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From Peter Munson, CRE, CSSBB, CMRP
Project Manager
T.A. Cook (

As companies navigate the COVID crisis, they’re feeling their way toward a new and uncertain “normal.” Even as demand begins to recover, most industries will remain in a conservative, cost-minimization posture as they peer into the murky future. Reliability tools and strategies offer proven ways for plants to make risk-informed decisions and right-size their maintenance approach. According to Peter Munson, giving the right attention to the right assets now will position plants for a rapid return to full utilization down the road. Here, he describes five actions your organization can take in that direction.

  Consider the reliability consequences of arbitrary budget cuts.

Most plants will be facing an uncomfortable budget cut going into 2021. Do not make a bad situation worse by painting all budget items with the same percentage brush. Within the realm of maintenance, arbitrary cuts can lead to ballooning operating costs and sinking asset values down the road (Fig. 1). It is critical for maintenance and reliability managers to take a reliability-informed, risk-based approach to these cuts. Continue to protect high criticality and high value assets with condition monitoring and well-targeted preventive maintenance. Use the next 4 actions to identify savings that can support a continued, proactive approach that will keep your assets ready for returning demand. In particular, demand-driven maintenance (Action 5), is the surest way to control costs in the long run.

Fig. 1. The long-term cost of arbitrary budget cuts

ACTION 2:  Conduct root-cause analysis and implement corrective actions to stop throwing money at bad actors.

Bad actors are generally production-critical equipment that you have to keep throwing money at to keep the lines running. This made (some) sense in a sold-out environment, but it is not something you can accept today. Run a list of your top 25 equipment items by corrective work order cost over the past ~5 years. Select a handful of assets from this list with issues that you believe you can most readily impact. Have a cross-functional team run root cause analyses of the issues affecting these assets, culminating in corrective action plans. The lessons learned from these assets will undoubtedly apply more broadly, giving additional benefit. T.A. Cook consultants are highly experienced in using these tools to make a significant dent in your corrective repair costs.

ACTION 3:  Establish precision in maintenance actions and operator care to avoid defects.

Maintenance job packages and operator rounds rarely get precise on fastener, lubrication, alignment, and balance details that are critical to equipment health. There are no reference values for equipment checks – and no guidance on what specific corrections are warranted. Reliability lies in the precision details. For example, the difference between 1 and 3 mils/inch on angular alignment is a 50% reduction in bearing life. Even simple things like “check oil” can have outsize effects. If an action is specified when oil levels drop well below normal, instructions can prompt an intervention, rather than refilling the reservoir and leaving the equipment to an inevitable and costly breakdown. Identify prioritized chunks of procedures to be reviewed and updated by your maintenance and operations subject matter experts. T.A. Cook has established 70 optimum reference states for proactive and precision maintenance, which are the detailed roadmaps we have prepared to guide such efforts. 

ACTION 4:  Optimize condition monitoring methods and system troubleshooting to minimize repair costs and lost production opportunity.

Condition monitoring enables you to identify impending failures well before they become breakdown emergencies. By pinpointing the failure mode and allowing time to properly plan, maintenance efficiency is maximized. This results in costs as low as 1/3 that of an emergency repair (Fig. 2) and as much as 60% reduction in downtime, recouping significant lost production dollars. T.A. Cook has templated equipment strategies that specify best-practice condition monitoring methods and intervals for rapid implementation.

Fig, 2. Maintenance cost multiplier for unplanned and break-in work 

ACTION 5:  Use reliability analysis methods to adjust maintenance actions to market demand.

Preventive maintenance (PM) in most plants is an unchanging, calendar-based solution. The work orders – and costs – keep popping up every one, three, or six months, regardless of how much the equipment is being used or how much it means to the plant. The condition monitoring methods discussed above will help to direct PM tasks based on need rather than calendar. In addition, failure and cost modeling can adjust preventive maintenance tasks to changing market dynamics. T.A. Cook has analytical tools to model the total cost of planned and unplanned maintenance, along with production factors, to identify the optimal maintenance interval (Fig. 3).

Fig. 3. Identifying the optimal maintenance interval to minimize total cost

These models enable quick, data-driven adjustment to changing market situations (Fig. 4). We can also model performance against production targets, letting you know what you 
need to invest now to meet the projected return of demand.

Fig. 4. Adjusting PM interval for reduced product margins


Together, these 5 proven, reliability-based actions provide the surest way to maintain the value and function of your assets in a cost-conscious way. Crisis is an opportunity for those who are informed and willing to change. You can no longer throw money at reactive maintenance. Reliability tools provide the data and the discipline to enable confident change in this uncertain environment.