Lean Maintenance: Moving Beyond Breakdowns

The Operations Director was concerned. The company was making great strides in improving productivity, quality and cost performance yet to the director’s eyes, the Lean revolution had bypassed the maintenance function.

The Director recognised that Maintenance Engineering is a core, added value process without which, the business couldn't give customers the value they expect.

In addition to that, the maintenance function has a significant impact on the root causes of the classic 7 lean wastes as set out in the table below.


Lean Waste


Lean Maintenance Activity

Distance Travelled


Improve reliability and process control to increase the potential for close linked process chains

Excess Inventory and over production


Improve reliability to reduce the temptation to keep processes running when they are producing good output as a buffer to potential future stoppages.

Motion Loss


Adapt processes to make them easy to use



Reduce unplanned events like breakdowns or run to failure tactics that mean that waiting time is incurred when plans have to be changed at short notice.

Over Processing


Customise processes to optimise work routines and match customer demands.

Quality Defects


As processes become more stable they produce less defects, and vice versa.  The goal of Lean Maintenance is to increase Mean Time Between Intervention which reduces the risk of human error and levels of minor defects.  The outcome is increased material yield, reduced energy and increased asset/tooling/component life.

Following an on line awareness session covering Reliability Basics, discussions with maintenance leaders identified 4 areas where things needed to improve to release the value that maintenance team knew it could deliver. These were.

  1. Process Stability: There are 2 main reasons for lack of process stability, equipment condition and human error. Both of these avoidable if time is invested in chasing down the causes of accelerated wear and refining basic routines so that they are easy to do right, difficult to do wrong and simple to learn.
  2. Process Yield: When equipment works well, it uses less power and creates fewer defects. Tracking these provides early warning of the need to intervene. Far more effective that tracking downtime.
  3. Process Flexibility: The reality of business is such that customers will want smaller batches and greater product variety. Legislation will bring in tougher demands for equipment and process control. It takes time and know how to adapt current assets to remain competitive.
  4. Total Manufacturing Cost/Unit: higher wear rates, lost production capacity and a reactive approach to the need to adapt are costs that can be avoided through Lean Maintenance approach.

Introducing Lean Maintenance

The action plan to improve reliability basics then released the time to focus on introducing Lean thinking as part of the future Maintenance Strategy.  The Lean Maintenance approach brings together 5 enablers of high levels of reliability and transformations the maintenance role from fixing breakdowns to releasing the full potential of plant and information technology.

  1. Effective Maintenance Execution In some organisations more than 25% of Planned Maintenance (PM) routines are non-value adding;
  2. Robust Process Stability through clear condition standards, working methods and spares management processes to release time for…
  3. Improving Process Resilience through better process monitoring, optimisation and environmental control;
  4. Increasing flexibility of equipment, process lines and value streams to shifts in demand and new equipment/new product introduction
  5. Leading daily management actions to systematically target accelerated wear, skill gaps and the causes of reactive maintenance.

The Lean Maintenance strategy provided the road map, benchmark standards and improvement tools to guide the development of Maintenance Team capability to:

  • Reduce recurring breakdowns and increase equipment effectiveness.
  • Increase machine reliability, optimise maintenance schedules and release maintainer resource to undertake value adding engineering improvements.
  • Balance Maintenance team skillsets and Predictive Maintenance capability
  • Adopt data driven decision making through better use of CMMS systems and processes
  • Establish a proactive continuous improvement "mind-set"

The gains include:

  • Asset performance improvement through
    • Systemised asset care routines
    • Lower product quality defects and energy usage
    • Increased stability of component life
  • Enhanced departmental work processes including
    • Maintenance planning, scheduling and work control
    • Problem resolution and Process Optimisation
    • Maintenance standard development 
  • Seamless cross functional collaboration to deal with
    • Learning and knowledge gaps
    • Accelerated wear and recurring failures
    • Progress towards zero targets

In financial terms, the value of maintenance role in a Lean improvement programme is worth around 40% of the total gains.

  • Around a third of those gains could be achieved within the traditional maintenance role of planned/corrective maintenance.
  • Around two thirds of the gains are achieved by collaborating with other functions to improve ways of working or engineer out problems.

As one convert to the Lean Maintenance approach described it. "Lean Maintenance is a way of creating an efficient skilled team of engineers with a proactive mind-set to support all production cells". 

Check out our on line Reliability Basics Awareness sessions for Manufacturing Leaders and our Lean Maintenance Strategy 3 day training workshop.