August 24, 2012
An Exciting Day Out
A few weeks ago, I visited a large theme park in the US. While queuing for the first roller coaster of the day, the control system went into alarm, and the ride was temporarily shut down. Hundreds of excited park-goers waited for about 25 minutes until the maintenance guy turned up. He simply inserted a key and then flicked the master reset button. The ride restarted and they sent a few dummy cars around to test. “Ladies and Gentleman, the ride has now reopened,” chanted the ride operator. The maintenance guy received a rapturous applause before he headed off into the sunset. As an engineer, I was not impressed.
2 hours later, another rollercoaster broke down while on board as we were nearing the end of the ride. The emergency brake activated mid-run and we dangled for 20 minutes before another maintenance guy opened and closed a cover at the loading station. It looked like an outer cover interlock popped. Again, the ride resumed and the maintenance guy gave a big smile and wave as he received a similar jubilant cheer. All in all, I personally experienced 3 breakdowns in a 7-hours at the park. Will they perform root cause analysis to prevent repeat issues? I doubt it! I was disappointed that over 1 hour of my day was wasted waiting for maintenance to execute trivial repairs.
Unplanned Maintenance Hurts Business
Contrast this with the airline industry. Aircraft are more complicated systems, but if they broke down as often, the airlines would be out of business. People need to get to where they’re going on time and the airline only makes money when the aircraft are in the air. The reason why aircraft are so reliable is the proactive maintenance philosophy the industry adopts. Inspections are completed between every flight and aircraft are taken out of service at regular intervals for preventive maintenance work.
The airline industry has recognized that maintenance doesn’t just affect asset availability; it affects all aspects of business including customer service, product quality, energy efficiency and ultimately the bottom line. Regular preventive maintenance is performed to eliminate those consequences of failures – delayed flights, passenger compensation, frustrated travellers and catastrophic failures. The airlines extract more value through increased availability of their assets. Nonetheless, so many industries have yet to recognize the impact maintenance has on the bottom line. They cannot see any direct correlation between them. If the amusement park collected the fare as the public loaded into the roller coaster cars, breakdowns would have a direct impact on revenue. Maybe then they would then put a bigger focus on proactive maintenance.
The Maintenance Manager is Dead. Long live the Asset Manager!
I hear it all the time – “We’re too busy to perform our preventive maintenance”. However, emergency breakdown maintenance costs 3-9 times planned maintenance. Think about it – how much time is wasted locating parts, chasing vendors, finding instructions, finding tools, prepping the site. By getting your emergency breakdowns back under control, you can increase your productivity by 50-60%. You can’t completely eliminate emergency repairs but by planning maintenance, you can prevent them and drastically reduce your mean time to repair. The maintenance manager’s role is evolving and the job description needs to be rebranded as the “Asset Manager”. It is no longer about repairing assets; it is about preserving the functions of those assets so business can operate as normal. This can be achieved through strategic planning and scheduling of work. Rather than being there to put out the fire, the focus should be on preventing the fire in the first place.