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Running a Productive Maintenance Shop

November 29, 2022
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Let’s Talk Shop! In both heavy construction and mining, equipment that operates day in and day out at optimal performance and according to the manufacturer’s specifications is critical to keeping job sites as productive as possible. Mining and construction companies, consequently, rely on maintenance shops to keep their equipment in top shape.

SMS Equipment provides equipment maintenance services for many of our customers. Recently, we chatted with SMS Equipment’s Edmonton Service Manager, Rob McGowan, to learn his secrets for running a productive shop. Through the five significant points he shared with us, Rob emphasized that it’s all about people. 


Employees are far more productive when they know exactly what’s expected of them. It’s critical, therefore, to communicate expectations at the beginning of each job and ensure that there are no obstacles to getting the work done in a timely fashion. 
Rob: When it comes to running a shop, people talk about the obvious things like training, tools, and test equipment. We have and continue to maintain a considerable investment that keeps us ahead of the curve, but I see that as a given. What we focus on most is communication. People want to know our goals, where we’re going, and what we’re doing. 

When we give someone a job, for example, we don’t just assign it and walk away. We make sure the technician has a clear sense of how to proceed. We also discuss how long the job should take. If we expect the job to be done in three hours and the technician thought it would take six, there needs to be a conversation. Our technicians need to feel comfortable asking, “how do you do it in three?”


No employee is an island in a maintenance shop – with emergencies, multiple priorities, and changing technology, technicians need each other’s support. This doesn’t happen on its own – management must be willing to schedule activities that build an open team culture.
Rob: When you have a group of people that don’t really like each other, you’re going to have all kinds of problems. In our shop, we are proactive and believe in fostering personal connections. So, we have lots of events like barbecues and get-togethers so that people will feel like we’re all family. That way, if you’re a tech and are struggling with a problem in your bay, you don’t feel awkward about asking the technician in the next bay for help. It’s sort of like they are your cousin. 


Safety is the one priority that can’t ever be overridden. Putting it at the top of the agenda also has side benefits. Reinforcing policies that protect technicians and their co-workers promotes teamwork and shows that management cares about employees. Taking the time to do a job safely also improves attention to quality. 
Rob: We have a morning toolbox meeting every single day where we review every person’s job for the day. We break that down into five groups of ten. The supervisor or the lead goes over everybody’s job and potential hazards. Some of these are not obvious – usually, the thing that hurts you is something you didn’t know about. So, having an open discussion with all the techs explaining what happened with similar jobs in the past and saying, “here’s something to watch for,” is a really good strategy. It also, of course, helps build the kind of team culture that we want.


An orderly shop minimizes safety threats, eliminates wasted time looking for tools or materials, and creates a more pleasant and presentable work environment.
Rob: We’ve put on a big push over the years to get our housekeeping in order, and recently that’s really paid off. Now, it doesn’t matter who shows up at the front door any day of the week. We should be proud of our shop, and anybody should be able to walk through there at any time. Our techs have really bought into this concept. 

That said, this is not an easy thing to do. The key is that you need to develop a habit of cleaning up as you go, and for many people, that’s a significant behaviour change. I know because I was one of the worst offenders in my early days as a tech in the shop. I finally got my act together after my supervisor had to keep reinforcing the importance of a clean workstation. It took me a while to realize, “this is much nicer. I know where my tools are, and I’m not covered in grease when I go home.” Now, my garage at home is spotless with everything in place – I’ve become obsessive about that. Through my experience, I’ve been able to help a lot of our techs go through the stages to build better habits. Today, if you’re the messy one in our shop, you will feel the peer pressure to clean up. There is an understanding that working smarter also means working cleaner and safer.


When workers go home at the end of the day, they need to know they are respected and valued. 
Rob: I’d say that most people want to do a good job when they come to work. In our business, we expect a lot out of them. We’ve got tough schedules to meet, the work is physically demanding, and in the field, we expect them to go in the middle of nowhere and work at all hours of the day. So, the biggest thing is respecting people for who they are. I want my technicians to feel that I’m treating them as equals – in our business, it’s vital to have relationships on that level. 


Up-to-date training and well-equipped facilities are necessary prerequisites for running a productive equipment maintenance shop, but they are only prerequisites. Ensuring that the shop is productive also requires a work environment where employees know exactly what’s expected of them, can communicate openly, and count on each other for support. 

Through shops like Rob’s, SMS Equipment provides maintenance support for customers across Canada to help them ensure that their equipment performs to its full potential. 

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