Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) – What Is It?

Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) is an approach aimed at creating a production environment free from mechanical breakdowns and technical disruptions. It achieves this by the introduction of systemised methods to improve the mechanical and human aspects of production in order to maximise equipment effectiveness. One of the key concepts of TPM is that the maintenance of production is not the sole responsibility of the maintenance department, but requires a fully cross-functional approach.

Many organisations still have the philosophy ‘I run it, you fix it,’ or ‘I’m manufacturing, you’re maintenance.’  The older the company, the more rooted this mind-set generally is and the more difficult it is to change. In world-class plants the operator becomes the asset owner, the focus for routine maintenance and the central figure in overall equipment effectiveness.

Autonomous (or operator) maintenance is a key component of TPM and is geared towards developing operators to perform certain equipment maintenance activities with full autonomy and to take ownership of their equipment. The focus of the autonomous maintenance is on cleaning, inspecting, lubricating, monitoring and other such essential daily tasks traditionally within the domain of the maintenance department.

A large proportion of all equipment failure can be avoided by the simple steps of cleaning & inspection, correct lubrication and checking for loose parts. As maintainers we often want to believe that good maintenance is more complex than that. Sometimes it is and that’s where we really earn our money, but if we could follow those 3 simple steps every day on every piece of plant and equipment we could eliminate an awful lot of failures. The reality is that we simply don’t have the time to carry out this basic level of maintenance on every piece of equipment every day. It could well be a full time job in itself.

However, if the operator can spend a few minutes each day ensuring the equipment is clean, correctly lubricated and has no loose parts there will be benefits in the form of – less interruptions in the operation of equipment, creation of a sense of ownership by the operator and it will have the effect of eliminating the defects at source through active employee participation.

So, if TPM and autonomous maintenance is so good why isn’t everyone doing it & how do we get started? Like all improvement plans, the results can be great but implementation isn’t without challenges. First and foremost there has to be full buy-in by senior management and they have to make the entire organisation know it’s something that is going to happen. There also has to be training, as many of the concepts and tools can go against the grain of the traditional roles of maintainers and operators. Once we have management commitment and training then we can start to plan the implementation.

Ultimately for TPM, or for that matter, most other improvement programmes, to be effective it requires a shift in culture within the workplace. It isn’t possible however to simply change a culture. We must change the environment which will change people’s behaviour which in turn will lead to a change in culture. This happens only by systematically and consistently applying the individual tools within the TPM programme. This is what will change the environment, which in turn will change people’s behaviour and that is what will lead to the required change in culture giving sustainable improvements to equipment effectiveness.

Total productive maintenance isn’t a fad or “tool of the week”. It was introduced as part of the Toyota Production System in the 1960’s and has been an integral part of the success of Toyota and many other world class organisations since then. It is a systemised way of ensuring the maintenance of production becomes the responsibility of the entire organisation, rather than solely the domain of the maintenance department. The purpose of TPM is to increase equipment effectiveness through systemised improvement of the mechanical and human aspects of production. Isn’t that also the purpose of the maintenance department? If so, then surely Total Productive Maintenance is not a concept we can afford to ignore.