Top-notch PM Pays Dividends

Taking steps toward a world-class preventive maintenance program can cut costs and downtime.

A world-class preventive maintenance program ensures that routine maintenance and component replacements are done at the appropriate time to prevent bigger problems and additional, unexpected costs.
A world-class preventive maintenance program ensures that routine maintenance and component replacements are done at the appropriate time to prevent bigger problems and additional, unexpected costs.

Financially healthy fleets typically have one thing in common: a world-class preventive maintenance (PM) program. The purpose of a PM program is to ensure routine maintenance and replacements are done at the appropriate time to prevent bigger problems and additional, unexpected costs from cropping up later.

In the most general terms, the cost of not following a PM program can result in loss of production because of excessive, unplanned equipment downtime, shortened machine and component life, and poor utilization of available manpower.

Not every fleet can boast a world-class program. One of the biggest contributors is the investment that goes with the territory. A proactive PM program requires a significant time and effort investment on the part of the equipment manager and the team of technicians. During hectic workdays, PM often falls by the wayside.

The other challenge is not having a full understanding of what a solid PM program entails. Many perceive preventive maintenance of mobile equipment as little more than the changing of oils, fluids and filters.

While these are all certainly important pieces to any complete PM puzzle, they represent just a tiny section of the big picture. A complete program may include such procedures as cleaning, inspections, testing, sampling, measurements, adjustments and the replacement of specific items to prevent faults from occurring.

Proactive vs. Reactive Approach

PM is a major factor that a fleet manager can completely control, and one that will significantly reduce the owning and operating costs of a machine if done properly.

The first step when looking to implement a new program, or take an existing program to the world-class level, is to understand the two basic types of maintenance strategies — proactive and reactive — though only one, proactive, can truly be called strategic.

Successful PM programs are built on a proactive approach, or identifying areas to address before they become major problems and cost issues. There’s an old saying: “Fix it before failure.”

Applied to a proactive program, it means setting planned inspection intervals based on a combination of manufacturer recommendations and the fleet manager’s intuition and experience, and then following through in a timely, efficient manner.

These intervals are often identified in terms of fuel consumption, hours of operation or mileage or a combination of factors. They include every task from changing engine oil to scheduling major replacements.

Conversely, a reactive approach is sitting back and waiting for issues or breakdowns before giving the machine the attention it deserves. This approach doesn’t allow for planning ahead or scheduling repairs when they are more convenient, and is the most expensive maintenance practice.

The following general example shows the cost difference between a proactive and reactive maintenance program:

Based on average wear characteristics, a haul truck’s brake pads have 1,000 miles of expected use. Using standard telematics tracking methods as part of the proactive PM program, the equipment manager knows when a vehicle hits the 1,000-mile mark and the brake pads should be replaced. Replacement can be done for a cost of $155.

If the brake pads are not replaced at this time, the rotor will likely be damaged, adding $230 to the original cost to simply replace the worn pads. This is a 48% increase in the cost of maintenance — not to mention the downtime costs due to the more thorough repairs required — that could have been avoided with simple attention to detail and a proactive program.
Over time, multiple instances such as this increase operating costs significantly.

Condition-based PM

Often referred to as predictive maintenance, condition-based maintenance is a proactive approach with the goal of removing repairs from the equation as often as possible. It aims to predict potential issues, and eliminate them at the root before they ever grow into a problem.

Once it’s decided to implement a new or improve an existing program, many asset managers are at a loss for where to begin. It doesn’t have to be a hassle or headache. Rather, simply following a few tips and approaching the process with thought and planning will ensure the desired end results are achieved.

Each operation will have its own variables dependent on each machine’s application, servicing facilities, service people and site management practices. Before developing a new program or improving an existing one, it will be beneficial to gather and review all information and documentation regarding the current PM practices.

In the event no official documentation exists, it must be created. The manager in charge should meet with the appropriate team members, including those who are actually performing PM tasks, to determine what is actually being accomplished vs. perceptions of what is being accomplished. Once this information has been organized, it can be used as the basis for a world-class program.

Particular PM Practices

In order to be effective, PM practices must be developed for each machine model and each machine application. Using one set standard across machine models and applications may result in over-servicing or under-servicing a machine, both of which may be detrimental to the equipment and its associated maintenance cost.

As a starting point, managers should look to the equipment manufacturer’s guidelines. Most major manufacturers have developed and documented inspection programs for various intervals on their machines. The inspections are based on average machine applications, and assume proper operation and the use of fluids and filters that meet or exceed manufacturer recommendations.

After looking at individual manufacturer guidelines, the next step is to look at hour intervals. These are generally established as eight hours per day, five days per week and 176 hours per month, and generally repeat every 2,000 hours. The manufacturer’s criteria must be considered as a starting point and modified to fit each application and circumstances in order to be effective.

The intervals that are selected and established for each individual operations must be designed to the company’s machines, specifications, policies and a host of other variables.

Dedicated Point Person

When the PM program has been clearly defined, the final step — aside from actual execution — is to establish the point person for implementation. Whether it’s an appointed technician, the shop foreman or the asset manager, tasking one person with implementation and follow-through ensures the program won’t fall off or become nothing more than a manual that ends up at the bottom of a desk drawer.

Technology has made it easier to ensure PM programs are successful. Telematics allows precise monitoring and delivers real-time data even when the machine and fleet manager are out in the field. It’s all in how much the fleet manager chooses to utilize the technology and delegate tasks.

The value of a strong, proactive PM program can’t be overstated. From excessive and unnecessary repairs, to added costs from lost productivity when a machine goes down, PM is one of the most important investments an asset manager can make in his or her fleet. With a small upfront time investment and ongoing commitment, any asset manager can implement a PM program, or take a current one from average to world class.

Stan Orr, CAE (Certified Association Executive), is president and chief staff officer (CSO) of Association of Equipment Management Professionals (, the premier organization serving those who manage and maintain heavy equipment.

To read the full story, click here to download the Winter 2012 issue of Sustainable Construction.