Why Don’t OEM Recommendations Work for Maintenance?

July 16, 2020 10:15 am || || Categorized in:


During the Design, Build, Test phase of an asset’s lifecycle, many organizations will choose to start with maintenance and spare parts recommendations from the vendors and manufacturers of the equipment. On the surface, this appears to be a perfectly logical decision, right? The vendors and manufacturers are the experts in the equipment they build? Nearly without fail, a few months or years pass, and the asset begins to fail unexpectantly. Why does this happen, and how can we make this stop?

This article will cover why manufacturer recommendations fail, the concept of risk-based maintenance strategy, and how your organization can optimize your assets’ performance.

First, if the manufacturers are the experts on the equipment they created, why do their maintenance recommendations fail? In short, operational context. Manufacturers don’t know precisely how you intend to use the equipment. Many times, if they get the opportunity to see the context at a later date, they will often comment that their equipment was not intended to be run in that manner. The most effective way to solve this dilemma is to ensure your User Requirement Specifications (URS) are very clear and incorporate operational context. 

In addition to process, it’s people, both those that operate the equipment and those that maintain it. Manufacturers often overlook a cognitive engineering approach in optimizing the performance of the equipment with human input; in fact, they mostly attempt to engineer out a human’s need to interact with the system altogether. With all the best intentions, people will need to interact with the equipment eventually. For maintenance, if your organization purchases a service agreement with the manufacturer, the equipment will likely extend its error-free life, but why? The manufacturer is the expert in their equipment and will identify potential errors during a maintenance period before an in-house technician who does not have the same depth of experience.

If original equipment manufacturer (OEM) recommendations fail to meet expectations, then how do we ensure that the asset performance will meet those expectations? The answer is a maintenance strategy, or more specifically, a risk-based maintenance strategy. A maintenance strategy is a rule set that establishes the tools to be used in determining the actions performed to maintain an asset in its ready state. A risk-based maintenance strategy involves evaluating the relative impact of failure on the business and employing the rule set based on this input. To execute this program effectively, the organization first needs a list of all of their assets and then stratifying the assets across a set criteria. We recommend the following:

  1. Safety: What is the level of exposure to Operators and the Environment to hazardous situations?
  2. Quality/Compliance: In the event of a failure, what is the impact to compliance: none, deviation, investigation, 483 warning, etc.?
  3. Cost: How much is spent annually on the maintenance of the system to include service contracts?
  4. Failure Probability: what is the Mean Time Between Failure that is expected or historical?
  5. Availability/Production Demand: how does a failure of the system (including outage time) impact the business at the current run rate:

    a. None (completely redundant)
    b. Rework of product required
    c. Loss of single batch
    d. Loss of multiple batches

The purpose of the criticality evaluation is prioritize your finite resources and to focus your efforts on the systems that will have the most significant impact on your business. Criticality evaluation is a relatively simple exercise that may consume a few hours to as much as a week to complete. Still, our experience is that many clients have not completed it. At the conclusion, you can stratify your assets into buckets. We recommend five because they will match with the designated maintenance strategy.

As stated previously, your maintenance strategy would be based on a ruleset. For our purposes, we’ll use the five layers of the criticality evaluation and assign each to a strategy.


A few notes on the execution of these maintenance strategies:

  1. When selecting Run-to-Fail, it is still incredibly important to have a plan such as a complete spare or parts required for maintenance on hand in the event of failure.
  2. Criticalities, and subsequently, maintenance strategies, can change over time and should be reviewed periodically.
  3. FMEA/RCM activities should be conducted with a cross-functional team, and the vendor should be present. These activities appear to be high upfront costs for the organization, but the financial impact of their failures can be much higher further down the road.

During the startup phase of a site or project, your organization may choose to strictly implement OEM recommendations for reasons such as schedule, cost, or lack of experience with the equipment. This is a common strategy we see with many clients, so what can the organization do during the startup phase to allow for continuous improvement later? All of these items are engineering best practices that many clients overlook and, unfortunately, pay the price for later.

  1. Conduct your asset criticality evaluation in the beginning. It is a relatively simple exercise and will guide the organization when future optimization is needed.
  2. Write work orders to the lowest effective level. Many clients write work orders to the system level, which requires a tremendous amount of data diving later. Breaking CMMS master data to lower levels, in the beginning, will save tens of thousands of hours and frustration later.
  3. Define breakdown work orders vs. repair. Providing this degree of severity for the impact of maintenance work allows your future engineers to focus their efforts on the most critical.
  4. Well documented work order notes. First, it is a regulatory expectation that work order notes be complete and stand-alone, but also become crucial when optimizing operations and maintenance.
  5. Failure Codes. This is probably the most overlooked efficiency gain by most clients. Categorizing the failure, cause, and action of repair or breakdown work using building metrics and analytical tools makes your reliability engineers’ efforts genuinely effective. These codes can be basic in the beginning and get more specific as the organization learns more.

As this article shows, simply following OEM recommendations for maintenance can result in the assets not meeting expectations. The primary driver of these failures is due to the disconnect between the OEMs design and the operational context. A formal approach to risk-based maintenance strategy can focus your organization’s resources to tackle those areas where the disconnect is likely more pronounced. The maintenance strategies contained here will guide the organization in developing the various maintenance methods, spare parts requirements, and reliability approach. Finally, if the organization chooses the OEM strategy approach, there are vital practices you can implement to enable continuous improvement in the future.

About the Author

Armstrong, Nick

Nick Armstrong, Global Director, Asset Management & Reliability
Nick is a facilities and engineering leader with 20 years experience leading teams to achieve organizational goals including asset management and risk & reliability. He has a experience in Biopharmaceutical, Food, and Personal Care facilities where he served roles in Process & Technology Development, GMP Production & Engineering, and Asset Management & Reliability. Nick’s roles in Asset Management & Reliability include Development and Process Engineer. Reliability Engineer, Production Maintenance Supervisor and Consultant where his focus has been in Early Equipment Management for CapEx delivery, Asset Management Strategy development, and Industry 4.0 with IIoT.