The unsung heroes of successful farms

It seems to be a flaw in human nature: everyone is keen to build, but no one wants to maintain. Yet the really important people are those who keep our assets running efficiently, says Peter Hughes.

The unsung heroes of successful farms
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Tanzania is famed for its wildlife, beauty and tranquillity. But, as I recall from my visit there many years ago, the litter-filled streets of the Tanzanian city of Arusha is the last place on earth to seek these qualities.

The noise of generators running at the doors of every shop are like the humming of a million bumblebees, and combined with traffic noise of streets packed with poorly maintained vehicles, hooting as they jostle for position, any chance of conversation is killed.

My Arusha experience forcibly brought home the fact that the really important people who kept our farming business together were the little-appreciated maintenance team. It made me think: if it were not for the people who kept the lights on, serviced the vehicles, repaired the pumps, repainted the buildings, we’d have quickly gone backwards.

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Back home, I spoke to Brian, our workshop manager, and he enthusiastically took on the challenge of revitalising our maintenance activities.

His first step was to start measuring the time lost as a result of equipment breakdowns. He developed a reporting system, akin to the accident-reporting system he had set up, recording every single work interruption due to equipment failure, and its cause.

It was a painful chore for our in-field managers, but under Brian’s skilled leadership, very soon a clear picture started to emerge.

Time and again, records showed that when maintenance had been carried out on a schedule, rather than on a corrective basis, downtime was reduced, lifespan of assets extended, and time and money saved.

Preventing failure
Setting up a preventive maintenance programme needs someone with foresight, basic mechanical understanding, discipline and persuasive powers capable of getting buy-in from everyone in the company.

Briefly, these are the steps Brian got us to follow.

First, every implement, vehicle, building and piece of equipment was identified and clearly marked with a unique ID number.

Second, all items were grouped by type.

Third, maintenance intervals for each type were assigned, usually time-based, usage-based or both. Meticulous checklists for every scheduled service were then created, and a week-by-week, asset-by-asset service plan was prepared.

After service or repairs, a summary of the findings, action taken and proposed review of programmes for items concerned was swiftly circulated.

Most important of all, we developed a recognition system, awarding stars quarterly and annually for outstanding maintenance management.

Setting it all up was a wearisome task, with many hours of hated ‘book work’, but we never looked back. Work stoppage frustrations and costs plummeted.

Without Brian and his five-star recognition system, it would never have happened. If you don’t have something similar, get your maintenance recognition system going today.

Peter Hughes is a business and management consultant.