts says the support of plant and production managers was key to the success of these improvement efforts. Basic Equipment Care and shop-floor activities were crucial in changing attitudes. Maintenance and operations seemed more integrated with joint equipment ownership and shared metrics. To ensure the continued value-driven plant perspective of maintenance, a process created by these managers was put in place to align the maintenance strategy to business objectives.
Maintenance practices and metrics were benchmarked against other manufacturers and the maintenance and reliability center at a local university to gain a better understanding of their own department’s performance. This aligned with the company’s mission to be the “best of the best” across all industries, not just its own.
Plant A also chose to pursue the prestigious NAME (North American Maintenance Excellence) Award, which honors high-performing maintenance departments. (Aera Energy, another Marshall Institute client, won this award in 2004.) Folts says the company has made great strides since adopting its reliability-focused approach. Shop-floor personnel and leadership have all embraced the reliability model and strategy. The changes in attitude around the company can be seen through the following:
- Leadership has come to realize the important role maintenance and reliability plays in the organization.
- Operators and technicians have learned the value of a proactive, planned environment.
- The company has moved to a value-driven, cost-controlled outlook, rather than focusing solely on cutting costs.
- This manufacturer’s successful reliability journey was not without challenges (see sidebar), but according to Folts, it never “settled.”
Continuing on a path to excellence, the company is looking at its future goals and aspirations. Among other things, Folts says, it’s working to standardize job practices and organizational structures across all facilities.
“They have big plans for continued improvement of their CMMS through a major planning and task overhaul to the system,” he says. “For greater accountability, transparency and cost tracking, they want to build in budgeting and variance reporting processes for maintenance.”
Folts characterizes the leadership teams and TPM group as having “a real passion and love for what they do” and holding their plants and people accountable. “The VP of manufacturing,” he says, “is very engaged and requires all facilities to report out quarterly on their focus team efforts. They are required to provide status reports on strategy improvements and there’s a ‘state of the union’ twice a year by executive leadership.” This level of focus and accountability, he notes, has permeated the plants. As one plant manager told the Marshall team, “We have the attitude of ‘do your best.’ There is a great deal of loyalty to the company. We all want to support it and pursue excellence every day.”
Folts says that instead of accepting their successes and notoriety in the market, this company only wants to get better.
“If you ask team members about what they have accomplished,.” he explains, “they’ll spend more time talking about what they want to achieve and improve. They want to continue to build critical mass for the revolution. The continuous-improvement mindset has driven them to never settle. They know a reliability focus is key to the performance, efficiency and value of maintenance and, ultimately, the entire company.” MT
Greg Folts is President of Marshall Institute and Tom Furnival is Director of Training. E-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com. Marshall Institute is a Raleigh, NC-based asset-management company providing maintenance and reliability consulting and training services to industry.
Confronting Challenges on the Path to Reliability
According to Marshall Institute’s Tom Furnival, the textile manufacturer described in the accompanying case study had its share of roadblocks on its journey to reliability. “The biggest goal,” he points out, “became the biggest challenge. Improving maintenance’s contribution to the overall organization was hard.”
Maintenance needed to be viewed as a business partner. Team members realized that the more they aligned strategically, the more valued and professional they became in their colleagues’ eyes. “Thus,” Furnival says, “they constantly challenged others to view maintenance not just from a cost standpoint, but from its potential impact on capital. Communication played a critical role in doing this.”
Another challenge, according to Furnival, involved gaining the needed resources for all facilities. These had to be requested by various leadership teams, which were led by the plant managers. Consequently, ownership of the process by the plant managers was critical.
As to what could have been done differently, Furnival says communication with the shop floor about the objectives and reasoning for embarking on reliability improvement could have been handled better. “Part of the approach,” he notes, “put a lot of confidence in local resources to act as communication conduits. As was later discovered, however, many messages weren’t passed on.”
Finally, Furnival says that the company also believes it could have narrowed its initial implementation focus to a few facilities and not stretched resources as much as it did.