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It’s often the case: Long before official maintenance-work requests get to Planners and show up in maintenance-management systems, the issues they cite have already been recognized. And, in turn, the equipment assets in question have been allowed to deteriorate.

Keep in mind that failure is a relative term, with different meanings for different people. For example, a simple gearbox leak is often construed as an immediate failure to an environmental engineer or a safety officer. The same leak is not interpreted as a maintenance failure/issue until the leakage rate empties the reservoir faster than the maintenance department can keep it filled. In contrast, for a production supervisor or engineer, the leak only becomes an issue when production flow and/or product quality is significantly affected. The fact is, a simple leak, however slow, means the lubricant sealing system is compromised and is symptomatic of a first-stage failure.

The primary purpose of any proactive maintenance program, i.e., be it preventive or predictive maintenance in nature, is simply to detect and commence arrest of asset deterioration at its earliest, and least expensive stage, and to return the asset to its original design state. If a maintenance department is to find and correct first-stage failures, it must implement a “First Alert” type program.

Chances are, informal “First Alert” programs may have been in effect, at one time or another, in most plants or facilities. But these programs have died prematurely due to lack of timely maintenance responses, defined processes, or recognition of efforts. That dying usually begins when a housekeeping-cleaner or machine operator verbally alerts his or her supervisor or the maintenance department directly of an unusual noise, smell, vibration, or occurrence, and the notice is seemingly ignored. Over time, after numerous calls for action have been disregarded or denied, the cleaner or machine operator will only alert authorities when production rate or safety is compromised.

Adopting a “First Alert” program approach can generate great dividends for a maintenance department and corporate bottom line. Catching and correcting a potential downtime failure in its earliest stages can significantly reduce expensive, and unnecessary, post-failure demand/corrective maintenance. An unexpected major benefit comes as a result of the partnership alliance and trust that develops between maintenance, operations and housekeeping staff as they work together as a team with a unified goal.

Operators are the individuals who (on a daily basis) are most intimate with their machine’s “operating signatures,” under different load conditions (visual, sound, smell, vibration. Housekeeping-staff members are the individuals who (on a daily basis) clean the same sections of a facility. Thus, these groups are immediately, and acutely aware of any unusual change(s) to an asset’s usual state. That makes both groups extremely qualified to spearhead the “First Alert” asset-check part of the program.

Leadership in overall implementation of a “First Alert” program is primarily the responsibility of the Maintenance Planning and Scheduling (MPS) group. The MPS group must ensure that if a first-response alert is sounded, it will be addressed, within a specified period of time, by a maintainer that will converse with the first-alert provider to document, assess, and determine the event cause, and, if possible at that point, execute any suitable immediate action.

Launching a “First Alert” program begins with the following three steps:

1.  Maintenance Planning & Scheduling representatives meet with the Maintenance Supervisor’s representatives,
the Production Supervisor’s representatives, and the appropriate Housekeeping representative(s) to discuss the
“First Alert” initiative.

2.  Develop a shift-log document (paper or electronic) to be filled out when a first-alert notification is required.

3.  Develop a process by which:

    • All shift logs are to be reviewed daily by the Production and Housekeeping Supervisors.
    • Production and Housekeeping Supervisors are to immediately pass all “First Alert” notices
      on to the Planning Department for review.
    • Planning draws up a “First Alert” investigative work order that references the shift-log notice
      and passes it on to the scheduling Supervisor.
    • The scheduling Supervisor assigns work to the correct Trade.
    • Trade communicates with the operator or housekeeping individual to discuss the “First Alert”
      occurrence and then investigates the problem the same way that he or she would in any other
      investigative work process.

When it comes to any of our personal possessions, or more important, our health, we are continually reminded that early problem detection and decisive action is essential for longevity of our assets and bodies. Bear in mind, plant machinery and buildings are no different.TRR


Ken Bannister has 40+ years of experience in the RAM industry. For the past 30, he’s been a Managing Partner and Principal Asset Management Consultant with Engtech industries Inc., where he has specialized in helping clients implement best-practice asset-management programs worldwide. A founding member and past director of the Plant Engineering and Maintenance Association of Canada, he is the author of several books, including three on lubrication, one on predictive maintenance, and one on energy reduction strategies, and is currently writing one on planning and scheduling. Contact him directly at 519-469-9173 or

Tags: reliability, availability, maintenance, RAM, asset management, First-Alert programs, Planning & Scheduling