Five questions with maintenance expert Jason Afara
We sat down with Jason Afara, a solutions engineer at Fiix and one of our resident maintenance experts, to talk about some of the biggest frustrations that maintenance personnel face and some tips for tearing down these obstacles. Jason has a degree in chemical engineering from the University of Western Ontario and seven years of experience in the food production industry as an engineering coordinator, maintenance planner, supervisor, and manager.
Fiix: There is no shortage of headaches that maintenance teams face every day. What were some of the biggest frustrations you faced as a maintenance manager?
Jason: The first one that comes to mind was having to deal with inefficient processes, especially when it came to work requests. People outside of maintenance sometimes don’t understand why these processes are necessary and that would result in getting work requests that were asking for too much and asking for it yesterday.
The unpredictability of maintenance was also frustrating. Sometimes, when equipment breaks down, the reasons are completely beyond what you can control. You end up losing weekends, missing sleep, and feeling a lot of stress. But in terms of what you can control, the biggest frustration was the unrealistic expectations from people inside and outside of maintenance. I’d have to manage those expectations with the limited resources we had.
…there’s always going to be a portion of randomness in maintenance and you can only do so much and you can only plan so much, so you have to be prepared for the unexpected. You have to be comfortable being uncomfortable.
Fiix: A lot of those issues are ones that come up again and again, and don’t always have a simple solution. Did you develop any tricks or techniques for coping and reducing the impact they had on you and your team?
Jason: I learned that when you have limited energy and resources, you should spend the energy and resources you do have on solving the problem instead of focusing on the issue. I tried to keep in mind that there’s always going to be a portion of randomness in maintenance and you can only do so much and you can only plan so much, so you have to be prepared for the unexpected. You have to be comfortable being uncomfortable.
Fiix: Maintenance deals a lot with machines and technology, but it also has a lot to do with people and good communication. What were some ways you tried to improve communication among your team and between teams?
Jason: One of the most beneficial programs I implemented was a regular shift change meeting between the day and afternoon teams. The purpose was to bring everyone into a room and have a face-to-face meeting. The technicians would talk about what happened that day, the issues they had, how they were solved, what was working, and what wasn’t. It was a five-minute open forum that focused on getting better. I would attend a majority of them at the start, but I eventually gave ownership to my team and trusted them with it. I would attend every so often to talk about business developments or safety announcements.
You can’t evaluate yourself on how many things are broken, but on how much progress you’re making on overall maintenance and equipment performance. It’s a journey, it takes time, but it’s possible.
Fiix: What were some of the biggest benefits you saw after implementing this meeting?
Jason: It was about having them see that helping each other improve meant that they were stronger as a team and that we were stronger as a company. A lot of people in the maintenance industry believe that the more you know, the more secure your job is, which is why a lot of people are uncomfortable sharing their knowledge. This meeting was a small way of trying to flip that thinking and telling my team that the more knowledge they had, the more value they were bringing to the team, and the more value they were able to add to the business.
Fiix: Progress can be slow in maintenance. It can sometimes take months or years to make a change, solve a problem, and see positive results. How do you keep confidence high and establish a culture of improvement in this environment?
Jason: Because maintenance can be unpredictable, confidence can fluctuate so much in a short amount of time, both on an individual level and on a team level. For example, when you troubleshoot a problem really fast and get equipment running again quickly, you can feel really good. People on the floor will literally clap. You need to build off of those small wins and celebrate them to get that momentum and take meaningful steps forward.
You always have to recognize wins, no matter how small, because there’s always going to be maintenance, there’s always going to be a backlog and work requests, and it can get overwhelming. It’s easy to look around a facility and just see what’s broken instead of thinking about the long-term fixes. You can’t evaluate yourself on how many things are broken, but on how much progress you’re making on overall maintenance and equipment performance. It’s a journey, it takes time, but it’s possible. It’s important to celebrate every small step towards your goal to keep it visible and motivate people to reach for it.