Water companies and water authorities often have a large portfolio of assets. The maintenance departments of these organizations are also facing challenges such as the aging of technical workforce, greater pressure on assets due to climate change and digitalization. In addition, the ‘next generation’ technician is coming; these are Millennials in need of a challenging job that offers variety and continuous development. To make Asset Management attractive for these young technicians and to face the aforementioned challenges, MaxGrip developed clustered maintenance (Blokonderhoud) together with a large Dutch water company.

Clustered maintenance is basically a series of mini turnarounds that are scheduled at fixed times. A demarcated part of a sewage treatment plant or a complete lock is taken care of in a block of two weeks. The idea for clustered maintenance was born two years ago. Erwin de Witt, the project leader on behalf of MaxGrip: “The approach for clustered maintenance arose from a joint brainstorming session with the client on how we could renew their maintenance organization to make it future-proof. Clustered maintenance is part of a wide renewal process regarding condition-based maintenance based on data. They are standardizing the maintenance process and are working towards digitalization with the implementation of a new EAM system.”

Peace in the organization

With clustered maintenance, a new way of working was developed that should ensure smarter and more efficient operation and meet the needs of the water technician of the future. The organization sees that more maintenance work needs to be carried out, but also expects a 25% outflow of personnel in the coming years. These facts require the water company to take measures such as developing ways to handle the work order flow more efficiently. Erwin explains how block maintenance takes care of this: “Clustered maintenance involves collaboration in multidisciplinary teams that work flexibly across the locations. By scheduling fixed blocks, more attention is paid to preventive maintenance. Failure is also better prioritized. If it can wait, the malfunction will only be resolved “in the block” by the maintenance team. Clustered maintenance, therefore, provides more structure and peace of mind in the maintenance organization.”

Vakblad Asset Management – Dutch version

The original version of this interview was posted in the Dutch Maintenance Organization’s magazine: Vakblad Asset Management.

More fun at work

Perhaps the most important aspect for the team is that clustered maintenance makes work more attractive. Knowledge transfer is better facilitated through the collaboration in teams with employees from maintenance, operation, production and projects. In addition, the team fulfills a flexible role. This way of working meets the need of young technicians for challenge and variety. “Basically, the assets of drinking water and sewage water installations do not differ much. It is therefore perfectly possible to deploy technicians flexibly about the locations and the different types of installations. It broadens and deepens the knowledge and skills of the technicians. We notice that people like their work a lot more,” adds Erwin. Yet it is evident that with this method pulls people out of their comfort zone. This gives a huge boost for young technicians, but what about the expert who has been performing his work in a certain way for forty years and now has to change? “Ideally, everyone looks ahead and connects with the younger generation who can easily cope with data-driven maintenance and can appreciate flexibility and development opportunities. That said, turning everything around isn’t an end in itself. Clustered maintenance is a process in which you as an organization have to grow. As a consultancy we contribute to a future-proof maintenance organization and we understand the fact that not everyone immediately feels comfortable with such a different working method.”

Growing in flexibility

The water company is gradually introducing the renewal. The wastewater department has transferred and drinking water is the focus of this year. Now they are in an intermediate phase of growth and familiarization. Marcel Nagelhout, senior consultant at MaxGrip: “Performing maintenance completely in block requires meticulous planning. That is sometimes difficult. In addition, a technician can be the senior at their own location, while at another location they are not. Some colleagues don’t like that. In this intermediate phase we look for pragmatic solutions. For example, the senior can stay in place more often and act as failure manager and mentor, while the juniors can be deployed flexibly. In this way newer employees learn a lot from the experts.” MaxGrip not only developed this form of maintenance together with the water company, but also helps with implementation. Marcel: “We offer a flexible shell. In key roles where the customer does not yet have the people or competencies we temporarily place one of our own colleagues next to their people. In this way, they can quickly grow in knowledge and expertise. We monitor the baseline with an implementation plan. The plan sets a dot on the horizon and contains concrete goals. For example, what should a block leader be able to do? What does the work involve? What training and coaching is required for this? These are important questions to answer and put into practice.”

Helicopter view

Although clustered maintenance has yet to be fully implemented, it is already yielding results. Preventive Maintenance has gained more traction by emphasizing its importance and success through this way of working. “With clustered maintenance we achieve a higher first time right percentage and the asset availability is higher. Previously, the water company often had a backlog of 10-15% Preventive Maintenance at the end of the year that was still waiting to be performed. That is now nil. By the end of 2021, all wastewater, drinking water and pumping stations must be transferred to clustered maintenance at the organization. And does clustered maintenance also make the consultant’s work more fun? Erwin: “It is very cool to be able to lead such a transformation project at a large water company. The space that I get with my employer and the drive and ambition of the customer make it a super fun project. You can really make a difference. Asset Management has acquired a greater role thanks to the connecting nature and future-proofness of block maintenance. In the beginning, employees of the water company were not that impressed, but now everyone understands that it is more than just a fun idea.”

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