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Why Incomplete “Simple” Maintenance Tasks Hurt The Most

It frustrates planners and maintainers alike, affects maintenance KPIs and strategy compliance, and can be a costly error where contract or specialised labour is involved… But then why do seemingly simple maintenance tasks fail to be completed as ‘scheduled’?

By Colin Sheldon

Maintenance tasks often fail to be executed due to a lack of allocated time, tools and/or resources.

Such shortfalls happen for many reasons but one Bluefield sees repeatedly is inadequate groundwork and preparation to allow for the maintenance task to be easily completed.

A specific example Bluefield has seen involves gearing audits for heavy machinery. At face value, the maintenance task may only have an allocated timeframe of one hour which should be easily achieved during a 12-hour maintenance day.

However, there is a great deal of preparation required to enable the inspector (typically a specialist contractor on a hefty charge-out fee) to complete the work: the removal of guards and covers to access the area, cleaning of gears to make them visible, and the rotation of gears to expose all teeth/high load areas of interest.

Gear rotation requires power, which is often isolated during maintenance days and needs appropriately trained and authorised personnel to operate the equipment to perform the gear movement. Simultaneously, multiple other jobs and tasks interact or conflict with auditing the gears.

Another example of inadequate preparation involves the inspection of a machine subsystem that was never guaranteed to be in operation when the work was scheduled. Better scheduling would involve the planner checking with stakeholders to best determine what time the work should be scheduled. This would ensure the subsystem was in operation for the components to be inspected.

Large shutdown periods and capital projects are usually planned extensively with detailed sequential tasks scheduled, using a dedicated tool like Gantt Chart. It is then reviewed by a team of content experts and seasoned campaigners who can identify conflicts and missing details. Even in this case, there can still be conflicting activities and task interruptions.

To deal with any shortfalls, regular scheduled maintenance is usually left to the execution team even on maintenance down days with large workforces and an extensive list of tasks to be completed. It is no wonder that when an irregular inspection (6 or 12 monthly interval) comes around, it is often given lower priority compared to the regular well-practiced tasks required to keep the machine running.

Equipment failure is the inevitable result when these poorly planned and scheduled maintenance strategy tasks are consistently omitted or left incomplete without further action taken. Such ‘indirect causes’ are a major part of Bluefield’s RCA Process as described in Part Four of the ‘Simplifying Root Cause Analysis’ series.

So, what can be done to assist in the planning of tasks with the appropriate preparative steps? Bluefield wrote about the importance of maintenance planning feedback, which is an integral part of the continuous improvement of the work management process. The suggestions from this article are simple yet powerful tools to open those two-way communication channels. They are particularly beneficial for those who are new to the industry or new to the planning role, and may not have the technical knowledge or expertise around the specific equipment or maintenance practices yet.

In the world of regular scheduled maintenance, the dynamic environment offers some degree of “on the job” learning and rescheduling of work based on the feedback of any shortfalls encountered.

Bluefield has seen examples where this feedback was made known to the responsible planner, who is then able to act and improve the preparatory steps. It is these basic and fundamental actions that make for an effective closed-looped system.

Every job presents its own unique challenges and it is unrealistic to think that planners have the crystal ball to foresee them all.

Through open communication, closing the feedback loop, and acting on that feedback, sites can refine and improve maintenance tasks on a continual basis.

When maintainers can perform the important work the asset management plan intended, it reflects not only a successful but effective and collaborative team.

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