Guide: Autonomous Maintenance

Autonomous Maintenance, a cornerstone of the Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) philosophy, revolutionizes the traditional approach to equipment upkeep in the workplace. This strategy empowers machine operators, the individuals most familiar with the daily nuances of their equipment, to undertake basic maintenance tasks. This shift not only relieves skilled maintenance teams from routine activities, allowing them to focus on complex tasks, but also fosters a proactive maintenance culture. Emphasizing tasks such as cleaning, lubricating, and tightening, Autonomous Maintenance aims to prevent small issues from escalating into significant problems, thus enhancing overall efficiency, safety, and machine performance.

Table of Contents

What is Autonomous Maintenance?

Autonomous Maintenance is an integral part of the Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) philosophy, which aims to create a culture of proactive maintenance and continuous improvement in the workplace. In this strategy, machine operators are trained to perform basic maintenance tasks on the equipment they use every day. This is quite different from traditional maintenance models where specialized maintenance teams handle all aspects of machine upkeep.

Breaking It Down

  1. Machine Operators: These are the people who use the machines daily and are most familiar with their normal operating conditions.

  2. Simple Maintenance Tasks: These include activities like cleaning, lubricating, and tightening screws. The idea is to handle small issues before they become big problems.

  3. Skilled Maintenance Team: This team handles more complex tasks like machine overhauls or part replacements. They are freed up to focus on these tasks because the machine operators are handling the simpler maintenance activities.

  4. Total Productive Maintenance (TPM): This is a broader organizational approach aimed at improving the availability, performance, and quality of machinery.

The Benefits

  • Preventive Focus: By having operators involved in routine maintenance, issues can be detected and resolved before they escalate into more significant problems.

  • Skill Development: Machine operators develop a deeper understanding of their equipment, which can lead to more efficient operations and problem-solving.

  • Resource Optimization: Skilled maintenance teams can focus on more complex tasks, thereby making better use of their specialized skills.

Why is Autonomous Maintenance Important?

Autonomous Maintenance offers a plethora of benefits that contribute to the overall efficiency and safety of the workplace. Let’s explore these in detail:

Reduces Downtime

  • Immediate Action: Operators can quickly address minor issues, preventing them from escalating into problems that would require a complete machine shutdown.

  • Less Waiting: There’s no need to wait for the maintenance team to arrive, making the process more efficient.

Improves Efficiency

  • Optimal Operation: Well-maintained machines are less likely to break down and typically operate at higher efficiency, positively affecting the productivity levels.

  • Quality Output: Better-maintained machines are more likely to produce quality products, reducing waste.

Team Empowerment

  • Ownership: When operators are responsible for the machines they work on, it fosters a sense of ownership and accountability.

  • Skill Enhancement: As operators learn more about their machines, they become more skilled, increasing their value and job satisfaction.


  • Prevention: Regular cleaning and inspection can prevent hazardous conditions like oil leaks or loose parts that could lead to accidents.

  • Awareness: Because operators are actively engaged in maintaining their equipment, they are more aware of the machine’s state and can identify safety risks more readily.

By implementing Autonomous Maintenance, you not only improve your operational metrics but also create a workplace that is safer and more engaged.

The 7 Steps of Autonomous Maintenance Explained

Step 1: Initial Cleaning

The first step involves a deep, thorough cleaning of the equipment. This is not just your regular cleaning; the idea is to remove built-up dirt, grease, and any other obstructions that could affect machine performance.

The primary purpose of initial cleaning is to bring the equipment back to its optimal condition, making it easier to inspect and identify issues. Cleaning provides operators with an opportunity to become familiar with the different parts of the machine, helping them understand how it works and how best to maintain it.


  1. In a milling machine, this could involve removing old cutting fluids, dust, and metal filings from all accessible parts.
  2. In a packaging line, conveyor belts might be cleaned thoroughly to remove any adhesive residues and trapped particles between rollers.

Step 2: Eliminate Sources of Contamination

Once the equipment is clean, the next step is to identify and eliminate the root causes of the dirt and contamination. This might involve modifying or improving certain machine components.

The goal here is preventive in nature: to stop contamination before it starts. It’s much easier to maintain a machine that stays cleaner for longer periods. This reduces the frequency of cleaning and improves machine efficiency and lifespan.


  1. In an automotive paint shop, if overspray is a constant issue, installing better spray nozzles or adding splash guards could be the solution.
  2. In a bakery, flour dust might be a constant contaminant. Installing better seals on flour containers could prevent this issue.

Step 3: Establish Cleaning and Monitoring Standards

This step involves creating a set of standardized procedures for cleaning and monitoring the equipment. These standards are often documented in the form of checklists, visual aids, and even short instructional videos.

Standardization ensures that every team member knows exactly what to do, how to do it, and when to do it, leading to consistency in maintenance activities. This also makes it easier to train new operators and ensures that nothing is overlooked.


  1. In a textile factory, a checklist could be used for daily, weekly, and monthly cleaning tasks for looms and spinning machines.
  2. In a hospital, protocols for cleaning and monitoring medical equipment can be standardized to ensure patient safety and equipment longevity.

Step 5: Autonomous Inspection

Autonomous Inspection is the next level after General Inspection. Here, operators are given more responsibilities and are trained to perform more detailed inspections, often including minor adjustments or part replacements.

This step aims to further empower operators to take full ownership of the machines they operate. By now, they have developed a keen understanding of the machinery and are capable of identifying even subtle issues that might go unnoticed by a general inspection.


  1. In a chemical plant, operators might be responsible for checking valve alignments and ensuring that seals are intact.
  2. In a food processing line, operators could check and recalibrate temperature and pressure sensors.

Step 6: Standardize the Work

Standardizing the Work means creating detailed written procedures for all the maintenance tasks and inspections performed by operators. This documentation serves as a guideline and is often accompanied by training materials.

Standardization ensures that maintenance activities are uniform across shifts and operators, making it easier to manage and measure performance. It also serves as a training resource for new employees.


  1. In a warehouse, standard operating procedures (SOPs) could be developed for forklift maintenance, including battery checks and tire inspections.
  2. In a data center, standard checklists can be used for inspecting cooling systems and server health.

Step 7: Full Autonomous Maintenance

Full Autonomous Maintenance is the final stage, where the focus shifts from implementation to sustaining and improving the Autonomous Maintenance activities. This involves regular audits, continuous training, and periodic reviews.

The aim is to make Autonomous Maintenance an integral part of the organizational culture. By continuously updating and improving the process, you ensure that it remains effective and adapts to any changes in machinery or personnel.


  1. In an automotive assembly line, periodic audits could be performed to assess the effectiveness of Autonomous Maintenance activities.
  2. In a software development firm, even though the machinery might be different, regular reviews could be held to assess the health of development servers and workstations.


Implementing Autonomous Maintenance exceeds basic operational improvements; it cultivates a safer, more engaged, and efficient workplace. This approach, integral to TPM, enables machine operators to swiftly address minor issues and gain deeper equipment knowledge, enhancing their skills and job satisfaction. The seven-step process of Autonomous Maintenance, ranging from initial thorough cleaning to achieving full autonomous maintenance, ensures a preventive focus, resource optimization, and heightened safety. By embedding this methodology into the organizational culture, companies not only optimize their operational metrics but also foster a sense of ownership and accountability among their staff, leading to sustained improvement and excellence in their operations.


A: Autonomous Maintenance is a strategy where machine operators take on simple maintenance tasks to free up the skilled maintenance team for more complex tasks.

A: Lean Six Sigma focuses on continuous improvement and waste reduction, which are also the goals of Autonomous Maintenance. They both use similar tools for problem-solving and performance measurement.

A: The key steps are: Increasing Operator Knowledge, Initial Cleaning and Inspection, Eliminating Causes of Contamination, Setting Standards for Lubrication and Inspection, Conducting Inspection and Monitoring, Standardizing Visual Maintenance Management, and Establishing Continuous Improvement.

A: While the guide focuses on industrial settings like automotive, warehousing, and FMCG, the principles of Autonomous Maintenance can be adapted to various other sectors as well.

A: Tools like checklists, KPIs, sensors, and visual management aids can facilitate the implementation of Autonomous Maintenance.


Daniel Croft

Daniel Croft

Daniel Croft is a seasoned continuous improvement manager with a Black Belt in Lean Six Sigma. With over 10 years of real-world application experience across diverse sectors, Daniel has a passion for optimizing processes and fostering a culture of efficiency. He's not just a practitioner but also an avid learner, constantly seeking to expand his knowledge. Outside of his professional life, Daniel has a keen Investing, statistics and knowledge-sharing, which led him to create the website, a platform dedicated to Lean Six Sigma and process improvement insights.

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