What is Lean Maintenance? Applying Key Principles for Sustainable Success

What is Lean Maintenance? Applying Key Principles for Sustainable Success

Excellence in manufacturing can only be achieved when efforts are made to eliminate waste. However, waste can mean a lot of different things. For example, it can refer to wasted labour hours, materials, time, human potential and financial resources, among others.

For this reason, the principles and philosophy of lean maintenance take centre stage in a manufacturing setting. Lean maintenance principles can optimise maintenance processes, reduce waste, improve efficiency, boost equipment reliability and ultimately enhance overall operational performance.

If you’re wondering how to achieve this for your organisation, keep reading below. In this article, we cover what lean maintenance is, what its benefits are, the preconditions for implementation, how to create the right programme and important industry-recognised tools and techniques to help you reach this goal.

Let’s explore.

What is Lean Maintenance? Applying Key Principles for Sustainable Success

What Is Lean Maintenance?

In order to understand the full lean maintenance meaning, it is important to grasp that lean maintenance has its origins in total productive maintenance (TPM).

The concept of lean maintenance can be understood as an iterative process through which organisations and maintenance crews work together to identify, reduce and remove waste from their maintenance activities.

As mentioned earlier, waste can refer to a broad variety of factors—environmental, financial and human—that can impact a manufacturing plant’s efficiency levels. Examples of waste include:

  • Carrying out more maintenance than is necessary
  • Transporting spares unnecessarily
  • Time wasted walking to a central location after a task is completed to collect a new work order
  • Time wasted searching for tools and replacement parts
  • Work order accumulation
  • Replacing expensive spare parts prematurely
  • And others

Benefits of Lean Maintenance

Following lean maintenance practices and programmes comes with significant benefits for manufacturing plants and factories with a heavy production process. A few of these are explored in more detail below.

  • Increased efficiency: Introducing efficiencies in your maintenance operation means using fewer resources to get the right type of work done in less time. The higher the efficiency in your organisation, the more cost savings you can enjoy. This means that when it comes to lean preventive maintenance, your machines will operate just as they should in terms of the manufacturer’s warranty, enjoy longer lifespans, and have fewer breakdowns. This leads to less unplanned downtime.
  • Cost reduction: Another benefit of lean maintenance is that it helps reduce costs. These can refer to time wasted on over- or under-maintaining equipment and machinery. In addition, they can refer to subpar performance and utilisation of your human capital. Furthermore, they can also affect your environmental footprint and result in greater costs allocated for inventory and spare parts, wasted man hours, unproductive equipment and more.
  • Improved equipment availability: When lean maintenance principles are followed, manufacturing maintenance managers and maintenance technicians can better ensure that more equipment is operational for longer periods of time. The longer the equipment is available and the more effort is put into maintaining it at scheduled intervals, the longer it will be operational and the better the manufacturing output will be, ultimately benefiting the organisation as a whole.
  • Optimised workflows: With lean maintenance, your human resources are also put to work more effectively. You can allocate the right team member or technician to a work order, knowing that the maintenance tasks will be completed on time and within the budget and other parameters you have set out. When double jobs are eliminated or reduced, workflows become more streamlined and your team can be put to work on more critical organisational tasks.
  • Better utilisation of resources: Spare parts and inventory management can be quite a hassle for organisations and maintenance teams. The trick is not to have too much inventory or too little. Either option can end up being costly. Too much inventory on hand means having spare parts that can become obsolete. Meanwhile, a lack of inventory on hand can result in lost time waiting for spare parts to arrive and be fitted.
  • Employee satisfaction: Another benefit of lean maintenance is that it leads to employee satisfaction. When teams are fully aware of their roles and responsibilities, they are more likely to become more effective. When their work is streamlined and communication flows and expectations are clear, they will be happier employees who are dedicated to their jobs. Lean maintenance ultimately ensures that teams work optimally without much time spent idling or too much work piling on all at once. 

Preconditions for Implementing Lean Maintenance Principles

We mentioned earlier that following lean maintenance principles and practices is an iterative or ongoing process. It needs to infiltrate the minds of every employee and team member and be carried out on a daily, if not hourly, basis. For this reason, there are a few preconditions for implementing lean maintenance principles, which are covered in more detail below.

Proactive maintenance strategy

The first precondition for implementing lean maintenance principles is following a proactive maintenance strategy. This type of strategy assumes that manufacturers of machinery and equipment have guidelines for maintaining them properly at given intervals.

When maintenance is carried out proactively and teams carry out a preventive maintenance service before a machine ultimately breaks down for more serious repair work, machines operate for longer and less downtime is typically recorded.

Ultimately, lean preventive maintenance helps organisations reduce unnecessary costs. However, it is essential for this practice to be entrenched in the organisation before other lean principles can be followed.

Utilisation of CMMS software

The second precondition follows what was said above. For preventive maintenance to occur effectively and in a streamlined manner, it is necessary to use computerised maintenance management systems (CMMS) or CMMS software.

What this software does is centralise all your assets, inventory, work orders, preventive maintenance schedules and so much more in one location that, if cloud-based, can be accessed from any location.

In addition, the modernisation benefits of using a CMMS include technicians receiving notifications and work orders on smart devices such as phones, watches or tablets. Meanwhile, maintenance managers can create and allocate work orders more efficiently while also keeping an eye on inventory and spare part stock levels.

Updated asset inventory

Another important feature that precludes effective lean maintenance is updating your asset inventory. This can sometimes mean colour-coding lubricants so that the right one is easier to spot, resulting in less time spent fixing costly mistakes if the wrong one is used.

An updated asset inventory also means you know exactly what you have on hand, enabling you to make better and more informed decisions about what spare parts and stocks you may need to order in the future and in what quantities.

Increased autonomy of operators

The machinery and equipment operators in your team should also be part of a lean maintenance strategy. In fact, every member of your organisation should accept and strictly follow lean practices to ensure wastage is minimised and more efficiency is achieved.

Giving your team of operators more autonomy to report failures or anything they deem incorrect in terms of organisational best practices is essential. Furthermore, ensuring there are channels of communication where these views and concerns can be voiced means faster corrective action can be taken to address potential problems before they occur.

Cultivating a lean culture and mindset

Finally, your entire team within the organisation needs to be committed to the same cause: reducing and eliminating waste and inefficiencies where possible. This means everyone has a vested interest in the success of the practice, so that there is no push-pull effect.

Furthermore, when everyone is on the same page, it becomes easier to create channels of communication where issues can be rectified quickly and efficiently, ensuring less waste or unscheduled downtime occurs

How to Create a Lean Maintenance Programme

Carrying out lean maintenance planning and scheduling often requires implementing a programme or a strategy. Through such a strategy, all team members will be aware of what they are supposed to do, when, where, how and why.

It also empowers them to take responsibility for their actions, which ensures that no one has a hands-off approach to preventive maintenance activities. For this programme to work, you should consider the following steps to ensure greater chances of success:

Choose a problematic area

Every organisation has problem areas that need to be addressed. Identify one of these areas, perhaps the most troublesome one, and begin to implement lean maintenance techniques there.

This is important because you will quickly be able to identify inefficiencies and wastage and then determine the right steps to take to ensure that you and your team are able to address the challenges in question. Identifying a problem area may mean identifying a machine that constantly breaks down.

It could be related to bottlenecks in getting work orders resolved. Alternatively, it could result in improperly managed inventory and spare parts for your assets, which can have costly repercussions.

Establish maintenance teams

Once you have identified the problem area, it’s time to create a team that will deal with it. Depending on the problem in question, you may wish to appoint operators, technicians and maintenance crews or other personnel to perform the particular task.

For example, if your asset repository needs better management, you may need specialised staff on hand at all times, ready to order, release, restock or do other aspects of managing your inventory.

If you are dealing with a frequently failing machine, you need to ensure the right specialists are looking at it to see the depth of where the problem lies, fix it and ensure frequent maintenance to avoid similar problems from occurring in the future.

Appoint leadership

It’s also advisable to have open channels of communication between your team members and to set out clear roles and responsibilities. This will help ensure that every team member knows what they are responsible for and who they can report to in the event of an unexpected occurrence.

For this reporting to be effective, you need to identify and select one or several members of your team who will act as managers or team leaders and who will ensure that lines of communication are always open. This means that any challenge that arises is dealt with as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Develop maintenance schedules

The next step is to develop maintenance schedules. For this purpose, it is important to distinguish between reactive maintenance and proactive or preventative maintenance. Reactive maintenance happens after a machine has already broken down and is in the process of being repaired.

Proactive or preventive maintenance is maintenance that takes place before a machine breakdown or just in time before bigger problems or failures arise. When you set maintenance schedules, make sure to set them according to a preventive maintenance timetable that ensures fewer machines break down unexpectedly and more machines are in operation for a longer period of time.

Evaluate the new procedures

Lean maintenance management also involves evaluating the new procedures on a constant basis. If you see that a particular approach is working, it is important to continue refining this approach and making sure you are constantly working on improving it.

If you see a less than successful approach, it’s time to ask yourself what is working and if it isn’t working, why, and then implement steps to ensure that the fault does not arise again through active steps that help streamline your operations and make your organisation more efficient and ultimately lean

Lean Maintenance Tools and Techniques for Manufacturers

Apart from lean maintenance tools that you can use at your manufacturing plant or facility, there are also important techniques to be aware of as you go about implementing lean methodology into your daily operations. Some of the manufacturing project management tools and techniques are covered in more detail below.

The 5S philosophy

The 5S philosophy comes from Japan. The idea is that an average worker follows it to support maintenance processes. In short, the 5Ss are: sort, straighten, shine, standardise and sustain. In terms of “sort”, it’s necessary to make a decision as to which materials are to be used and which are to be discarded. “Straighten” refers to keeping areas organised so that less time is wasted.

When it comes to “shine”, workers are expected and encouraged to keep their tools, equipment and work areas clean and tidy. For “standardise”, a plan needs to be put in place for how the first three S’s will be performed. Finally, there is “sustain”. This means implementing a cyclical process that supports new practices based on audits, which helps sustain the remaining four S’s over the long term.

Kaizen events

Whether it is to implement the 5S principles or address problematic aspects of the organisation or maintenance processes, Kaizen events take centre stage when it comes to iteration. These events are usually quite short-term in nature (such as over the period of one week). However, they are highly beneficial because they are held regularly, thus fostering a mindset of continuous improvement.

They encourage teams in various parts of the organisation to always strive to improve or take small steps towards the best outcomes for the organisation. Another Japanese principle, it was coined by Toyota and it involves regular audits and updates to processes and procedures for continuous improvement.

JIT inventory management

JIT or “just-in-time” in the maintenance context, involves making changes to how inventory is managed. It is also part of lean manufacturing and lean maintenance. In maintenance, it is used to refer to how inventory, spare parts and tools are managed.

For this reason, it is necessary to have a well-planned maintenance schedule and on-hand information about the condition of individual assets. This way, you can ensure that the right parts arrive as close as possible to the time that they will be needed. Often, it is implemented through the use of CMMS software, which combines it with predictive or preventive maintenance.

Distributed MRO inventory

Although it was often a past practice to keep all inventory in a specialised warehouse or at a specific location, with modern lean maintenance today, this practice is quickly becoming outdated. The lean approach focuses on creating multiple store locations that are situated close to the area where they will be used.

These locations where spare parts and inventory are stored should contain relevant and area-specific parts and tools. This, in turn, requires long-term planning for maximum effect. For this purpose, CMMS tracking data is relied on to ensure maximum availability without holding excess amounts of stock.

Total productive maintenance (TPM)

The ultimate foundation of lean maintenance is total productive maintenance (TPM). As the name suggests, it is a holistic approach that aims to achieve perfection in production.

In manufacturing facilities, this perfection includes minimal breakdowns and delays as well as accidents related to assets, equipment and staff.

A major part of ensuring that TPM is achieved is by adhering to proactive maintenance. This is achieved by training autonomous teams, supported by both supervisors and high-level executives.


Much like the name suggests, mistake-proofing is about creating plans and implementing detailed and user-friendly procedures to ensure that mistakes are kept to an absolute minimum.

Examples of ways in which this can be achieved include creating detailed work orders, colour-coding lubricants and cleaning supplies, clearly defining preventive maintenance procedures, placing labels on all equipment and others.

CMMS system

Ultimately, lean manufacturing maintenance is achieved by implementing manufacturing inventory management software or a CMMS system. The system should be used by autonomous teams who receive work orders as efficiently as possible.

With the right CMMS implemented at your organisation, you can streamline maintenance planning and scheduling processes, work order management and other critical components involved in maintenance management, such as inventory and spare parts management.

Fabrico CMMS: Your Reliable Maintenance Management Partner

When it comes to implementing lean maintenance or the principles of agile for manufacturing, it’s essential to choose the right software to ensure you, your team and the overall organisation reap the benefits. This is where Fabrico’s CMMS shines as an outstanding and powerful tool that helps streamline all aspects of your maintenance management processes. 

We encourage you to explore Fabrico’s CMMS preventive maintenance solution to discover all the different ways it can help your organisation reduce unnecessary waste and introduce greater efficiencies instead.


The ongoing nature of lean maintenance cannot be overstated. The reason behind this is that it offers unique advantages that can align your maintenance practices with your business’s needs.

Continuous improvements are a necessary part of staying competitive and you should consider exploring and implementing a lean maintenance programme and approach at your facility to enjoy all the benefits it offers.

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