No matter how hard you work or how fast you repair equipment, production stops, so management cuts your budget. Sound familiar? It doesn't have to.

In his book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven R. Covey writes you must identify tasks via four modes (see sidebar and figure, bottom right). Covey claims as you take care of important tasks, you reduce the number of urgent tasks. This was a revelation to the business world, and people clamored to hear more. The book and its spin-offs are still big sellers. It's a powerful message, and Covey presents it well.

This philosophy has long been the essence of Computerized Maintenance Management Systems (CMMS). So long, in fact, it predates Covey's book. We'll look at how to implement the philosophy of "focus on what is important" in maintenance. Part of the challenge is to differentiate the important from the unimportant. Too often, "the loudest voice" determines priorities, or things get done on a "first come, first serve" basis. Neither system is good.

At the core. The core justification for a maintenance department is to keep production equipment running. You keep production equipment running to get quality product out the door. Maintenance's goal, then, is to get quality products out the door. The goal is not "to keep every piece of equipment running." Actually, such a goal is counterproductive because you must allocate limited resources to accomplish your real goal.

Elihu Goldratt's The Goal is essential reading for anyone in operations management or related fields. If you manage maintenance, this book will help you. Be warned: people who start this book "before bedtime" usually stay up until they finish it. The book is that good.

Suppose your plant's products all flow through the shipping conveyor system, which can handle 1,000 widgets a day. Whenever that system is down, you lose production forever. Suppose your widget-stamper can make 8,000 parts for a widget a day. If that machine is down for 21 hr a day, you will ship no more widgets than if that machine is available 24 hr a day, providing you have enough widget stamps to supply the system and feed that shipping conveyor.

Suppose you must produce 1,000 widgets a month from line 7, but have the capacity for that many a week. It's early in the month, and line 7 goes down. Line 3 is a bottleneck, and it goes down. Plus, you have PMs scheduled for today. How do you prioritize? Line 3 is both urgent and important, so it takes precedence over the other work. Line 7 is neither urgent nor important, so it can wait. The PM work isn't urgent, but it's important to reduce the chance of other breakdowns.

Let's throw in a twist. Line 7 has a broken safety switch that allows the line to run even though doing so is dangerous. What do you do? Answer: Because safety and environmental concerns take precedence over production; you disable Line 7 and schedule repairs in a time frame allowing it to keep its production schedule.

Finally, ensure important elements, like good housekeeping (See Photo in original article)) and quality workmanship; are integral to the maintenance effort. Shortcuts and sloppy work are ways of sacrificing the important for the expedient, and that creates more urgent work. The sidebar, below, will help you sort out this whole prioritization issue, no matter what the permutations are.

Beyond the pale. Sure, this looks good on white paper. But you need to go beyond laying out an overall plan of priorities. You need to zero in on the maintenance itself. How do you get more PM done in a given amount of time? In addition to providing the proper equipment and tools, you must do four things.

1. Eliminate non-value-added activities. For example, eliminate multiple "trips to the shop" to do a task. Ensure people have the right equipment (tools, instructions, and materials) to do the job and related housekeeping before they leave the shop to do the work.

2. Simplify tasks. Can you replace bolts with latches? Can you replace threaded fittings with quick disconnects? Can you install a local disconnect for lockout/tagout purposes? Examine each job to see where people spend time and where you can cut that time. Make access easy.

>3. Reduce task counts. Is it really necessary to calibrate the panel voltage meter each month? Why or why not? Can you move that to an annual cycle or eliminate it completely?

4. Document the work. This allows you to measure progress. You don't know where you're going unless you know where you are.

Another barrier to doing PM is scheduling. If you are going to do PM work on the depalletizer motor drive for Line 6, why not coordinate all Line 6 PM work for the same time? This reduces mobilization time (getting maintenance equipment to Line 6, and then waiting for production to shut it down or send an operator for testing). What typically happens? We schedule tasks without coordinating them by equipment. Then, people redo the same work of trudging out to the site and making the same lockouts/tagouts and hookups they made a week ago. In most plants (you're lucky if yours is not one of them) one mobilization task involves removing stacks of boxes, parts and other items from in front of the equipment cabinets you need access to for maintenance. Spending 20 min on that twice; rather than once; is a waste of 20 min. Yet, scattered scheduling can force you to waste those 20 min several times a day. How many hours a month does that add up to?

Training. Great planning and scheduling are moot if you don't know how to play your cards when you get to the table. That means training. If you don't provide continual training, in a variety of modes, you are gambling; with the odds stacked against you.

Don't think of training as only expenditures. Sure, you need some of those expensive courses and seminars. However, they are just one part of the whole.

Is it worth it? Some equipment just isn't worth repairing. You should know the annual cost of repairing equipment. If this cost exceeds the annualized cost of replacing that equipment, it's time to think about a replacement.