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Avoiding Maintenance Mayhem in the Laundry

Implementing a total productive maintenance system for on-demand availability, efficiency

CHICAGO — If the equipment is a laundry isn’t running, the laundry isn’t effective. And it probably isn’t profitable.

That’s where maintenance comes into play. 

However, a lot of the time it seems like laundry plant maintenance is dealing with unplanned or even emergency repairs. Wouldn’t it be nice if maintenance could spend more time on preventative procedures, being proactive with equipment before it fails so that it’s always available and effective?

Michael Lovett, executive vice president of HRD Strategies, which works with businesses to improve organizational effectiveness, spoke about how maintenance can be more effective during the Association for Linen Management (ALM) webinar entitled Optimizing Maintenance: Avoiding Maintenance Mayhem.


Lovett’s presentation focused on the total productive maintenance (TPM) system. 

“What is TPM? It’s been around a long time, but essentially total productive maintenance is one of those things where you have many, many avenues, but bottom line is the on-demand availability and efficiency is what TPM is all about,” he says. “It’s making sure you’ve got the equipment online, running efficiently and effectively during that timeframe through an improved, systematic way of maintaining the equipment.”

Lovett says the difference between TPM and traditional maintenance strategies is that people who operate the equipment get involved. 

“That doesn’t mean that we are trying to take away the maintenance person’s position or take away their job, but when the rate of pay for a maintenance technician is $20-30 an hour, roughly, across the United States, what do I want that person doing?” he says. “Do I want that person doing non-value-added maintenance activities, or more value-added maintenance activities?”

 Involving the operators on the front line helps with simpler maintenance activities because they know the equipment, can predict when things are going to happen, Lovett points out.

TPM originated back in the 1940s during World War II, he shares. Throughout the ’80s, there was concerted effort by major manufacturers and major systems to take the system and marry it to a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS). 

“One of the things that I think is key for you to know is that technology, we like to call it artificial intelligence, CMMS systems today and in the future are going to dictate a lot of what your maintenance activities are going to be,” Lovett points out. 


Lovett says that with an effective TPM program, a laundry can, basically, extend the life cycle of its equipment. 

“I’m going to use BMW as a backdrop here. The predictive maintenance of a BMW is unreal,” he shares. “When you take your car in at so many years old or so many thousand miles, they know exactly what’ going to break. 

“I’ll give you an example: The first time the oil pan starts leaking, it’s time to replace all of the gaskets. Almost 90% of the time, replace all of the gaskets. When they replace one, it puts different pressures on the other ones, and they start leaking in different places.”

Another benefit is better utilization of the workforce because, as Lovett points out, it’s very difficult today to find skilled people to bring into the maintenance department. There’s a definite labor benefit to “upscaling” laundry operators to help with minor maintenance activities so the skilled maintenance staff a plant does have can be better utilized. 

“We can’t find good electrical people,” he says. “We can’t find good mechanical people. They just don’t have the skill. Plus, we’re aging. So, we are going to upscaling so that when we bring in an operator to operate equipment, they need to have some skillsets in terms of how to do basic repair, and the other side of this is it helps improve productivity.”

Basically, using equipment operators in this manner can help reduce downtime and rework, and help keep up productivity and prevent equipment startup losses, according to Lovett. How? By keeping up on minor maintenance, operators help reduce breakdowns, setup and adjustment delays, idling and minor stoppages, prevent reduced speed, malfunctions, and reduced yield.

“A lot of the things we’re talking about doing are very simple add-ons,” he points out. “It’s not something that you need to go spend a lot of money on; it’s just processes that you put in place. 

“For instance, as you go through your steam systems, your ironing systems, your water systems, your pneumatic systems, all the things that go through and supply your equipment, what are you missing there? When we have a steam leak, how do we handle that? Are we looking those? Sometimes we’ll get so focused on equipment we forget about our ancillary support units, whether it’s air, electrical, etc.” 


Lovett says TPM is built out of four components: tools, equipment, operators and CMMS. 

Using TPM, tools are readily available, all types of tools, from hand tools to technology like laptops. Next, he says equipment needs to be modified so it’s easy to keep clean and to see where maintenance is required. Then, the operators have to be trained on the fundamentals of preventative maintenance as a part of their normal work activity. 

“That’s a key component, having those individuals where they can do that,” says Lovett. “Again, our workforce is not such that we can hire enough people on the maintenance side to do all those things we’ve had them do in the past.” 

Finally, he says a CMMS needs to be in place. This can be anything from advanced software to a simple a spreadsheet, depending on what an organization can do.

Lovett says there are five steps to start up a TPM system:

  • Select the equipment to work on.
  • Do what is called a PUSH (process, utilization, safety and housekeeping) event.
  • Define machine operator maintenance tasks and modify equipment to facilitate those tasks.
  • Define maintenance staff tasks and provide informative tools to assist.
  • Make the system sustainable. 

Equipment selection determines what to work on, what to start with, Lovett says. A laundry should look at what it is having unplanned downtime, what’s giving quality issues, increased repair costs, failing before it’s supposed to, running slower or not according to process.

“One of things I like to talk to people about in TPM is the first thing you need to measure is your emergency work, and that’s basically being reactive,” shares Lovett. “How many hours are you spending in emergency work? The next component is unplanned work. It may not be an emergency, but it’s unplanned. You had a failure. Then how much of your planned work are you doing?”

Measuring emergency or unplanned work is key because it helps a laundry create a strategic maintenance plan, avoiding mayhem, he says.

“If you have a breakdown and you send someone out to repair it, they may not know what tools they need, if they’re new, they may not know what parts they’re going to need,” Lovett says. 

With a good, solid work order system, maintenance can go in and say the average time to repair this component on this dryer is X, so then they can build a strategic maintenance plan in order to identify those pieces of equipment that are going to need specific things done throughout the year, he says.

“In a lot of our textile companies, they would shut down the week of Christmas and the week of Fourth of July,” Lovett shares. “That means we Band-Aided things the first six months out of the year. That’s unacceptable because by the time we got to fixing things, we had a lot more expense.” 

He says major corporations can be good at planning major downtime. These companies regularly plan and schedule times to do repair work, taking eight or 12 hours, or even a couple days.

A PUSH event, he says, improves a laundry’s ability to get rid of expenses. 

“Go through the facility from rooftop to the basements, anything that can affect our processes negatively, utilization of equipment, any safety items and any housekeeping items,” says Lovett. “What are your problems? It gives you the ability to build that matrix or checklist and get immediate resolution to these items. It puts things in a priority for you to work on.”

The next step, something he says should be measured, is what the staff is working on. 

“We talk about effectiveness and value,” he says. “In other words, if you take a look at everything that a maintenance individual does throughout the course of 30 days, and all you have to do is list the tasks that person performs and you measure it in terms of how valuable it is to the organization or to the system so how effective are we at that. 

“And then you look at should somebody else be doing it, or could it be automated changed or improved? Those are the kind the things you have to think about as you look at a TPM system.”

So, what does that laundry want its operators doing in terms of maintenance? It’s key to implement daily operator activities, review checklists, ensure operator training is complete, finalize checklist schedules, Lovett says.

“Here are all of their tasks associated with our maintenance function, what do we want them to do on a regular basis, and what do we want to train them how to do?” he says. “How do we want to modify the equipment in order to make it easier for those individuals to do what we call in-process operations?

“One of the things we’re designing with our clients is putting a QR code right on the equipment. You scan it with a cell phone, and what comes up is the checklist. They go through the checklist, they mark it up and submit it and it goes straight into a database. Instead of having clipboards and things of that nature.” 

A laundry also needs to look at how it defines the maintenance technician’s jobs, and the tools that go with it. Lovett says technicians should provide tech support to operators along a clear communications path. An operator can communicate an issue, and then the technician can either say, “You can make this adjustment,” or, “That’s beyond what you should be doing, I’ll be over.”

He also says technicians should be utilizing data to have a good spare parts inventory. 

“I like to have parts just in time,” shares Lovett. “I don’t want them on the shelf costing money and inventory. I want to know when things are going to fail and have them on hand.”

Also, he believes that technicians should be good “students” and know when equipment will need maintenance by studying manufacturer recommendations, breakdown histories, checking the logs, doing analysis—solving problems. 

“You would like to have 75 to 80% of your work planned,” Lovett says. “It’s becoming more of a data-driven craft than it is slinging wrenches.”

And data is what makes a TPM system sustainable, he points out. Knowing key performance indicators (KPIs), overall equipment effectiveness, availability, performance and quality. It also involves  auditing what the laundry operators and technicians are doing on a daily basis. 

“If you don’t have data, you can’t do it,” Lovett concludes. “Take a hard look at your method and equipment. What is your on-demand time? Look at your workforce. And how can you make sure that these things are there and are seen and done and effective?”


Lovett says that TPM is not about anything other than continually improving processes. It’s done by making sure that uptime efficiency is there, and upscaling the workforce—a major key.

“One of the other things we’re running into is that our community colleges and trade schools do a good job in the theory, but the hands-on is where they’re missing the boat,” he points out. “So, you really need to look at a comprehensive program for how you train people on your equipment, how you onboard them. You have to think about, I want to upscale my operators, upscale my maintenance people, but I also want to hire a better type of person.” 

He says that a laundry might have to put in its own training system. 

“Look at the cost of your training system as not just a line item, look at like what it could have cost you if that piece of equipment was down for three days,” he shares. “It is a true component of how you put in a training system.”