What is lean maintenance?

Lean maintenance is the process of identifying and removing waste from maintenance operations. It is a continuous improvement process intended to gradually eliminate any factors that reduce asset reliability, increase costs, or negatively impact productivity. It encompasses the lean principles and helps maintenance personnel focus on—reliability.

Lean maintenance vs. lean manufacturing

On the surface, lean maintenance seems to simply be a subset of lean manufacturing with the same concept applied to a different field.

However, there are a few key differences that mark them as distinct strategies.

First, lean manufacturing operates on a pull system, where nothing is bought or requisitioned without demand for it. This includes raw materials, components, or the final product itself.

Lean maintenance, however, cannot rely on a pull system because reactionary maintenance is costly and dangerous. Maintenance has to be proactive and predictive, even down to storing extra parts in case of emergencies.

Second, lean manufacturing operates on the principle of customer value. Every process improvement is done with an eye toward increasing value to the customer.

While customer value is also the goal of lean maintenance, it’s more focused on helping production provide that value. Maintenance keeps machinery running optimally so it can, in turn, make excellent products.

Lastly, while both strategies seek to reduce the waste of money, materials, and time, lean maintenance places a higher emphasis on worker and process efficiency. The more efficient a maintenance organization’s team is, and the smoother their workflow, the more time can be spent keeping assets in tip-top shape.

Types of waste in maintenance

Waste in maintenance can be defined in the following ways:

Environmental waste

This is when maintenance materials or inventory are either used inefficiently or wasted due to inefficient maintenance practices.

Examples include:

  • Excess fuel consumption from multiple trips to the same job site
  • Wasted components from unnecessary maintenance

Financial waste

Financial waste refers to the extra material or labor costs associated with inefficient maintenance, including lost production that results from asset downtime.

Examples include:

  • High labor and material costs from unnecessary maintenance jobs
  • Defective product that results from poorly-maintained machines

Wasted human potential

Sub-optimal maintenance processes can take a toll on the productivity, morale, and efficiency of your maintenance team.

This can be seen in the following ways:

  • Excess red tape when processing paperwork and other administrative tasks
  • Fixing the same problems over and over again

How to measure lean maintenance

There are dozens of metrics you can use to measure the effectiveness of your lean maintenance programs. We recommend focusing on those that align with your current goals and priorities.

For instance, you can track metrics based on reducing the following types of waste:

Environmental waste:

  • Raw material usage
  • Travel time
  • Carbon emissions

Financial waste:

  • Post-maintenance clean startups
  • Equipment downtime—planned and unplanned
  • Maintenance costs by asset

Human potential waste:

  • Wrench time
  • Employee turnover
  • Hours spent on admin tasks

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How to implement lean maintenance

There are three primary steps to building a lean maintenance strategy:

Understand your process

Map your current maintenance process as thoroughly as possible. Include everything from key assets you’re covering to how many team meetings you conduct. The goal is to know as much as you can about how you operate so that you can expose any weaknesses in your department.

Find areas of waste and eliminate them

Using the information and data you’ve collected, review your process to improve one or two specific things (i.e. lowering costs or increasing worker efficiency). If you try to tackle too many problems at the same time, your efforts will be scattered and not as impactful.

Create processes that allow for continued improvement

Once the first issue has been addressed, go back to the beginning and do it again, this time for a different inefficiency. This way, you’ll be applying many incremental improvements that will amount to significant reductions of waste further down the line. That is the core concept behind lean maintenance.

Lean maintenance increases reliability and efficiency

Whether a team is creating a work order or ordering spare parts, lean maintenance helps maintenance personnel focus on continuous improvement and reducing waste. The lean principles focus a team to eliminate any factors that don't increase asset reliability, reduce costs, or boost productivity. Learn more about the different types of maintenance so you can choose the right maintenance strategy for your assets.

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