Making the Switch from a Maintenance Mindset to a Reliability Mindset

For many years, plants have treated maintenance budgets as a cost generating line item, and as we all know when profits need to be maximized the easiest and quickest solution is to decrease spending rather looking to increase revenue. When we view something as solely a cost, our impulse is to keep it small or shrink it. This impulse can prove even costlier in the long run.

A company with average equipment reliability is spending thousands (or more) on preventable repairs and replacements—and saving a million dollars on repairs has the same effect on the bottom line as gaining a new million-dollar contract.  If companies saw machine reliability as the huge untapped source of profit that it is, they’d be more willing to invest in it.  So how do you go about treating maintenance as a profit generator instead of an expense?

Be proactive.


Almost 70% of the loss of machine life is a result of surface degradation, or simply put, wear. And 82% of machine wear is induced by particles that enter the system as the system breathes during normal operation.

Every time you react to a problem that’s already happening—whether it’s a stopped machine or a troubling pattern in vibration analysis— you’re too late to maximize your profits. Research has shown that most preventable breakdowns, like bearing failures, are caused by poor lubrication quality brought about by contaminated oil.

And on average, it costs 10 times as much to remove contamination from a system than it does to exclude that contamination in the first place. Your maintenance plan should not be based on what’s wrong with any given machine at a given time, but on the cleanliness level of your oil. For each application, you need a maximum target level of contamination for hard and soft particles and moisture, and a plan for oil handling and filtration that will get and keep them there.  For more on how to do this, click here.

Do the research.

If your company is average or below in terms of reliability, what exactly would it take to get you to “excellent”? One way to find out is to research which companies in your field have achieved excellence.  Then, if possible, conduct a plant tour or informational interview to see how they got there. This will give you a sense of how big a gap you need to overcome. You should also ask detailed questions to determine which improvements are most crucial to make first—for instance, adding desiccant breathers to machines in a humid area may give more dramatic results than buying equipment to conduct demulsibility tests on-site.

Do the math.

It’s common for maintenance professionals to have trouble getting approval from management for proposed improvements. To persuade other business leaders that extra spending on maintenance will pay off, you need to attach a dollar value to the potential savings. To do this, gather data on typical contamination levels in your oil and average yearly cost of repairs. What percentage of your annual profits or PRV are you spending? How does this compare with companies that have implemented precision maintenance programs? If possible, schedule a consultation with a lubrication expert to get an even more accurate estimate of how much you could save. Al Poling wrote two good articles on the true cost of unreliability on sales and maintenance. Click here to read his articles.

Standardize your steps.

By consulting with experts and performing research, you can find out the best way to perform any procedure in your company—from handling new oil to cleaning up the lube room. The next step is to make sure those tasks are always done a consistently by developing formalized policies. Documentation should include step-by-step instructions for each task, as well as how often it should be done, who should do it, and what information they should record for any testing or equipment checks. Provide these detailed instructions to all staff via memo or email, and make sure it is displayed prominently so they can consult it when needed.

Engage with employees.

The success or failure of implementing any program is getting buy-in from those participating in the program and this is no different for the implementation of a reliability program. People aren’t machines so don’t treat them like it. Just as you need to be proactive with regard to your machines health, don’t wait for signs that something is wrong to look into how members of your team are performing. Proactive management means checking in with workers frequently to make sure they’re on board with any changes and maintaining a high standard of compliance for existing procedures. Meet with workers one-on-one and ask them to show and explain key tasks to you. If a worker performs a step wrong or doesn’t understand the rationale behind it, this is an opportunity to help them. You can also boost performance by sending employees to lubrication training so they will grasp the principles behind the practices. To get buy-in, solicit feedback often on how things are going. And make a concrete plan for how and when you will do this—as with other aspects of maintenance, it needs to be done regularly.

You invest a lot in your machines. Maintaining the oil that keeps them running is often overlooked due to a perceived lack of importance—but, it’s perhaps the greatest opportunity to protect your investment and maximize profits.  When you see it that way, practicing proactive maintenance can become one of the most vital items to a plant’s operation.

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