Maintenance has evolved a lot in the last 50 years. The tools, technology, processes, and people who make up this industry have also changed. As a profession, maintenance is made up of a diverse group of people that don’t just fix things, but who plan, purchase, design, analyze, and optimize. This includes technicians and maintenance managers, but also engineers, planners, and even IT personnel. In world-class companies, maintenance is an integral part of business operations contributing positively to an organization’s overall growth and profitability. But it wasn’t always this way.
In this article, we walk through the evolution of maintenance from a do-as-needed profession to a critical role in every facility, plant, and organization.
The journey to modern maintenance
In the journal of Hazardous Materials, N.S. Arunraj and J Maiti documented how maintenance has changed from World War II to the present day. In the article, it was clear that each generation saw an increase in production demands and needed their equipment to be reliable. The increased production made companies more profitable, and to ensure they continued to bring in revenue, they needed to make sure their equipment was reliable. This focus on reliability led to improvements in their maintenance strategy.
As part of this improvement, the techniques for performing maintenance have significantly changed. In the early days of maintenance, work was mostly reactive—teams fixed breakdowns only when they occurred. In the decades since, maintenance has embraced a proactive approach with the goal of preventing unplanned downtime of any sort before it happens.
Maintenance over the years
First Generation 1940 – 1955
1. Fix it when it broke
2. Basic and routine maintenance
Second Generation 1955 – 1975
3. System for planning and controlling work
Third Generation 1975 – 2000
2. Reliability-centered maintenance
3. Computer-aided maintenance management and information system
4. Workforce multi-skilling and team working
5. Proactive and strategic thinking
Current Generation 2000+
2. Focus on good-quality data
4. Reliability-centered maintenance
5. Using technology to connect systems, software, and people
6. Aligning operations and maintenance
Improvements in maintenance practices
To make the shift to world-class maintenance, each generation needed to improve how, when, and what type of maintenance was needed. The first thing to change was adding planned preventative maintenance to the first maintenance generation. This was a good start, but there was little way to predict what equipment would break and when, so a system needed to be created for planning and controlling work.
In the second and third generations, new technology and developments in failure theory helped to put the focus on predictive maintenance. This type of maintenance is part of the same family as preventive maintenance. However, predictive maintenance uses condition-monitoring tools and techniques and asset information to track real-time and historical equipment performance so you can anticipate failure before it happens. Since predictive maintenance aims to give you an ideal window for proactive maintenance tasks, it can help minimize the time equipment is being maintained, the production hours lost to maintenance, and the cost of spare parts and supplies.
These new maintenance practices changed the way maintenance was done. The most dominant of these was reliability centered maintenance, which provides a structure for determining what maintenance activities should be done and when. It works by identifying the functions of the company that are most critical and then seeking to optimize maintenance strategies to minimize system failures and increase equipment reliability and availability. With this maintenance strategy, possible failure modes and their consequences are identified, all while the function of the equipment is considered.
Most recently, the maintenance industry has begun to consider the total cost of asset ownership. Ideas such as evidence based asset management, risk-based maintenance, and total productive maintenance, have contributed to this. There has also been a big push toward adopting new technologies. The gradual adoption of maintenance management software and artificial intelligence have shown to be useful in improving and predicting a facility’s maintenance strategy.
Achieving world-class maintenance practice
Unfortunately for many companies, the fact is their maintenance is still seen as a necessary evil. For those companies, their maintenance has not stayed in touch with world-class maintenance practices. To progress, one of the first steps is to change the corporate culture so that maintenance is a cooperative partnership that can significantly contribute to profitability and customer satisfaction.
The maintenance department itself will have to up-skill and adopt new practices before the corporate culture changes to view maintenance as the important business function that it is. For the maintenance department, up-skilling will mean new techniques are learned to predict and prevent equipment failures. The new practices will include a more involved relationship with the production and management teams as well as adopting software tools that will facilitate a world-class maintenance practice.