A Perspective on Implementing Lean in Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul Business Functions

Introduction

Lean implementations are proven to eliminate waste and promote better flow within the value stream. They can be applied to a variety of industries from manufacturing to healthcare, and production to service functions. In this blog, I’ll focus on Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) business functions. Unlike traditional processes, MRO functions can have an extremely variable demand with a wide array of products/services. They often have labor forces commanding higher salaries than a typical production line workforce due to the technical skills necessary to diagnose, service, repair and replace intricate products/systems. When an MRO function isn’t efficient, it can cause lengthy delays for customers waiting for repairs/services that will lead to lost trust and damaged company reputation. However, lean concepts and tools can be applied to MROs in many of the same ways as other business functions.

Dealing with Variable Demand

In a repair center, it can be difficult to gauge when a failed/damaged product will be coming through the door, how often it will come, and how lengthy the job will be. Sometimes a single product can be sent to scrap, and sometimes twenty or more products can be sent at once, each needing special repairs. One way to help manage this demand is through the use of historical repair data. By analyzing repair history for a product in multiple ways, trends can be identified. Analysis can show which parts tend to fail for which products, which parts tend to fail for each type of environment/company in which it is used, how long on average it takes before a certain failure occurs, and which parts tend to fail in sequence. This knowledge provides the repair associate an efficient diagnosis, which otherwise can take hours.

Cross-training the repair team also helps minimize the impact of variable demand. In one repair environment, the team was divided by product family. Each associate was qualified to repair only one series of product. While each repair team member became an expert in a particular type of product, a shipment of twenty failed products arrived for a specific product family. The team was unable to effectively split the workload. Cross-training would have given supervisors more flexibility to effectively allocate resources.

Minimizing Searching and Travel

MRO functions can have a high variety of products and an even greater variety of parts. Thus, storage and organization is important. Shadow board usage and dedicated space for tools and frequently used parts reduces repair associate travel time and search time. In the previous example, the repair associates had to walk across the facility to obtain any repair part. Although this may be necessary for large, more expensive fixtures, it was inefficient not to keep a safety stock of high frequency parts near the workstation. Remember, these employees command higher salaries; excess travel and motion translates to less time repairing and ultimately decreased value for the company.

Concluding Thoughts

Lean implementations for MRO functions are extremely important to maintaining customer relationships and even keeping a facility running smoothly. Cross-trained, skilled employees paired with clean, well-organized workstations provide an enormous value to the business. When trying to identify where to start for lean projects, start by asking your workforce. Your employees are in the middle of the process every day and can provide insight into inefficiencies and waste that can be tough to see from an observer’s standpoint.

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222 W. Adams
Chicago, IL 60606
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