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Bryan Christiansen


How to Implement Lean Maintenance at Your Organization

Taking advantage of lean production’s overlooked twin

Published: Monday, July 19, 2021 - 12:02

Adherence to lean principles is considered a precondition for success in modern manufacturing. In a resource-intensive environment, anything that improves efficiency and productivity is a godsend. Lean maintenance has become more prominent as manufacturers grapple with sustainability challenges, economic instability, and global competition.

There is a common misconception that lean maintenance is just a subset, or a byproduct, of adopting lean practices. In reality, the opposite is true; to succeed in lean manufacturing, you first need to implement lean maintenance. In other words, lean maintenance is a critical prerequisite for lean manufacturing.

This article will introduce you to the basics of lean maintenance and how to adopt its principles at your organization.

What is lean maintenance?

Lean maintenance is a strategy that aims to reduce waste and inefficiency in the management of physical assets. It relies on the application of lean methodology in the realm of asset maintenance and repairs.

Though many manufacturers focus more on the optimization of production using lean principles, it is arguably even more important in maintenance. This area is often a huge drain on any manufacturing concern, accounting for up to 40 percent of total production costs.

Waste in maintenance is a perennial problem due to a plethora of inefficient practices, such as:
• Excessive maintenance
• Unnecessary transportation of spares
• Walking back to a central location after every task to pick up new work orders
• Wasting time searching for tools and replacement parts
• Work order pileups due to poor inventory management
• Premature replacement of costly spares
• Delays and downtime due to slow processing or overprocessing
• Extra expenses to correct servicing errors and repair defects

Lean principles can make a difference here, through the use of tactics like smart proactive maintenance, digital work orders, improved leadership and worker training, kaizen events, and distributed maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) inventories. We discuss all of those and more in the following sections.

Why should you apply lean principles to maintenance?

Using a lean approach in maintenance has the potential to bring massive improvement to vital aspects of manufacturing. Without proper maintenance, machines will break down and halt the production process—messing with your maintenance schedules and shortening the life span of your equipment.

Lean maintenance helps you do more (effective) maintenance work with fewer resources. Maintenance departments that are experiencing staffing issues can still deliver better equipment availability and reliability.

By implementing lean maintenance, you are forced to identify and eliminate actions that waste your internal resources, improve inefficient processes, and speed up your emergency maintenance response.

The end result?

A streamlined maintenance process, and a significant reduction in the overall cost of maintenance, while delivering an equal or better service.

Prerequisites for running lean maintenance operations

Shifting to lean maintenance results in a major or minor overhaul of nearly all aspects of maintenance. To get started, you will require a mix of several systems, processes, and philosophies, which form the core of lean maintenance you can build upon.

lean maitenance

1. A proactive maintenance strategy

Many manufacturers rely on a passive, reactive maintenance strategy to cut down on initial costs. But this outdated approach can prove to be more costly in the long run. Waiting for critical assets to fail before repairing or replacing them is inefficient—which is exactly what lean maintenance is trying to eliminate.

In contrast, a proactive approach aims to negate the problem before it gets a chance to fully manifest. With strategies like preventive and predictive maintenance, you can reduce the risk of sudden equipment failures and production delays. The focus is on establishing optimal servicing and replacement schedules of degrading parts.

2. CMMS software to streamline maintenance work

A computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) is the bare minimum you need to improve efficiency in everything from work order management, overall planning, scheduling of maintenance, spare parts management, budgeting, worker management, and more.

Large industrial organizations looking to implement lean maintenance will often want to integrate CMMS with their existing ERP system. This forms a strong foundation for effective enterprise asset management (EAM).

As EAM requires enhanced digital capabilities across the entire company, the approach is viable for firms that have already adopted digital transformation. For an initial foray into lean maintenance, a cloud-based CMMS system can be considered an adequate starting point.

3. Up-to-date list of asset inventory

Having a fully updated inventory of all your core assets is mandatory for lean maintenance. You can use this inventory to plan your repair schedules, spare-part requisition processes, and allocation of maintenance teams.

A well-maintained asset inventory ensures that every machine or system is accounted for; failure in even a minor subsystem can bring down the entire production line. To prevent this, manufacturers need efficient and proactive maintenance of all assets.

4. Operator training and autonomy

Excessive oversight by maintenance managers often leads to slowdowns and inefficiencies within the maintenance system. Firms and managers need to embrace the concept of increased autonomy on the work floor in lean maintenance.

Autonomy requires a team of highly trained, preferably multiskilled repair technicians. Apart from basic training in the use of assets and heavy machinery, you will also need to train your teams to act decisively when problems arise.

Operators need a clear understanding of their duties and designated responsibilities within the maintenance process. This helps create a smooth flow in autonomous maintenance, where everyone is aware of what is required from them.

5. Leadership change and lean culture

Lean maintenance often requires a significant change in how systems are managed. Instead of overt centralization of power, it focuses on increased autonomy at the lower levels. This can’t happen without a profound change in attitudes about leadership’s role.

In particular, you must address the changing roles and responsibilities of managers and supervisors. Instead of controlling teams, they will need to perform a more positive role in supporting those autonomous teams on the ground.

The system relies on a flatter organizational structure, with fewer levels of management. The focus is more on the shop floor, not at the top and middle layers of management. This requires adequate preparation and planning, but will inevitably lead to continuous improvement.

Advanced concepts and tools for developing a lean maintenance workflow

The lean approach in manufacturing has evolved over the decades into a rich and complex system of different advanced concepts, philosophies, and tools. In this section, we provide a brief introduction to important concepts that can be used to optimize maintenance work.

Total productive maintenance (TPM)

TPM is the bedrock on which the entire tower of lean maintenance stands. It is a holistic approach with one core aim: striving to achieve perfect production with minimal breakdowns, delays, or accidents to your assets and equipment.

total productive maintenance

TPM emphasizes proactive maintenance by autonomous teams, who are fully trained and supported by supervisors and top-level executives.

5S philosophy

There are five keywords in this process that all start with the letter “S” in Japanese: seiri, seiton, seiso, seiketsu, and shitsuke. These roughly translate into English as sort, set in order, shine, standardize, and sustain. 5S involves the removal of unnecessary tools and materials, neat arrangement of tools, frequent cleanups, emphasis on a clean and perfect work area, and inculcating such behavior into habits at the workplace. The aim of the 5s process is the creation of an efficient, clean, and safe workplace with minimal waste.

5S Workplace scan diagnostic checklist
Example of 5S workplace scan diagnostic checklist

Distributed MRO inventory

Instead of centralized storerooms for spares, the lean approach emphasizes multiple store locations closer to the area of use. These stores will contain relevant, area-specific parts and tools. Lean stores require standardized materials, and long-term planning and forecasting based on CMMS tracking data to ensure maximum availability without holding a huge inventory stock.

Just-in-time inventory management

Lean manufacturing is often called just-in-time (JIT) manufacturing. In a maintenance context, JIT involves changes to inventory management. Firms will place orders only for essential spares or tools. This requires a well-planned maintenance schedule with in-depth knowledge about the condition of individual assets.

Successfully implementing JIT practices to MRO inventory management requires capable spare parts management software combined with predictive maintenance.

Kaizen events

Pioneered by Toyota, kaizen in Japanese means “change for good” or “improvement.” In business, kaizen events mean activities that are regularly conducted with the aim of continuous optimization of processes and systems. Kaizen events involve trying to eliminate waste and redundancies by constantly looking for problem areas that can be further improved.

kaizen cycle

What this means in practice is that maintenance teams should regularly audit and update their processes and procedures to ensure continuous improvement.

Empowered, multiskilled teams

Maintenance teams using a lean approach are expected to be autonomous, capable of conducting all activities—administrative, logistics, regulations, and more—within the strictly defined limits of the maintenance process.
Such teams require diversity, with membership drawn from multiple departments and specializations. Furthermore, to reduce waste and improve crisis management, an emphasis is placed on having members who are skilled in multiple areas of specialization. Achieving that requires well-thought-out training programs.

Work standardization

If you want to eliminate wasteful actions from your production floor, workers need clear and unambiguous procedures that show how to perform specific tasks—in other words, it’s time to standardize. This is exactly what standard operating procedures (SOPs) are for. They outline best practices for repetitive tasks of varying complexity.

SOP for work standardization

Ultimately, SOPs help create a more autonomous working environment with less micromanagement and supervision.


Reliability-centered maintenance (RCM), root cause analysis (RCA), and failure modes and effects analysis (FMEA) are advanced concepts that can be applied to improve equipment reliability.

Their primary focus is on ensuring that equipment or manufacturing facilities continue to function reliably in their operating context. They are based on the realization that maintenance must look beyond concepts like age and life expectancy of individual parts. To prevent asset failure, firms have to actively monitor the condition of individual systems and parts and assess their reliability.

By applying RCM, RCA, and FMEA, maintenance professionals can get a better understanding of different failure modes and causes, which enables them to select the right maintenance strategy and schedule for each critical asset.

How to set up a basic lean maintenance workflow

It takes time for an organization to fully embrace lean maintenance, even when it has all the above-mentioned elements in place. During the crucial early stages, it’s better to take a focused and limited workflow approach. In other words, it’s best to run a pilot project.

1. Choose a system to manage

The best option is to start small and pick a problem area within your maintenance wing, one with excessive waste and costly inefficiencies. Trial your lean maintenance workflow here first, and use the kaizen philosophy to improve and gradually expand to other sectors.

2. Create maintenance teams

Make a team of operators who work with the assets in the problem area you selected in the previous step. Try to include experienced maintenance technicians along with regular machine operators whenever possible. This can drastically improve their autonomous capabilities.

3. Assign leadership

Pick a maintenance manager; someone capable of planning and scheduling all the maintenance tasks on the shop floor. Along with an in-depth understanding of the assets, this person should also have excellent organizational skills, training, and experience in proactive maintenance.

4. Create maintenance schedules

Once all the pieces are in place, it’s time to focus on the necessary maintenance tasks at hand. Scheduling is usually based on the concept of preventive maintenance. Use CMMS data along with inputs from any monitoring sensors you have on the assets to decide on the optimal maintenance schedules.

5. Test new procedures and workflow

Using techniques we outlined in the previous section, you should be able to develop new, leaner maintenance procedures. The team you established in the second step should try to follow the new workflow as closely as possible. The idea is to see if the changes are applicable in practice, and if things can be improved any further—before you standardize and expand lean principles to other parts of the production flow.

Create a lean maintenance department

Lean maintenance can be a handful, with a lot of complex concepts and tools involved. The comprehensive and intense nature of this approach is simultaneously its greatest strength and its biggest weakness.

implementing lean principles in production and maintenance can involve high upfront costs, which can have a dampening effect on the enthusiasm—particularly at higher echelons of management. It also demands profound changes across the organization, inviting pockets of resistance to change at all levels.

But in these uncertain times, manufacturers must improve their standards of efficiency to remain competitive. Lean maintenance, a vital prerequisite for lean manufacturing, will play a pivotal role going forward.

First published June 28, 2021, on the Limble CMMs blog.


About The Author

Bryan Christiansen’s picture

Bryan Christiansen

Bryan Christiansen is the founder and CEO of Limble CMMS. Limble is a modern, easy-to-use mobile CMMS software that takes the stress and chaos out of maintenance by helping managers organize, automate, and streamline their maintenance operations.