Total productive maintenance is a set of processes for maintaining and improving production, safety, and quality systems through the assets, people, and processes that add value to an organization. 

But what does that all mean? 

Basically, it’s a combination of five steps and eight activities focused on keeping everything up and running. And by using total productive maintenance (TPM), maintenance departments can do their job better, more easily, and with a lot less stress. 

What is total productive maintenance? 

Between 1950 and 1970, Japanese companies spent a lot of time looking at how to fine-tune manufacturing, and they discovered the key was to get small groups of frontline employees involved in improvement projects. By 1971, they’d put everything they’d learned into a formal system, total productive maintenance. Quick example of its importance and reach: Japan’s famous JIT manufacturing, where parts arrive just in time, just before they’re needed, comes from and relies on TPM’s core principles and practices. 

What are the benefits of total productive maintenance? 

Now, you might be asking yourself, “What do manufacturing philosophies and practices from 1970s Japan have to do with me?” Also: “Why should I care?” 

Turns out, it might be a lot. Total productive maintenance delivers benefits directly related to the maintenance department’s goals, including: 

  • Less downtime 
  • More uptime 
  • Improved safety 
  • Less stress 

How can I implement total productive maintenance? 

Another connection between you and Japan from all those years ago is how modern facility management software makes implementing total productive maintenance easier. If you have an enterprise asset management (EAM) solution, you can get TBM working for you. 

Total productive maintenance has two main sections, the 5S foundation and the eight pillars. By looking at each part, we can better understand the system as a whole and begin to see how the right EAM makes implementation not only possible but also much easier. 

What is the TPM 5S foundation? 

You begin with a list of things to do around your facilities. The idea is to arrange everything perfectly, to create the best environment, and then maintain it. 

There’s some disagreement on how to translate the words from the original Japanese, but the generally accepted 5S are: 

  1. Sort 
  1. Set in order 
  1. Shine 
  1. Standardize 
  1. Sustain/Self-discipline 

It’s important to remember that it’s a numbered list. The steps must be done in order because later steps refer to and depend on earlier ones. 

5S: Sort 

At this step, you need to declutter. Get rid of anything that doesn’t need to be there. Some things you move to better spots. Others, you throw out. When you get rid of clutter in the maintenance department’s tool crib and inventory, techs can find what they need faster. When you do it around assets, maintenance techs can see potential problems more easily during routine walkthroughs. And when they’re working on assets, there’s less to move out of the way before they can start. 

Clutter kills time on wrench. Get rid of it. 

5S: Set in order 

Here, take what’s left and start to organize it. A place for everything and everything in its place. It generally makes the most sense to organize things in terms of workflows. For operators, that means having everything laid out according to the steps they follow with an asset. It can be helpful to think of every workstation as a mini assembly line. 

But for the maintenance department, it’s a bit different. Here we have the first step in the TPM process where an EAM comes in handy. Take the maintenance department’s inventory, for example. What’s the best way to organize everything? Some of your decisions are going to be related to safety. Heavy objects need to go on bottom shelves, for example. Other inventory might have specific requirements for ambient temperature. For example, you can’t keep anything under pressure out in the corrugated tin shed under the hot sun. For everything else, you want to organize it so the stuff you use most often is the easiest to find and pull out. 

With its built-in inventory management software, your EAM helps by taking out the guesswork. Need to know what materials are getting used most often? Check historical work orders and purchase orders. Same thing for replacement parts. 

Whatever spare part gets used most, put it on the eye-level shelf by the door. 

5S: Shine 

You’re down to just the essentials and you’ve got them sorted to smooth out everyone’s workflows. Now you need a way to ensure all that work lasts. Shine means creating times when you go back and tidy up, making sure everything is working properly and in its right spot. 

5S: Standardize 

It’s great to want to shine, but it’s also easy to forget. Over time, the things you sorted and set return to their natural state: disorganized clutter. Standardize is where you set up a shine schedule. For operators, the last 15 minutes of each shift can be set aside for shining. That way, the next shift always starts with a nice clean workstation. 

For the maintenance department, shining can be scheduled in the EAM as a preventive maintenance work order (PM) with a customizable checklist of tasks. Once it’s scheduled, the department can see it on the easy-to-read calendar dashboard. 

On top of that, the software sends out email reminders, making PMs impossible to forget. It might slip your mind, but the software remembers and reminds you. 

5S: Sustain/Self-discipline 

At this step, you’re locking in your ongoing gains by making sure operators and maintenance techs see the value of total productive maintenance. Japanese manufacturers found that one of the best ways to get buy-in from frontline employees was to ask them for input. If part of the process is setting up a shine schedule, it’s a good idea to ask for suggestions from everyone involved. How often should operators and techs be “shining?” What specific tasks need to be built into the PMs? The more people feel their opinions matter, the more they feel the program matters. 

Specifically, for the maintenance department, it’s important that everyone is trained properly on the EAM. It needs to be a tool they use, not a hassle they have to push past. If you’re currently in the market for an EAM, make sure it’s easy to use and comes with good training and ongoing support. You can’t get buy-in on a new project from techs if the first thing you ask them to do is deal with a frustrating EAM. 

What are the 8 pillars of TPM? 

The 5S are the foundation. The eight pillars stand on that foundation, holding up the roof. You can do them in any order. 

Autonomous maintenance 

Sounds pretty sci-fi, right? But it’s not the assets maintaining themselves. It’s the operators taking over the simple maintenance tasks. Think of the asset as a house and the operator as the homeowner. The maintenance techs are trades. If every time the lawnmower needed more gas the homeowner called in a trade, things would move slowly and cost a lot of money. It makes a lot more sense for the homeowner to look after as much as they reasonably can, only calling in a trade when they can’t safely take care of a problem themselves. Adding oil and cleaning out clippings are on the homeowner, but they call a trade when the pull cord breaks, or the engine mysteriously dies. 

Planned maintenance 

Planned is just another name for preventive. Instead of waiting for something to go wrong, you’re proactively looking for and fixing small issues before they have a chance to grow into big problems. A fine-tuned preventive maintenance program delivers a lot of benefits, including: 

  • Reduced downtime 
  • Increased uptime 
  • Easier inventory control
  • Fewer on-demand work orders 

A good EAM solution is essential to an efficient program because the software lets you look back and then plan ahead. How? First, it collects all your work order data in one central database, keeping it both safe. Not only is all your data updated in real-time but also, it’s backed up all the time. Once it’s safe, it then makes your data accessible, from any mobile device, anywhere and at any time. Second, autogenerated reports packed with maintenance metrics help you make sense of your data. 

Once you can look quickly back and see how often an asset has broken down, for example, you can set the right PMs. That motor’s belt slipped off about every 20 days over the last three months? Set a PM to inspect and adjust every 17 days. 

Quality maintenance, aka root cause analysis 

Here again, it’s just another name for a well-known process. Basically, it’s root cause analysis, where instead of just fixing a problem, you try to determine what caused it. The standard advice is to work backward by asking why five times. 

For example, let’s say the problem is your car won’t start. 

One: “Why won’t the car start?” 

Answer: It’s the dead battery. 

Two: “Why is the battery dead?” 

Answer: Alternator is not functioning, so the batter wasn’t getting charged. 

Three: “Why was the alternator not functioning?” 

Answer: The belt broke. 

Four: “Why did the belt break?” 

Answer: It became brittle from age and use. 

Five: “Why hadn’t the old belt been changed?” 

Answer: The manufacturer’s maintenance recommendations were not being followed. 

You won’t always get five spots back. But five is considered a good rule of thumb. 

A good EAM comes in handy because you can go back and review all your historical work orders and PMs. By looking at what work was done, you can figure out what was missed. Also, once you’ve finished your root cause analysis, you can set up PMs to make sure you don’t have to keep on dealing with the same issues. There’s no point in figuring out the reason for a problem if you can’t then avoid it in the future. 

Continuous improvement 

The theory here is that improvement is an ongoing process. You’re always looking for another small angle that gives you an edge. Everyone shares this responsibility. Everyone has their eyes open for chances to get better. 

A good EAM supports this pillar in a couple of ways. The customizable instructions and checklists in work orders and PMs means maintenance gets done the same way each time. This is important because before you can find ways to improve your workflows, you need to ensure the current ones are being followed. 

They also make it easier for the maintenance department to adopt new processes and facility maintenance workflows. Instead of having to sit down and explain everything to each technician, managers can simply update the work order templates. 

Early equipment maintenance 

Everyone knows assets tend to be more expensive when they’re older. But they can also be expensive right at the start. Installation, breakdowns from inexperienced operators, and techs taking more time to repair unfamiliar assets all cost money. For this pillar, organizations try to avoid these early problems by making sure operators and technicians get machines that are easy to learn and repair. Quick example: the placement of access panels can have a huge effect over an asset’s life. 

Education and training and administrative & office TPM 

These two are close enough we can talk about them as one. Here, you’re spreading the total productive maintenance gospel up and down the organizational chart. From the frontlines to the front office. The idea is that once everyone understands the benefits of the steps and pillars, they’ll support the project and pitch in. 

Safety, health and environmental conditions 

This one is huge. Companies care about the health and safety of their employees and do everything they can to prevent accidents. They also care about the bottom line, and accidents can be costly with regulatory and environmental fines. Big accidents destroy a company’s most important asset, its reputation. The last thing you want is Hollywood making a movie about your company’s disaster. 

A good EAM makes your facilities safer. The open maintenance request portal means anyone can reliably reach the maintenance department with safety concerns. When an operator sees that a safety bar is loose or there’s an oil spot beside an asset causing a slip hazard, the maintenance department knows about it right away. Problems get fixed before anyone gets hurt. 

Next steps 

Don’t think of it as an all-or-nothing proposition. You can see benefits even if you only ever try some of the five steps and eight pillars. You can take the parts that make sense for your operations and leave the rest. Or you can start with a few, tackling the rest once you’re ready. Regardless of your path with TPM, ManagerPlus can get you closer to the progress you want. 

And we’re here to help you get the solution that works best for you, from answering your questions about everything related to maintenance to helping you book a live software demo. 


Total productive maintenance (TPM) is a combination of processes for controlling production, safety, and quality systems, focusing on the assets, people, and processes that add value to an organization. Although it has its roots in the Japanese automotive industry, today companies worldwide and across industries use it to systematically cut downtime and improve safety. The process begins by arranging everything in your facility to make life easier for everyone. The 5S foundation includes the specific, ordered steps, sort, set in order, shine, standardize, and sustain. From there, you move on to the eight pillars of total productive maintenance, which you can do in any order. It’s important to remember that many of these are iterative, so you need to keep going back and redoing them. Because there are many steps and many of them depend on timing activities across the department, a modern enterprise asset management solution makes implementing TPM much easier. 

About the author

Jonathan Davis

Jonathan has been covering asset management, maintenance software, and SaaS solutions since joining Hippo CMMS. Prior to that, he wrote for textbooks and video games.
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