Cutting the Fat from Equipment Redundancy

During a recent tour of a major logistics company, I was amazed at the emphasis placed on honoring commitments to the shipper. At every step of the process, the company had contingency plans in place to ensure that objectives were accomplished and shippers were satisfied.

Then our guide indicated some idle equipment and explained it was necessary for “just-in-case” situations. As impressed as I was by this dedication to the customer, I wondered how much the service provider had sacrificed in lean operations to keep these equipment reliability safety nets in place. I also wondered if it was an interim solution, or if the company had failed to explore leaner options for its contingency strategy.


Few organizations have developed the discipline to analyze and clarify problems as they occur, rather than succumb to a “ready, fire, aim” mentality. In the face of a problem, most companies do not use the “5 Why” problem-solving method, which helps reveal a problem’s root cause. Often, they fix symptoms rather than take permanent corrective action.

Without proper analysis and permanent countermeasures to address the true root cause of equipment reliability issues, organizations have few alternatives to keeping redundant equipment ready for just-in-case breakdowns.


Failing to implement standard work and the subsequent audit system to ensure compliance is another weak point in many equipment reliability plans. Standardization is vital to accelerating breakdown analysis and repair. In addition, standardization allows companies to dramatically reduce spare part inventories and more easily maintain preventive maintenance procedures.

Equipment design is also key to minimizing the time equipment is down for scheduled maintenance. Many organizations simply allow for some quantity of equipment to be out of service for preventive maintenance, rather than focusing on design aspects that can minimize scheduled maintenance downtime and subsequently reduce overall capital expenditures.

Organizations that adopt lean concepts are often the most frugal with capital spending. My first supervisor explained to me many years ago that a piece of equipment should run at its peak performance the day before it is replaced by better technology. This maxim is just as true for logistics as it is for manufacturing, service, or any other industry.

Properly utilizing lean concepts such as total productive maintenance helps maximize equipment longevity and performance, resulting in lower capital expenditure and higher productivity. Having the user and the supporting maintenance department share ownership of equipment maintenance is essential to success in this effort.


Without high levels of equipment reliability, organizations are forced to use countermeasures that are contrary to lean in order to achieve the performance the customer demands. These organizations face hard times when their competitors successfully meet customer expectations in a manner that reduces waste as opposed to adding waste such as redundant equipment. Lean methodologies improve competitive viability in any industry and equipment reliability is essential to a successful lean transformation.

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