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I was talking with a maintenance-manager friend a few days ago about various topics, including the impact of the COVID-19 crisis. Because his manufacturing plant supplies the automotive industry, it’s been ramping down toward a total shutdown. Despite the almost non-existent production work, however, he and the maintenance team show up at work as usual (as they should, in my opinion).

Reflecting on Howard Penrose’s opinion piece for The RAM Review this week (see link below), I agree it is high time to recognize the hard work that maintenance trade workers continue to do. Because they are often working behind the scenes or blended in with other workers, they rarely stand out. As Howard points out, however, in these challenging times, some people could now be taking closer notice than they once did of trades going to and from work and on the job.

Click Here To Read Howard Penrose’s Article
“Let’s Give A Big Hand to The Trades”

But back to my friend, the maintenance manager. . .

It seems as though his plant’s general management is beginning to wonder about the site’s maintenance workers, as in coming up with questions and comments such as, “Why do they need to keep coming in to work? We’re shutting down.” And, “We’d better have them keep a list of what they’re planning on doing, so we can see if it is really necessary.”

Aarrgghh! What about the scheduled PMs (and the ones that were missed)? What about the maintenance and repair (M&R) backlogs? What about those improvement projects that were put on the back burner and basically hidden away in a dark closet somewhere?

Unbeknownst to many in top management, the job of maintenance is not just about fixing things that broke. Maintenance is really about sustaining a desired level of performance and avoiding interruptions. Maintenance also includes periodically running equipment to keep it operational.

And we certainly can’t forget about plant utilities. While the HVAC may be cut back, and compressed air shut down, there may be other life-supporting and environmental-related requirements for operating and monitoring a site’s equipment.


I’ve worked in a number of plants that would not, could not, better not, ever shut certain processes down. That because various types of chemicals, polymers, molten materials, and the like must be maintained in their desired state to prevent catastrophic failures, environmental releases, and long and costly recovery efforts.

One facility, in decades gone by, captured, contained, and controlled large (really HUGE) amounts of petroleum. Drawing any amount out of these reserves required chief-executive-level approvals. Consequently, the system’s motors, pumps, and valves were ONLY powered on when there was an order from the chief executive. After years of no such order, we asked  how the equipment was being maintained to ensure everything would operate properly in case of an actual emergency.

We were assured that the motors, pumps, and valves were routinely lubricated, cleaned, and given a coat of paint (since they were located outdoors). “But what about running the motors, pumps, and valves?” we asked. The response: “Oh, we can’t do that. We’re not allowed to start up the equipment without the chief executive’s authorization.”

So much for REAL maintenance. . .

Alas, it was eventually discovered that most of the motors, pumps, and valves were NOT operational because they sat, never cycled, in an outdoor environment, without proper running inspection and maintenance. Thus, no matter how much hammering or oiling went on, no matter how long the cheater bars were, the equipment simply wouldn’t, really couldn’t, operate the way it was intended.

So, if anyone asks you what maintenance folks could be doing in a plant that’s shut down, share this story and advise them to think long and hard about the ramifications in terms of their own operations (or, on a personal level, their own way of life).


Plant startups are a piece of cake when the facility and equipment have been properly maintained before and during a shutdown period and during the startup itself. Now is the time for maintenance staff to hit the ground running and get the right things done while there is a lull in operations. Go for it!

And, kudos to all trades, wherever they are!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, skilled trades