MRO Q&A: The Pros and Cons of Using a Contract Maintenance Service

Jan. 10, 2012
MRO Q&A is a Food Processing series addressing maintenance, repair and operational issues in food plants.

Q. What are the pros and cons of using a contract maintenance service rather than an in-house maintenance department?

A. Given the right situation, contracting for maintenance services can be very effective in allowing you to focus on your main competency: making food. Which firm is the best for you directly depends upon the compatibility of your operation and their abilities. Full service contractors typically have their own CMMS (computerized maintenance management system), which allows you to avoid the cost of purchasing, installing and maintaining a system of your own. Some of the better services will also have their own parts and free you up from shouldering the carrying costs associated with maintaining inventories.

There are certain environments that are more conducive than others to using these services. If you have large multiples of the same equipment that need to be maintained, several buildings with similar functionality, a specific discipline that is repetitively used and predictable or repetitive tasks that use the same disciplines (welding, sheet metal work, machining), contracting services can make great sense. Examples of these would be companies with vehicle fleets, with multiple office buildings or a production facility that has multiple production lines that are virtually identical. Businesses of scale but with a simple product offering are generally the most compatible with this type of maintenance.

On the flip side of this coin are some shortcomings to using these services. The talent these companies hire can come from the same pool of talent you would pull from, so be aware that "the grass is not always greener on the other side." Each production facility has its own "cultural nuances," and having a contractor that doesn't fit in can cause more disruption than it is worth. A well-run plant is one that plans, schedules and executes activities very well. Having contractors that are key to your success, but operate outside of the plant processes due to confidentiality reasons can cause major difficulties.

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In most food plants, there is a plethora of various types of equipment. It is rare that a contractor has the employees on staff that are capable of knowing the specific requirements each varied piece of equipment needs from a maintenance perspective. In many instances , you have to grow these individuals internally due to the flexibility you need.

Contract maintenance can be a good option in many situations, but you need to do a deep dive into how they do their business and what you get for their services before you make that decision and sign on the dotted line.