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Maintenance is any kind of activity aimed at maintaining or restoring objects and other assets such as equipment, home and office appliances, buildings, infrastructure, software, etc. to an acceptable condition in order to guarantee the required level of functionality (immediately and in the long term).

About-maintenance image
About-maintenance image

All over the world, individuals, organisations and governments invest in new appliances, machinery, buildings, factories, streets, bridges, etc. It does not always have to concern major investments. Even in your home or work environment, you can make small maintenance efforts that contribute to saving energy, prolonging longevity or increasing functionality of your appliances or house.

Just think of examples such as greasing your bicycle chain, annual inspection of your boiler, cleaning out the gutter, replacing old light bulbs with LED lights, etc.

When it comes to bigger installations or infrastructure, it is the job of maintenance staff to take good care of these investments. They must ensure that those assets do what they were designed to do, with the highest possible return.

The maintenance staff’s responsibility is not just to repair and maintain the equipment, but to keep them working safely and reliably. They will also constantly try to increase efficiency and reduce energy costs. The main task of a maintenance professional is to ensure that the investment made provides the highest return throughout the life cycle of the object.

Maintenance-checking-the-industry image

Four main types of Maintenance can be distinguished

Reactive or corrective maintenance is the repair of malfunctions. Technical problems are fixed, causing the machine to function correctly again.

Periodic maintenance is the performance of certain maintenance tasks, for example filter replacement, at a fixed frequency or after a certain number of running hours.

Predictive maintenance is the performance of maintenance interventions after a check-up where it is assessed whether it is necessary to perform certain maintenance or not.

Proactive maintenance is the set of improvement actions to definitively prevent certain failures. For example, by making adjustments to the design, choosing other materials and components, etc.

The history of maintenance

The oldest practice of maintenance that can be traced at present, is the use of lubricants. The ancient Egyptians and Sumerians (3500 BC) are believed to have used bitumen, a viscous liquid form of petroleum, to extend the life of wooden axles and wheels. Also animal and vegetable oils and water were utilized as lubricants very often. During this period, water was used as a lubricant by the Chinese as well. To support rigid axles in their carriages, the Sumerians used inverted forks, along with leather loops. These helped reduce friction along with wear and tear.

The very first book ever written on maintenance and asset management, from what we can ascertain at present, was “De Aquaeductu Urbis Romae” (“On the aqueducts of the city of Rome”), written in the year 97 by Sextius Julius Frontinus. He was administrator of Rome’s water company and had been appointed by Emperor Nerva to restore Rome’s water network, as it had fallen into poor condition due to mismanagement during the time of Emperor Domitian. [image book]

Following figures show that, even by today’s standards, the water network was an impressive feat of engineering: 500,000 cubic metres of water per day flowed into Rome through nine aqueducts, four of which were 80 kilometres long. To restore it, Frontinus developed and used all the basic principles of modern maintenance, and he also describes them in his book: site visits, technical documentation, standardisation, daily meetings, work preparation, outsourcing maintenance, quality control, preventive maintenance, overhauls, right down to accounting. Frontinus was proud that his interventions had successfully solved the water shortage. So much so that no additional aqueduct was needed to supply Rome with sufficient water. The excess water could even be used to better flush Rome’s sewage system, eliminating the stench from the lower district. [image city map]

Remarkably, Frontinus clarifies the basic principles of his approach at the beginning of his book: “Faced with this great responsibility, I consider it my duty to have, first and foremost, a complete knowledge of what to tackle (“Primum ac potissimum existimo… nosse quod suscepi”). He considered this knowledge the best tool to ensure that he would make the right decisions at the right time, and he knew that it would also enable him to direct his subordinates in the best possible way. 

Frontinus went to see the entire network in person, in order to evaluate the situation with his own eyes: the poor condition of the pipes, floods, wastage of water, but above all countless holes (“puncti”) from which people were illegally draining water. His first decision was to convince the emperor to reintroduce network fees. Detailed plans and drawings of the network were also made (cf XVII.4: “So that I can see the situation from in my office as if I were on the spot”). Third, he organised a daily maintenance meeting. 

He also made unannounced inspection visits to get to know the behaviour of his staff better, and arranged for the Roman Senate to issue edicts imposing severe fines for stealing water. He also made sure that all trees near the pillars of aqueducts were uprooted so that their roots would not affect their stability. A wonderful example of historical proactive maintenance…

Maintenance in Modern times

During the initial few decades of the industrial revolution “first generation” equipment was generally over-designed and relatively simply constructed. Maintenance was considered absolutely necessary, however maintenance management was not. Over time equipment grew in complexity and demand for safety, reliability and financial accountability increased, especially in high-risk or high-performance industries.

When the “fix equipment when it breaks” paradigm was no longer acceptable, more proactive, systematic thinking began to evolve. Preventive maintenance planning and control systems, often manually created and managed, enabled higher equipment availability, longer equipment life and lower maintenance and life cycle costs.
The “third generation” was characterized by techniques such as “failure modes and effects analysis” and “design for reliability”. During this period technology developed substantially. It became possible, for example, to monitor the condition of equipment in real time to detect the need for repair or replacement of a critical part without invasive actions. Information and computer technology evolved so that databases of assets and their maintenance requirements could be built up to assist with the difficult task of managing the maintenance of complex systems.

With the advent of ISO 5500X suite of Asset Management standards, the fourth generation of maintenance is at hand. ISO 55000 defines Asset Management as; “coordinated activity of an organization to realize value from assets”. Realization of value requires the achievement of an appropriate balance of costs, risks and performance, often over different timescales. To contribute to the set of ‘coordinated activities’ of their organization maintenance managers will need to expand their traditional technical focus to influence areas such as equipment selection and design and learn financial justification skills such as asset life cycle costing. They will also need to acquire an understanding of organizational, systemic, and cultural controls. This will in turn require understanding and appreciation of the role of human factors such as the essential “soft” skills.

The development of maintenance management (source: GFMAM)

The development of maintenance management (source: GFMAM)