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Machine Shop Tips Paperwork Maintenance: It’s Also as Stupid as It Sounds

Wow. The virtual ink had not yet dried on my last blog post about piecemeal maintenance when I started getting an influx of emails from readers. Clearly, many people identified with the issue about maintenance not being performed the way it should be. Most of the emails spoke from personal experience of companies only doing enough maintenance to keep equipment barely functional. The minority of reader emails stated they were in a much different position, and they felt that those who were doing piecemeal maintenance were actually a step ahead of them. This puzzled me. How could things be worse than ‘piecemeal maintenance’?

I will save one story I read for another blog post, but the one I am about to tell is quite shocking and by the end of it, you’ll understand why it’s worse than piecemeal maintenance.

This other way of performing equipment maintenance is also known as “PM”. Though instead of standing for preventative maintenance, or even my cheeky piecemeal maintenance version, the email I received described a system of “paperwork maintenance”.

At first, I didn’t understand, but it began to make sense to me. So here goes. 

Paperwork maintenance is a real PM program. Designated PM people walk around the facility and identify actual problems occurring with machinery, or note regular maintenance issues that need to be addressed. This person diligently keeps track of all work that needs to get done, just as any good manufacturing facility would. All issues are painstakingly written down and recorded so that everyone at the facility knows what needs to be done and has clear instructions. 

Sounds great, right? The next thing that happens in this process is a real head scratcher though. So after this designated PM person, whose job it is to document all maintenance and repair requirements, writes down all the work needing to be done, he or she gathers up the stack of work orders, opens a drawer in their filing cabinet and calmly places all the paperwork inside, never to see the light of day again.


When I finished reading the email describing this practice, I was confused. A better word would be lost. I just did not know what to make of this information. I thought at first that someone was trying to pull a fast one on me, it just sounded so out there.

I decided it must have been a joke, had a chuckle, and carried on with my day. I didn’t plan to write a blog about it. But then I heard from a few other people who said this practice of paperwork maintenance was quite common: work orders are written and then promptly disappear without the work ever being done.

Why would companies do this? Do they just want to prove to someone that they have a maintenance program without actually having one?

Then it dawned on me. I needed to ask the right question, which is, how much downtime due to machinery breaking down was caused by issues that were previously documented, more than a few times, on these secretive work orders?

This question is easy to answer for the people on the front lines. “I knew the breakdown was going to happen, it was just a matter of time,” pretty much all of them replied.

To be fair, all companies have preventative maintenance problems that need to be addressed. No company out there has unlimited funds to immediately address every issue. That would be like getting every part of your car’s engine replaced when you go in for routine service: foolish and expensive! For a business, that would not be sustainable, both for the level of downtime and the costs involved. 

So while time and budget are important factors to consider and plan around, preventative maintenance cannot just be ignored forever. Paperwork maintenance, the fine art of waltzing around with all the pomp and circumstance of actually planning to do that maintenance but never intending to, is just ridiculous. This may come as a surprise to some, but simply filling out paperwork about a documented equipment problem is not going to make that problem go away. Seriously! 

The first time I heard about ‘piecemeal maintenance’, I laughed. Now I’m no longer laughing after hearing of the paperwork only method. Some mythical wrench-wielding creature does not sneak into your facility late at night, open the filing cabinet, and get to work fixing things for free when you’re not looking.

As I mentioned, we can’t be fixing everything all the time, but easily identifiable maintenance issues cannot just be written up and put in a drawer. At least with the piecemeal maintenance method, something gets done, even though it’s not enough.

The next time you hear, “I knew this was going to happen!” you might wonder if there is a tiny piece of paper sitting on a desk somewhere, with the issue documented on it, that could have prevented this downtime.

How many of you have experienced paperwork maintenance?