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Acquiring a true understanding of best practice maintenance processes for critical facilities – part one

Author : Dr Ghasson Shabha and Samantha Harpin

26 July 2018

In the first of two articles, Dr Ghasson Shabha a Senior lecturer at the School of Engineering and the Built Environment at Birmingham City University (BCU) and Samantha Harpin, facilities manager at West Midlands Fire Services (WMFS), explain the need to apply correct maintenance practice to avoid just fixing things when they break to increase effective lifecycle operational efficiency.

There is a growing recognition that maintenance generally suffers from endemic lack of understanding amongst maintenance and facilities managers. Attitude to maintenance too often is “we’ll fix it when it breaks”.

Clearly maintenance professionals understand that maintenance has failed if things break down. It appears that current maintenance regimes in many business organisation are largely inappropriate, very informal and badly organised as it not based on best practice.

Breakdowns are frequent and the majority of maintenance is re-active. Suffice to mention that typically reactive maintenance, due to its inherent inefficiencies, costs two to four times more than planned or preventative maintenance in the long run The fact that companies often adopt a ‘quick fix’ approach actually exacerbates the problem.

In a typical business and health care there are thousands of items that need maintaining, and these can all create operation problems.

Where managers often don’t understand the reasons behind these chronic problems and lose sight of a huge strategic opportunity to create more production or profit through better maintenance, and hence improve the service they deliver and maximize reliability and effectiveness towards maintaining both brand and image.

This is particularly true in the fire services and critical health care facilities In these articles Dr Shabha and Ms Harpin discuss maintenance management in critical facilities and examine reliability, usability and safety of assets as key considerations for effective maintenance management.

They propose a new modus operandi to maximise effectiveness of FM by adopting strategic management systems to maintain functionality and support business delivery.

The authors however argue that although there are numerous operationally recognised methods the effectiveness of which remain to be seen and continual re-evaluation is therefore needed in order to maintain long-term improvements and built in resilience.

It is widely recognised that organisational approach and culture are pivotal to the effective and successful delivery of facilities management.

According to Baidya et al., (2016) strategic maintenance selection should not only focus on reliability and productivity of an asset, but must also consider strategic influences of the organisation.

They propose a framework that can be used to assess “the effectiveness of the technologies used in condition-based maintenance and simultaneously meets the strategic needs of the organisation and maintenance engineers.”

This can potentially increase synergy between operational needs (user-focused) and strategic intentions and objectives (organisation-focused), thus optimising efficiencies by identifying and eliminating the least effective technologies.

This is clearly demonstrated by WMFS where various sites are managed from a central location remotely, with response service by a dedicated surveyor.

This is assisted by a Building Management System (BMS) and wireless sensors network (WSN) that supports remote viewing and control of the heating and hot water systems, security and access across multiple sites as well as mobile assets.

FM delivery is wholly based on a multitude of core and peripheral activities to ensure smooth and optimal management of buildings, assets and reliable delivery of a reliable fire fighting services.

In so doing it is of paramount importance to ensure that, at the heart of the delivery, FM is underpinned by legislation and compliance with health and safety regulations and business continuity plans - to avoid any interruption to service which might result in a higher H&S risks including potential loss of life and long-term damage to both image and brand.

Strategic maintenance for systems is therefore needed not only to keep systems running, but also to assess and improve plants and assets condition and efficiencies enabling informed decisions about the organisational investment is to be made and where their focus in time and effort should be.

Ultimately reduce initial investment and running costs enabling team managers to make a well-informed decisions for the organisation.

Often FM assist in providing business solutions that support these proposals to optimise resources to their fullest using strategic maintenance planning techniques to evaluate efficiencies where key areas for investment can be identified.

Such an increase in efficiencies can often offset and recoup the original investment cost. Nyman (2009) proposes the ‘iceberg theory’, which provides a holistic approach to maintenance based on reliability rather than a narrow pursuit of mere maintenance cost reduction.

As shown in Figure 1 costs can be saved by cutting maintenance on the surface but there are a plethora of hidden costs (not just financial) may be unseen to consider.

Although the initial capital cost of a construction project is the primary concern to project stakeholders and owners, later on, operations and maintenance (O&M) account for the largest percentage- the lion share of cost of a buildings overall life cycle.

As shown in Figure 2 the life cycle cost of non-domestic buildings (O&M) counts for 60-85% of their total ownership cost, whereas design and construction accounted for about 5-10% in comparison with acquisition, renewal and disposal costs of 5-35% of the total ownership cost.

With this in mind, the whole life cycle costs of a building should be the focus of the FM not least to ensure that best value is achieved throughout the life cycle of a building/asset and to reduce maintenance costs.

Strategic management within the organisation does not always share in the foresight of whole life cycle costing which can create barriers for longer-term investment with slow payback or hidden costs.

Providing a rapid response service delivery within an emergency service organisation as such as WMFS can be challenging for FM as the fire sector does not always operate within such defined parameters of that of the manufacturing industry, due to a metamorphous pattern and variability characterising a response environment.

Exasperated by the continual operation of 24/7, 365 days a year this makes planned maintenance more problematic due to the lack of operational shutdown time given the unpredictable nature of the work.

This contradicts the demand for continual service delivery requires greater focus on planned preventative maintenance in order to reduce breakdowns?

A vicious circle since Interruption to response carries higher risks, a critical event would impinge on service delivery with wide ranging consequences. Organisational preparedness with controlled shutdowns will be therefore needed so resilience can be planned in to deal with remote possibilities.

For instance, 24 volt vehicle charging cables for response appliances; if the cable replacement is based on an optimum life expectancy of the part, correlated with works history and usage, the cables could be replaced in a phased programme, with contingencies for alternative charging locations identified.

If the cables are left to reactive repair and replacement, then the capacity to charge the vehicles is lost. The break down period may be extended due to lead time for replacements.

This is detrimental as the vehicle may be left inoperable thus compromising response to a critical event when a major incident is declared like a terror attack where a risk to life is significantly greater.

This is equally important for ambulance services which synergistically operate alongside the fire services where life can potentially put at risk and ultimately result in loss of life if plan (B) or (C) are not thoroughly contemplated.

The actual cost to WMFS is then not only restricted to parts and labour but also consequential costs including potential surge for out of hours’ response, lead times on replacement parts, cost to provide alternative solutions which might be prove to prohibitively high and damage to brand and reputation.


Arunraj, N. & Maiti, J., 2007. Risk-based maintenance—Techniques and applications. Journal of Hazardous Materials, 142(3), pp. 653-661.

Baidya, R. D. P. G. S. &. P. K., 2018. Strategic maintenance technique selection using combined quality function deployment, the analytical hierarchy process and the benefit of doubt approach. The International Journal of Advanced Manufacturing, 94(1), pp. 31-44.

Bousdekis, A., Magoutas, B., Apostolou, D. & Mentzas, G., 2015. A proactive decision making framework for condition-based maintenance. Industrial Management & data Systems, 115(7), pp. 1225-1250.

Mrad, N., Foote, P., Giurgiutiu, V. & Pinosonnault, j., 2013. Condition-Based Maintenance. International Journal of Aerospace Engineering, Volume 2013, pp. 1-2.

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Pirkil, H. & Schilling, D. A., 1988. The siting of emergency service facilities with workload capabilities and back up service. Management Science, 34(7), pp. 896-908.

Shabha, G., 2007. An Assessment of the Effectiveness of Embedded smart sensors on users' performance in the workplace. Journal of Facilities Management, 5(3), pp. 179-187.

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Tian, Z., Kin, D. & Wu, B., 2012. Condition based maintenance optimization considering multiple objectives. Journal of Intelligent Manufacturing, 23(2), pp. 333-340.

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