After a busy week filled with business appointments you're off to the airport to make your way back to home, hearth and family.  It's January and the weather consists of a winter mix that has flights backed up from O'Hare to Hartsfield-Jackson. But you're one the lucky ones that has the flight that is still running on time and the equipment rolls up to the gate on-time as you peer through the flurries and smile.  Looks like you and 137 of your fellow sojourners are getting back to your real lives or getting to that next important obligation on-time.


Then the announcement breaks the anticipation in the terminal.  "Attention passengers traveling on flight 751, it looks like the captain has discovered a warning light that will have to be looked at before we are cleared.  Maintenance is on the way to check it out and we'll keep you advised as we learn more about the situation."  Rebook?  Not even an option with better than half of the flights suffering weather related multiple-hour delays.  The good news is that the 144 souls are safe because the problem was detected and reported.  The bad news is that every seat in the bar and Starbucks is filled and you couldn't buy a seat next to a power outlet to run your laptop or charge the depleted battery in your Blackberry.


When maintenance failures arrive unannounced and unexpected, some level of misery follows in its path.  In the production document arena, perhaps the consequences seem less dire than in our example but they are unwanted nonetheless.  Missed SLAs, overtime expenses, broken promises to valued customers, non-compliance fines, and apologies to management are just a few.  Do it too often and the misery compounds.  Increased costs of non-conformance and resultant budget overruns, lost customers, and added fuel to fire the argument; "If we can't be world class at producing our customer communications, perhaps we should outsource it to someone who is".  Having a comprehensive maintenance strategy for your mission critical production is as important as determining the right fit for your production equipment.


You've done your research, you've narrowed your choices and you're getting ready select your next production platform. Before that final decision is made, ROI was probably kicked around at some level.  "How are you going to maximize the return on your investment?"   To justify your investment you may have been asked to show how new equipment acquisitions will streamline your operation and enable new application capabilities that increase the services you provide to your customers or simply allow you to bring more money through the front door.  Regardless of the reason driving your investment, once you take delivery on your production floor it is time to make the equipment work for you. 


Just as training employees is a regular part of the new-hire process to make sure the job is done correctly, a comprehensive maintenance strategy is the best way to ensure that your "mechanical employees" are ready to be on the job with peak performance as well. Production managers should asses their environment, their production demands, and the cost of production stoppages caused by a failed maintenance strategy.

Who's driving the bus?


 Is it enough to expect your equipment suppliers to drive your maintenance strategy with their standard offerings? Your equipment vendors typically suggest a wide variety of options and agreements, including on-site, scheduled, preventative, on-call, or self service maintenance.  Regardless of the maintenance contract, vendors who are concerned with the quality of their equipment will want their customers to be successful and work closely with them to forge a comprehensive and cooperative maintenance strategy.  Operations managers need to self-determine their maintenance requirements, in partnership with suppliers, in light of several critical success factors, including:


  • Production application schedules, production windows, and SLAs
  • Labor contracts and schedules, shift coverage, and facility access
  • Upstream process consistency upper and lower specification limits
  • Supplier maintenance personnel roles and responsibilities
  • Control over materials: selection, storage, and movement
  • Metrics and measures of success with regular review, analysis, and improvement planning


 Quality equipment will get recognition, but quality maintenance earns its reputation of excellence every day on your production floor.  When it comes to getting the most return from your investment, Predictive Maintenance is the stand-out strategy to preemptively take care of any potential problems before they occur.  Predictive Maintenance is not performed by a clairvoyant technician, but by understanding each of the elements, listed above and developing a proactive strategy to:


  • Plan prescheduled maintenance during non-peak hours or times that are carefully choreographed with application SLAs, upstream dependencies and equipment access hours
  • Know and track the lifecycle of every part within the equipment and replace it prior to failure.  Predictive maintenance is more that just preventative maintenance because of the actual data that is used to develop the timelines for replacement. 
  • Involve supplier service technicians in your process to partner with your production employees to get the work done on-time with consistency.
  • Involve purchasing and warehouse managers in directing material acquisition, storage, and movement process improvement
  • Meet regularly with supplier service management to review uptime, unscheduled maintenance and error causal factors, production employee training and mentorship requirements.
  • Use real production data to drive decisions and plans for improvement. 


Today's modern production platforms, from pre and post paper handling systems, to production printers, to production inserting and finishing systems, to mail and delivery systems are much more than mechanical devices.  They are tightly integrated with upstream and embedded software controls that require their own maintenance agreements and technical specialists.  When it comes to integrating software into your comprehensive maintenance strategy, production managers should consider the following:


  • Software maintenance starts with first-level support.  The most effective way to ensure seamless first-level software support and escalation avoidance is to ensure that supplier hardware maintenance personnel are cross-trained and competent to deliver first-contact support
  • Contract coverage hours can vary from hardware maintenance contracts.  Ensure that you have the coverage to meet your production requirements.
  • Expect faster response and around the clock coverage for more severe issues.  Any issue that stops production should be around-the-clock coverage with a commitment to respond and deliver at least a workaround that restores production in near real-time.
  • More features and newer versions aren't always better.  Software updates often include fixes and enhancements that were designed for other customers that have questionable relevance to your operation.  Before you invest the time and effort to regression test to ensure compatibility with your applications, sit down with your suppliers and understand the benefits.  Incorporate software in your monthly maintenance strategy reviews.

Back at the airport, just a few minutes after the unwelcome announcement and the group groan that followed, the intercom again breaks across the waiting area; "We have an update to our earlier announcement.  Our ground maintenance crew has informed us that the light was for a deferrable item and that it will not affect the safety of our flight and the maintenance will be performed overnight in San Francisco.  We will begin boarding in a few moments with our First Class customers, seated in rows".  144 souls aboard a 'bus 320 headed home.  Predictive Maintenance: it's a beautiful thing!