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I recently sat in a budget meeting where the maintenance manager was making a pitch for a new $150,000-piece of labor-saving equipment. He waxed eloquently about its many features and how it would make his department’s work so much easier. Another department representative then showed the ROI calculation for the proposed purchase. Incredibly, the payback was just two years. “That’s pretty amazing,” remarked one of the executives in attendance.

Note that this maintenance department was really small—only five people, including the manager. Of course, he was truly a “working” manager, not a sit-in-the-office type, given the fact the physical-plant site covered almost two square miles. But let’s continue…

Soon, the executives who were deciding on what to include in the next year’s budget began asking for some additional information about the rather pricy equipment. “How’d you come up with those numbers?”

Again, the maintenance manager explained all about the saved man-hours, travel time, and how one person could accomplish what was taking three people to do, if his department had this new equipment. Other members of the maintenance team chimed  in. “Sometimes when we do this work, we have a narrow road blocked with a front-end loader and a truck and traffic can’t pass.” “Many times, we have to move the equipment to let traffic through, and then set up again. It never ends.”

To me, it seemed as though the maintenance department’s justification for the new equipment was on the home stretch for approval. At least until another executive asked the BIG question: “What will you do with the two people you free up when the new equipment is operating?” (Crickets.)

After a lot of “uhm…” and “well …”  the answer was finally blurted out: “We can catch up on our work and get ahead of things. There’s a lot to be done around here.”

A few minutes passed. Then one of the executive asked the obvious: “So, what else will you be able to do?”

What followed that question was a 10-minute story that could be summed up as, “We don’t have enough time to get all the work done, but the new equipment would surely help us.”

Within 30-seconds, the executive asked the second BIG question: “Don’t you keep track of what your crew works on and how much backlog you have?”

The answer was not surprising at all: “We keep close track of our time and there’s ALWAYS something to do around here. Just as soon as we start something, we get a call about another problem, and we gotta’ go fix something else. Why, just last month we’ve had to fix the same water line three times!”

It became clear to the executives and bystanders in the room that there was NO work-order system in place; that no maintenance-work log was kept; that no documented maintenance history existed; and that no tracking of repetitive repairs occurred. Thus, there was NO real justification for the new labor-saving piece of equipment.

The key takeaway for that maintenance department, despite its small size, should have been clear: If you cannot document all the work you do, as well as all the time and money that’s spent on specific assets, and if you aren’t able to demonstrate a work backlog, your new piece of well-intended labor-saving equipment is just a wish.TRR


Bob Williamson is a long-time contributor to the people-side of the world-class-maintenance and manufacturing body of knowledge across dozens of industry types. His background in maintenance, machine and tool design, and teaching has positioned his work with over 500 companies and plants, facilities, and equipment-oriented organizations. Contact him directly at 512-800-6031 or bwilliamson@theramreview.com.

Tags: reliability, availability, maintenance, RAM, workforce issues