Conference Report: Maintenance Is Not a Necessary Evil

March 9, 2010

By Marc Laplante, Solution Specialist, Meridium, Inc.

Editor's Note: The following is special to, courtesy of Mr. Laplante.

The theme of the conference, held February 22-24 in Philadelphia, was Operational Excellence. This was an intimate gathering of a very important group of professionals who are the substrate of Operational Excellence—Lean Six Sigma experts and practitioners. 

The papers and keynotes presented methods on driving down costs, improving efficiencies, ensuring sustainability, augmenting quality, and deploying useful tactics on executing projects and strategies.  The first module of the conference was called Reducing Operational Costs While Improving Efficiency.  In this module, Meridium hosted a panel discussion on achieving sustainable improvement. The panel included Kim Palladino, Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt from GlaxoSmithKline, Mr. Ed Kaercher, Facility and Project Management from PPD Vaccines and Biologics, and Mr. Paul Casto, Vice President and SME on Work Process Optimization from Meridium.

As panel moderator, I framed the discussion around “doing the right things and doing them right.” I noted that every delegate arrived at the conference hotel because of the stable running machines—cars, trains, planes—which had transported them there. I also pointed out that the comfortable environment they were sitting in—lighting, temperature, and hot coffee—was evidence of stable running machinery and that in fact, the critical importance of machinery reliability is often masked until the state of stable operation is interrupted.

The best performing companies recognize the importance of equipment reliability in their manufacturing processes and facilities. Reliability engineers are being brought into these organizations to identify and eliminate the defects leading to major failure incidents which add so much unnecessary cost to the business.

The panel also submitted to the delegates that maintenance is no longer a necessary evil. In fact, maintenance has grown into an essential part of Operational Excellence. Top performing companies question traditional maintenance practices and by doing so uncover a wealth of opportunities to release cash to the bottom line. Maintenance practitioners are no longer “firefighters”, but diagnosticians who are motivated by the stable running state of a machine. They are no longer motivated by the frenzied drive to fixing a machine that has unexpectedly halted production. Operators are also being brought in to participate in maintenance and reliability. Operators contribute to the state of stable running machinery because they have the “look, listen, and feel” perspective of the equipment. If something sounds or even smells different, you can bet an engaged operator is going to take notice. 

The panel discussion revealed that there is a need for Pharmaceutical and Biotech manufacturers to add maintenance and reliability as a part of their schema for Operational Excellence. Without measureable asset performance, asset availability, and asset utilization, a state of predictable production cannot be reached. When the assets are not operating within a designed level of reliability (stable running equipment), how can Operational Excellence even be discussed? Lean Six Sigma experts and practitioners possess a perfect set of skills and training for leveraging this performance data into actionable intelligence. Mr. Casto stated that Lean Six Sigma is not a good fit for supporting reliability improvements, it is a perfect fit. Delegates expressed interest and appreciation for this topic during and after the panel discussion. 

For more information on the conference, please contact the author at [email protected].