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Machine Shop Tips Piecemeal Maintenance Is as Stupid as It Sounds

I was talking with an old friend recently who also works in the manufacturing industry, and has been in it almost as long as I have. Both of us remember when dirt was first invented and mass manufactured. As usual, sitting in my living room, we bantered about many industry topics. Some of them we agreed on and others we disagreed on. Since we’re good friends, we can spar about these topics without taking it personally. I mentioned that I wrote a blog post about a sawmill that recently closed, and that it closed because they did not have a proper preventative maintenance (PM) program. My friend jumped up and said I was wrong, and that I was being unfair. I was confused, but I listened. 

In my mind, it was obvious that this mill closed because of a lack of preventative maintenance, no question about it. “What you don’t understand is that they did have a PM program.” My friend had a sly smile as he spoke. “The problem is that many companies have changed the meaning of a PM system, preventative maintenance, to ‘piecemeal maintenance’!” 

After a few seconds, I burst out laughing, startling my wife who was quietly reading in the next room. I laughed, but then stopped abruptly as the magnitude of his words sunk in. It was a frightening thought, this term “piecemeal maintenance”.

My friend continued. “This new meaning of ‘PM’ has been around for years. Initially, it was because many mills were so busy and they just needed to get their production orders out and shipped. They decided to do the minimal amount of maintenance required so that they could keep running. It was meant to be temporary, but as the pressure rose to cut costs during slow times, this practice became the norm to reduce budgets.”

I asked him how many companies were doing this. “Lots!” he replied. “They all eventually get to the point where their only two options are to make a massive financial investment in carrying out proper, overdue maintenance or machinery replacements… or to shut down!”

I thought about his words for a moment. I realized this wasn’t just an issue that our industry – manufacturing – was dealing with, but it applied to many other industries too. 

I began to think about all the people who have lost their jobs because of this mentality. This mentality extends beyond the realm of preventative maintenance and into all sorts of other business behaviors, like capital purchases. 

How many piecemeal capital purchases have you seen? Everyone has seen at least a few. By piecemeal capital purchases, I mean businesses buying large pieces of equipment, or software, that are vital to running their company profitably and efficiently with the same attitude as if they were buying a cheap, throwaway toy that would best fit into a fast food happy meal. Those happy meal toys only hold a child’s attention for a short time, just like the piecemeal capital these businesses bought. Many of those purchases were only designed to last long enough to be installed and then they’re a throwaway item too.

Piecemeal capital is something that gets you by today, but doesn’t take into consideration anything about tomorrow or the future. I bet many of you can think of several examples of this type of behavior in businesses you know. Such a shame, and a waste. 

How many of those fast food happy meal toys are lying in a landfill right now? Kind of scary when you think about it. How many pieces of capital equipment are functioning either not well, or not at all? This is a direct effect of the mentality of piecemeal maintenance. The implications for our industry are huge.

We should all be thinking about what the piecemeal mentality means for us, and for our businesses. If you are following the piecemeal mindset, you may be compromising the future of your company, your employees, your communities and maybe even your own family – all for just a tiny short-term financial gain.

Hardly seems worth it now, does it?