The notifications keep rolling in and your plant maintenance team is stretched thin to keep production in business. You know you need to get ahead of the madness, but the breakdowns and ad hoc requests keep taking precedence and the backlog is ever-growing. If you can relate to this situation, then it’s time to tackle some strategies to turn the situation around. In this article, we’ll cover the causes of a reactive maintenance culture and outline several effective SAP plant maintenance strategies to get started on the path to reliability.




Challenges of a Reactive Maintenance Culture


Organisational Structure
Skilled Labour Shortage


5 Tactics to Build a Proactive Maintenance Culture


1. Free Up Your Existing Staff
2. Invest in Dedicated Functional Roles
3. Organise and Train for Success
4. Work on Data Quality and Capture
5. Establish Key Metrics


A Turnaround Story

How Sigga Can Help



Challenges of a Reactive Maintenance Culture


Whether you inherited a reactive maintenance culture when you took the job or fell into the reactive pattern due to labour shortages, as a maintenance manager, you are well aware that preventive maintenance can help you avoid breakdowns and will cost you less in the long run. But, as often the case, the urgency of priority break-fix work means all-hands-on-deck to get production lines back up. This comes at the expense of completing inspections and preventive work. Why do companies end up with a reactive maintenance culture?





The lack of creating robust preventive maintenance plans is a common cause of reactive maintenance cultures. An incomplete set of planned work orders or worse yet, no planned work orders, results in preventive tasks NOT getting accomplished and a much higher propensity of equipment breakdowns.


According to the Marshall Institute, A Measured Approach to Uptime, "It is widely accepted in the maintenance industry that a well-planned Work Order is about 3 times less expensive than the same unplanned reactive Work Order, and that Emergency repairs may cost as much as 5 to 7 times more than planned work, which can obviously have a huge impact on the bottom line". Consider that the cost impact is largely wasted time in both the production and maintenance teams.


If preventive work orders are often not completed the first time, the cause could be that they are not sufficiently detailed to support assigning the right technician or with the right parts. Or, that the parts were not available as the inventory of parts was not checked when releasing the work order to be scheduled.


Another reason for preventive work not getting accomplished is the lack of coordination with production to shut down the machine for the task.  

Incomplete, inaccurate, or insufficient number of planned work orders results in wasting time and the organisation losing trust in the planned work order criticality. The result is a downward spiral of equipment deterioration and growth in breakdowns and corrective maintenance requirements overcoming the ability of the existing staff to accomplish preventive work.



Organisational Structure


Planning is often a part-time job of one or a few managers in the plant maintenance department. Given limited resources, even the planning process can take a back seat to the urgent day-to-day maintenance requirements.


For plant maintenance planning and work order management in SAP, the process can be especially tedious leading to offline workarounds to complete the work and as a result, poor quality and incomplete data in SAP. Many companies abandon the use of SAP PM altogether.  

The lack of data in SAP, leads to a lack of data to support the planning function. History records provide the information needed to determine how long a maintenance task should take and how frequently assets breakdown. A good preventive maintenance program requires good data to be effective.


According to Doc Palmer’s Maintenance Planning and Scheduling Handbook, “Implementing proper planning and scheduling can improve the productive maintenance time of a typical organisation from 25-35% to 50-55% - almost doubling the ability to get work completed.” Given staffing shortages, optimising the use of your current staff is critical.



Skilled Labour Shortage


The skilled labour shortage has been an issue for years and is only getting worse. It is becoming a critical issue for production and maintenance operations. A Deloitte study found that the “top business impact of pervasive job openings [is the] inability to maintain or increase production levels to satisfy growing customer demands. Sixty percent of respondents ranked the skills shortage as having a high or very high impact on productivity over the next three years.”


It is also a key driver of companies becoming more reactive in the maintenance function as the limited resources are spread thin to cover the workload. Even contract resources are challenging to hire and retain.


The overall cost impact of a higher proportion of reactive work can be significant to an SAP plant maintenance organisation. From our whitepaper, Unleash the Power of SAP and Save, you can see how just a 30% shift of reactive maintenance to planned maintenance can save a company over 10% in direct maintenance costs, nonetheless the long-term impacts of greater equipment uptime and improved staff availability.


Maintain maintenance operations while changing the culture


5 Tactics to Build a Proactive Maintenance Culture


Now, we know how we got into a reactive state, how do we dig ourselves out while covering the day-to-day maintenance requests?



1. Free Up Your Existing Staff


With limited resources, everyone’s time is valuable. Time wastes need to be eliminated to free up resources to accomplish more work such as preventive tasks to reduce the backlog. One of the first things to do is a wrench time evaluation. In order to understand where technicians are spending their time, the nature of delays, and time wastes. Then start to address the big drivers of inefficiency.


Providing technicians with a mobile device cuts out significant travel time and physical steps during the day. The technician can receive work orders at the job site and send notifications while staying at the site. A mobile work order app can also significantly reduce administrative tasks for the technicians and data entry staff as compared to using paper-based work orders. For example, cutting-out getting in line at a computer terminal to make entries.


Many administrative, repetitive tasks can be replaced with automation to free up resources for more valuable work. From planning to scheduling and completing maintenance tasks, today’s digital technologies are designed to create efficiencies so that the whole staff can be utilised in more effective ways.


According to McKinsey, “The average wrench time in the market is between 15 and 25%...we have seen companies increase wrench time 2.5x due to the digitization of maintenance processes.”



2. Invest in Dedicated Functional Roles


Good maintenance planning is key to making the shift. According to Doc Palmer, the author of Maintenance Planning and Scheduling Handbook, the benefit of good planning and scheduling can result in a 57% improvement in wrench time and up to 90% schedule compliance.

  • The planner. Take one of your most experienced technicians with a penchant for analytics to own the planning role. This person needs to be dedicated to planning and not be pulled off to deal with downtime events. The planner’s responsibilities include the analysis of failures and reviewing equipment manuals to create robust preventive maintenance plans and inspection procedures. They need to turn the plan into a robust set of work orders with the right details to drive first-time fix rates. 
  • Reliability engineer. Consider hiring a reliability engineer especially if you have highly complex equipment. A reliability engineer can do a deeper evaluation of machinery, identify its weaknesses, and develop a robust preventive maintenance plan. In addition, they can possibly make engineering modifications or identify operating procedures to improve the equipment's reliability. Often a good reliability engineer can generate savings of 6 to 8 times his salary in the first year. 
  • Staff roles. Also, look to establish specific job roles or technical levels as applicable to ensure each technician can be successful with each work order assigned to them. The information on staff skill levels allows the planner to schedule the right technician for each work order to get the work done right the first time and in a shorter amount of time. 

3. Organise and Train for Success


Along with creating a few dedicated roles, it is important that all staff members have clear roles and responsibilities and see how they play a part in driving a preventive maintenance culture.


Consider creating separate teams dedicated to different maintenance activities such as inspections, preventive work, and breakdown/corrective work teams. This not only sets you up for success in getting preventive work accomplished, but it also provides additional specialisation in job roles. Rather than everyone being a “jack-of-all-trades”, specialisation helps technicians become more proficient in their craft, and better understand how they contribute and are measured. And as we have already noted, specialisation gets the work done right the first time and in a shorter amount of time.


If deep into reactive mode, your current staff is probably behind in training and skills up-leveling. Take the time to evaluate staff skills and provide time for training. Especially with the ever-growing sophistication of equipment, sensors, artificial intelligence, and more, technology holds the promise of greater productivity, if the staff knows how to use it. Mobile devices can support the ongoing training by providing immediate, easy access to manuals, checklists, videos and more. An Aruba study found that “89% want training anytime/anywhere they need to do their job.”



4. Work on Data Quality and Capture


It will be impossible for your dedicated planner to develop a robust maintenance plan without good data. And if you’ve been reactive for a long time, it is likely your work order system, like SAP PM data is of poor quality. Data integrity is key to successful SAP plant maintenance, here’s a few steps to address data gaps:

  • Collect data by prioritising the entry of complete data into the work order system. There needs to be one central repository on which the organisation relies for the one-version-of-the-truth.
  • Keep data digital and keep it updated in the work order system in real-time. This means no more paper-based work orders or pulling data into excel spreadsheets on someone’s desktop hard drive. Utilise digital and mobile systems that integrate data entries in real-time into the work order system.
  • Structure data capture with software systems and apps that provide features to select from a list of choices such as drop-down menus for error codes. Open text notes can result in 1000 reasons for a problem when the issue is something as simple as “part is not available”.
  • Analyse data by starting with your most critical equipment first. Pull data to build preventive plans, identify parts required, and create backup plans in case of an emergency. Evaluating data at the equipment level can also support decisions to upgrade or replace “bad actors” that are requiring too many resources to maintain.
  • Collect more data by investing in predictive technologies like sensors. The use of smart plant maintenance technologies will replace preventive maintenance tasks with predictive notifications of a change in conditions. This will reduce the annual number of preventive interventions to free up staff and increase asset reliability.


5. Establish Key Metrics


In order to prove to management and production that the shift is working, you need to establish and keep measuring the impact of the changes in structure and technology investments.

  • Wrench time. As we’ve already mentioned, a good place to start is to do a wrench time study to understand your staff utilisation and discover time wastes to be reduced.
  • Downtime. Look at downtime to analyse equipment failures to look for root causes of the failures and feed this into the preventive maintenance plans. This also becomes a key measure to keep production motivated to support the cause. Encourage the production team to treat the equipment in a way that the target condition of being ready to run, clean, and well maintained is achieved.
  • Mean Time Between Failures (MTBF). Reporting on the lengthening of time intervals between downtime events on key assets will further prove to production that your focus on preventive efforts is paying off.
  • Mean Time to Repair (MTTR). Like wrench time, MTTR helps to identify the efficiency of your maintenance staff as well as pinpoint problematic assets.
  • Overall Equipment Efficiency (OEE). With the production team, eventually collaborate to measure this key metric of equipment availability, performance, and quality.
  • Maintenance Effectiveness. In the beginning establish a baseline of your ratio of work accomplished by planned, corrective and breakdown tasks. If the starting ratio is 20% planned and 80% corrective and breakdown, set milestones to progress towards an industry best-practice goal of 80% planned. Celebrate milestones with your staff to keep them motivated.

Shifting from a reactive maintenance culture to a proactive culture will take time and continued, steady efforts. The resulting impact will be well worth the effort from reducing downtime, increasing profitability, and improving staff utilisation and motivation.


To illustrate the impact of these 5 successful tactics, here’s a story of a turnaround of a heavily ingrained reactive maintenance culture.



Successful turnaround at Ingredion


A Turnaround Story


Rafael Padilha, The Director for Reliability and Continuous Improvement at Ingredion has been in the centre of reorganising maintenance organisations for success at several large production operations including Ambev (a subsidiary of Anheuser-Busch), and Unilever. He found that change starts with establishing and gaining alignment across the organisation to a few clear goals. The next step is to start the process with the help of technology to structure the work, improve communications, measure, and show results against the aligned metrics. Then take it to the next level. See more in our video summaries from the Webinar with Rafael.

Planning & Scheduling: A Strategic Approach


How Sigga Can Help


There’s no need to go it alone. Get help to turn around your reactive maintenance culture with a partner who has 20 years of experience in establishing proactive maintenance processes with enterprise organisations. We have helped countless maintenance managers and reliability engineers take control of their operations, digitise, and streamline maintenance processes to achieve measurable productivity results.


We specialise in mobile apps and automation software for SAP PM and have deployed these solutions across many industry sectors, including Oil & Gas, Mining, and Manufacturing.


Sigga Mobile EAM is a proven mobile solution designed to digitise the activities of the maintenance and repair worker. The solution replaces tedious, manual paper-based processes with a direct interface to SAP for immediate access to manuals and repair instructions plus the ability to quickly create a notification and coordinate tasks. Sigga Warehouse and Inventory extends the mobile benefits for further cross-organisation collaboration benefits.


Sigga Planning & Scheduling enables the planner to replace tedious spreadsheet work with a solution to create a baseline schedule for maintenance and repair activities. The solution allows you to maintain data not housed in SAP such as levels of technician skills, detailed asset availability calendars, and will automatically check inventory of parts and materials before recommending a schedule.


Talk to us about how we can help you turn around a reactive maintenance culture. Success is quite possible with the right solutions, processes, and support.


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