MCP Consultant Roy Davis returns to LMJ to explore the similarities and differences between OAC and TPM.

The original premise of the article was meant to be: TPM or OAC which is best? But we could suggest that it is not as easy as that, and instead this article will look at the similarities and differences between TPM and OAC and the reasons why organisation might decide upon one or other, or perhaps both, as part of their asset management or maintenance strategy.

 It is now a little over 25 years since total productive maintenance (TPM) made its debut in the UK and this article takes the opportunity to look back at the original roots of TPM and to contrast and compare it with the relatively recent phenomenon of operator asset care (OAC).

 The original five pillars of TPM

It is important to remind ourselves of the basic principles and philosophy of TPM which is as relevant now as it was 25 years ago and is encapsulated by the original five pillars of TPM that could be interpreted from Seiichi Nakajima’s original texts (1) and are illustrated in figure 1 below:

Figure 1 – the original five pillars of TPM

The original five pillars were described as follows:

  • Elimination of the six big losses to improve equipment effectiveness
  • An autonomous maintenance programme
  • A scheduled maintenance programme for the maintenance department
  • Increase the skills of operations and maintenance personnel
  • An initial equipment management programme

The original book suggested a minimum three year programme for TPM implementation.

 It should be noted in figure 1 that the main roots of OAC lie within the original autonomous maintenance pillar of TPM.

Similarities and differences

So what is the difference between TPM and OAC? Also, what are the similarities between a TPM programme and an OAC programme?

Figure 2 – an overview of the differences between TPM and OAC

Over the years, the basic philosophy and all encompassing principles of TPM have been lost somewhat. Many organisations and individuals, although being familiar with the acronym TPM, have varying interpretations. One of the most common held beliefs is that TPM is just the manifestation of autonomous maintenance activities or alternatively TPM is purely the involvement of production operators in maintenance activities.

 Many disagree with this interpretation and have tried to educate the group or individual concerning the differences and similarities between their incorrect assumptions and the true meaning of TPM.

TPM programmes

A TPM programme is basically a company-wide change programme which will encompass many aspects of manufacturing, quality, safety and support functions as well as asset management and maintenance, all underpinned by continuous improvement and the engagement and development of personnel at all levels within the organisation.

 TPM programmes often require a major organisational re-alignment in order to support the leaner and more effective operating methods that emerge from the programme and they require a significant commitment from the senior leadership team to the change, which will span a number years.

 TPM can require a substantial investment in the training and development of personnel at all levels and in changes to the physical assets within the company.

 When implementing TPM it is very important that the programme is not allowed to become too top down and alienate shop floor personnel. Companies who pursue the goals of TPM will typically follow guidelines and steps which provide a structured approach to implementing the main pillars and the underpinning enablers and many will seek to achieve recognition of their efforts and progress through awards typically provided by the Japan Institute for Plant Maintenance (JIPM) or one of their accredited partners.

 Although relatively few companies have whole heartedly embraced TPM, there have been some positive influences as a result of UK industry’s exposure to TPM over the years through, for example:

 Overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) is now used an important key performance indicator (KPI) by many manufacturing businesses

  • The use of OEE (whether it is calculated correctly or not) has provided more focus on the major losses encountered within manufacturing areas
  • Small group activity involving production operators and maintenance personnel has increased and although they are not always referred to as autonomous TPM teams, in many cases, it is exactly what they are.
  • There is much more emphasis on workplace organisation and cleanliness in many companies who run 5S or can do (2) activities and carry out regular shop floor based audits and improvement activities.
  • The recording and analysis of downtime information (usually as a part of the OEE measurements) has helped companies to identify the contribution to operational performance that good maintenance practice can make.
  • Some OAC programmes do encapsulate many of the good principles of autonomous maintenance, especially when they are not just seen as a means of moving technician jobs to operators but also as a means of engaging production operators in continuous improvement activities and developing ownership of their facilities
  • TPM is a familiar acronym these days, most people working within manufacturing have heard of TPM, although, as mentioned, I would question whether many really understand its core philosophy and principles.

Autonomous maintenance

As discussed, the autonomous maintenance pillar has always been one of the main pillars of a TPM programme. It can be argued that it is probably the most important pillar of TPM as it not only engages and involves both production and maintenance personnel in the whole process, but also considerably improves the effectiveness and performance of manufacturing facilities.

As the name implies, autonomous maintenance encourages and develops autonomy i.e. self regulation or self rule regarding the care, condition, performance and continuous improvement of the machinery, equipment and other facilities within the local team’s area.

In order for autonomous maintenance to work it has to be a truly bottom up approach and has to win the hearts and minds of factory floor personnel both from production operations and maintenance. The team accepts ownership of all of the facilities and processes within its operating environment and is gradually given more responsibility and authority regarding the teams’ facilities and work place. The autonomous maintenance tasks undertaken locally will usually have been developed from the bottom up by the team with technical advice from the maintenance department.

Autonomous maintenance requires a very strong partnership between operations and engineering to be developed and a great deal of trust is required, particularly from the management team, as the local team becomes more and more autonomous.

Of course, the autonomy has to be underpinned with a substantial programme of training and development of personnel along with development of managers necessary to change their approach and provide support to the teams.

Operator Asset Care

The principles underpinning autonomous maintenance are exactly the same for operator asset care, including:

  • Asset care responsibilities shared between production operations and maintenance.
  • The engagement of operations’ personnel and management with the care and maintenance of their machinery and equipment assets.
  • Production operators provided with training and development so that they can play an active part in the on-going maintenance and improvement of machinery and equipment within their area.
  • Team and individual involvement in the continuous improvement of the condition and performance of operating facilities within their area, developing true ownership.

It is essential to implement these principles and gain bottom up support if the goals of world class asset management and maintenance are to be achieved.

The main difference between autonomous maintenance and operator asset care is in the approach taken and the degree of autonomy pursued.

An OAC programme can be implemented as part of a maintenance best practice or reliability excellence type programme and does not have to be linked directly to a TPM programme.

The training and development of production and maintenance personnel is key to the success of OAC programmes which will provide a structured, regulated and managed approach with much less autonomy of the local shop floor based teams than with autonomous maintenance and much more management support and leadership.

It is likely that maintenance plans pertaining to the machinery and equipment within an OAC area will have been developed as a result of engineering analysis by the maintenance department. The operator based activities will then have been extracted from the plans, work instructions compiled and trained out to production operators by maintenance technicians.

The subsequent implementation of the OAC tasks will be issued planned and scheduled using the computerised maintenance management system (CMMS), and managed and monitored by line managers with specific reports and Key performance Indicators (KPI’s) being used to monitor compliance.

Why OAC and not TPM?

It’s recommended to any manufacturing organisation, whatever improvement programme they are embarked upon, should at least encompass the original five pillars of TPM in some form or other. It is true to say the pillars that are related to OEE and PM systems have, comparatively, been the least difficult to implement and that is why many manufacturing businesses have embraced elements of these pillars. The other pillars relate to people issues including involvement, motivation, changing behaviour and overall culture change and as such, are more difficult and take longer to implement.

That is why TPM programmes take many years to bring about change and so it should not be surprising that these have not been either attempted or if attempted, sustained in many companies as unfortunately many, senior and middle managers do not have the will, the long term vision or the determination to make TPM or a similar programme succeed (or may be put off by the perceived enormity of the task).

In this case it is necessary to be realistic and to gradually implement some of the core pillars in one form or other, and OAC is certainly an effective way of developing the engagement and involvement of operations, with asset care and making them part of the drive towards the achievement of world class asset management and maintenance performance.


Returning to the opening paragraph of this article, of which is best: TPM or OAC? The principles and good practice approaches are shared and in essence OAC is a subset of TPM which is very much related to autonomous maintenance. The decision about what is best for any organisation must be based upon: the present situation, company strategy, senior management attitudes and perceptions, resource availability and many other considerations.

In some cases it is appropriate and desirable to embark upon an all embracing TPM programme, but in many cases this will not be practical and therefore an OAC approach that is gradually implemented as a work stream within a world class asset management and maintenance programme will be much more likely to succeed. Hopefully, in this scenario, it will be possible to evolve into a more holistic TPM model.

Find out more at MCP Europe: