TPM: The Foundation of Lean

Aug. 1, 2006
When Seiichi Nakajima—an officer with the Institute of Plant Maintenance in Japan who is credited with being the first person to define and spread the core concepts of total productive maintenance (TPM)—was writing his books in the early 1960s

"What has evolved from TPM," says Ellis New, a consultant for Productivity Inc. (, Shelton, Conn.), "is the understanding that maintenance involves purchasing, planning and scheduling, as well as fix and repair. And it's all about communication and collaboration."

TPM gets all of the departments in a manufacturing enterprise up to speed. A reliable equipment maintenance process is the cornerstone for just-intime delivery, quality circles and all of the other lean manufacturing practices designed to allow manufacturing plants to reach their full potential, and make companies more profitable.

Maintenance is often thought of as an action to take after a machine stops running; or something to do while the machine is not in use. Wrong thought. A more enlightened approach is to include maintenance as part of the company's continuous improvement program. New says the definition of maintain is to keep in a state of order. "When a guy goes out on the floor to fix a machine he's not doing maintenance. He's doing repair."

The total part of TPM gives maintenance a deeper role within an organization. Traditional preventive maintenance relies on personnel trained for specific jobs, whereas TPM is more inclusive. TPM makes use of the machine operator's intimacy with the machinery for routine and simple repair projects. And TPM includes input from managers, engineers and QC experts as well.

"My old pop grew up on a dirt farm in the hills of South Carolina," says New, his Southern drawl, exposing his roots. "He used to say, 'The good lord gave a man two ears and one mouth. Guess which He intended you to use most?' The best process engineers are the ones who know how to listen to operators and maintenance people."

He adds that at Toyota manufacturing plants, the process engineer is not secreted away in a front office. He has a cubicle out in the department where he is responsible for the machinery he designs.

Because maintenance begins at the machine's design stage, says New, when a process engineer talks with maintenance people and machine opererators, machines don't end up with 15 different kinds of screws holding a guard plate, or a sight gauge that is 30 feet off of the floor.

Cooperate, collaborate, communicate
An important part of TPM is its focus on eliminating what would result in major losses to production; increased downtime and changeover time, and required rework and scrap generation.

"Today, in corporate America," says New, "if a machine goes down, the first thing that happens is that the operator is assigned another job or sent home." What's wrong with this picture is that the operator is in the best position to tell the maintenance worker— who is really doing fix and repair— what went wrong.

"TPM is about communication," says New. "It mandates that operators, maintenance people and engineers collectively collaborate and understand each other's language."

Autonomous maintenance is a pillar of TPM. It means involving operators in the day-to-day activities of keeping equipment in order and "unrepair," as New calls it. They are the first line of defense.

"There are always more machine operators in a shop than maintenance people," he says. "It's the operators who hear or smell something out of the ordinary, and we have to tap into that knowledge base."

Operator-based maintenance involves visual things like checking a sight glass or pressure gauge, and making sure gearbox oil is within the proper range. Operators can be educatedto know how to respond to these irregularities. However, companies that apply a TPM approach will teach operators how to get to the root cause of why a machine's pressure is low, or why hydraulic fluid is dripping. Operators have to be educated to do more than treat the symptoms of a problem.

The key to expanding the knowledge base about an organization's machine fleet is through education. In corporate America, when economic hard times come, and they always do, the first things that managers cut are maintenance and education, says New. When times are good, they say that there is no time for maintenance and education. Smart companies will use economic downturns to improve the productivity of humans and machines.

One of the keys to a successful TPM program, says New, is to expand the knowledge acquired from existing equipment and special projects, into new projects. "My old pop used to say, 'Getting kicked in the head by a milk cow a second time ain't no learning experience.'"

Not for manufacturing only
Phil Gilkes, director of service engineering, FKI Logistex (St. Louis, says more companies in the distribution environment are adopting total productive maintenance. "Originally, TPM was more fit for manufacturing," he says, "however, we're making use of the TPM principles with our distribution customers."

This interest stems from the simple fact that everyone is interested in improving the effectiveness of the equipment they have, he says. "The availability and reliability of equipment is something managers understand, and that it's a collaborative effort between maintenance and operations."

Gilkes says in manufacturing environments, a company's process engineers can design machinery that is easier to maintain. This is not always true in distribution, thus the equipment user has to rely more on the supplier to develop maintenance processes and procedures.

When asked how to start a TPM program, Gilkes recommends beginning with a set of performance indicators. "People need to develop baseline indicators, from which they can monitor improvements," he says. "It's all about knowing where you are today, and where you want to be in the future. Then you figure out the steps along the way."

New agrees that TPM is a datadriven process. "You start where the data indicates the problems are. Random studies have shown that more than half of all Six Sigma projects have, as a root cause, equipment reliability issues," he says.

Creating a baseline performance level for critical processes gives plant managers a starting point, he adds. "You have to go to the value stream and understand, from an equipment point, where to start. Things like meantime between failure, meantime to repair, etc., give you the data for a starting point."

New says that implementing a TPM process begins with and follows the steps prescribed by Seiichi Nakajima years ago. And the first of those steps is total buy-in by company leaders that they must get out of the fix-and-repair mode of thinking.

"Educating the entire population of the company about the process," says New, "can be a challenge because when they hear the word ' maintenance' they assume what follows does not apply to them."

As he points out, if you put more emphasis on maintenance and reliable equipment, the impact on quality and just-in-time delivery can only be positive.

"In the end," says New, "TPM is about people working together. It's about rethinking the way processes work to understand where to start."

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