The Power of Maintenance

As senior executives assess where they will take their manufacturing organizations in the coming year — and allocate the investments needed to get their companies there — how many will identify maintenance as a strategic objective? On plant floors that are stalled by broken equipment with frenzied managers and idle employees, the value of maintenance is surely recognized. But that is a view of poor maintenance practices and one that does not illustrate the broader rewards and power of world-class maintenance.

Few manufacturing leaders place maintenance — an organization’s ability to care for and maintain its production assets — as a strategic priority. Other potential investments are more likely to catch executives’ eyes, and department and function leaders’ budget requests rarely center on something as ubiquitous as maintenance. At best, most consider maintenance a necessity that requires nominal funding and fail to grasp the value it can bring to a manufacturer. However, truly successful executives review the many ways that world-class maintenance can impact a manufacturer’s performances and profitability, comparing their own company’s achievements to what is really possible.

Below are seven essential steps your company can and should take to improve your company’s success and move towards a path of continued system excellence.

1. Address Plant and Worker Safety

In today’s complex manufacturing environments with automated machinery and lightning-fast processes, equipment maintenance is critical to ensuring safety. In the United States, more than half a million employees were injured in manufacturing in 2012, and manufacturers accounted for 29.5% of all private industry occupational illness cases. In 2012, there were 314 fatal occupational injuries in manufacturing, 101 of which were due to contact with objects or equipment.

Management is accountable for a safe workplace, but safety also involves empowering and engaging the entire workforce and those who support them by establishing safe work environments and safe equipment. World-class maintenance is a critical component in supporting a safe workplace.

2. Consistent Quality Products

The concept of zero-loss thinking certainly applies to quality, embodied in the concepts pioneered by quality consultant Philip Crosby in the 1980s. Crosby argued that the resources needed to get to zero defects would more than offset the costs of poor quality — thus, “quality is free.”

The ongoing rigor of finding and trying to solve quality problems unearths myriad root causes for a manufacturer, including machine-related errors or defects. It’s common for executives to first focus on machine availability as a performance measure for maintenance, as the losses due to downtime are pronounced. But maintenance also must effectively deal with equipment reliability, which includes a machine’s ability to reliably produce a part or product to the specifications defined. Problems of equipment reliability are equally disruptive to efficient, smooth-flowing production and a significant drain on costs and resources.

3. Short-Term Savings via Improved Uptime and Productivity

Do not underestimate the impact of machine availability. In manufacturing, time is money. An inability to produce goods due to down equipment slowly leaks money from an operation (minor machine stops) or can dramatically impact the bottom line (complete machine breakdowns). No machine, no product.

The impact of poor machine availability extends well beyond the time when product fails to run through machines. Even minor stops will require a brief ramp-up and test for machine operability, safety, and product quality, which consume resources (people and material) as well as time. Equipment breakdowns of greater scope compound the losses taken by production:

  • Maintenance repair labor (regular and overtime)
  • Production catch-up labor (regular and overtime)
  • Machine replacement parts
  • Shipping costs (replacement parts, temporary equipment)
  • Product costs (damaged during breakdown, damaged during ramp-up)

4. Long-Term Cost Savings via Improved Asset Management

World-class maintenance and well-maintained equipment impacts a plant in ways that most manufacturing executives never begin to consider. Not only can capital expenditures be better managed, controlled, and minimized — and capacity created — but organizations also put themselves in the position to take advantage of business opportunities that they may have passed over due to capacity and capability constraints.

This is the final step in a three-part maintenance improvement progression, and a stage that few manufacturers ever fully reach. Many companies might touch on aspects of all three, but I don’t know of a lot of companies that have done all three, especially in the context of a ‘loss landscape.’ Measures such as mean time between failures (MTBF) and mean time to repair (MTTR) are important metrics, and they help organizations and their maintenance staffs to move in a positive direction, but they don’t embrace all the potential of the zero-loss maintenance.

A long-term approach to world-class maintenance, particularly in organizations with large networks of plants, eventually culls savings commensurate with development costs of new facilities, freeing up capital for manufacturers to enter new geographies and/or markets. To paraphrase the words of Crosby, “expansion is free.”

5. Daily Team Maintenance

Not all maintenance needs to be or should be conducted by maintenance staff. With sufficient training and support, operators can be equipped with the skills and knowledge to start equipment up each day, ensuring that steps — review for abnormalities, cleaning, lubrication, etc. — have been taken to ensure safe and continuous operation during their shifts.

Operators tend to know more about the machines they’re running than they are given credit for, and, thus, are an invaluable frontline defense against minor stops or breakdowns. They are keenly aware of the sound, smell, and vibrations of their machines, knowing intuitively when they are running properly and when they are not. Being with a machine every day for a full shift, operators are quick to recognize an oil leak or a loose bolt that could be a precursor to a larger problem. But what’s lacking in most organizations is the management trust of operators to take on maintenance tasks and the standardized procedures to guide and engage operators in those activities.

Manufacturers don’t need to rely on highly skilled maintenance technicians for daily activities, but they also cannot just throw these responsibilities to frontline workers. Companies should establish strategic planning that cascades corporate goals to management behaviors and operator actions — aligning all parties, top to bottom, in the company. This approach tactically implements the training and skills development necessary for operators to confidently handle maintenance assignments. In this work environment, daily team maintenance drives improved production performances (elimination of off-quality production, prevention of equipment stops) as well as improved management of capital expenditures (prevention of gradual equipment deterioration that eventually ends in a premature breakdown and replacement).

6. Planned Maintenance

The way that manufacturers handle equipment maintenance has consequences for both daily production and long-term capital budgets. But it’s not simply an issue of more maintenance being better maintenance, as eventually the costs of keeping equipment in perfect condition (staff time, planned downtime, replacement parts) could conceivably overshadow the benefits. There must be a balanced, systematic approach that is both cost effective and eliminates machine failures and losses. Preventive and predictive maintenance methods efficiently distribute maintenance staff and maintenance costs, moving manufacturers from a reactive maintenance approach to one that rigorously evaluates and determines where and when to apply resources.

7. Early Equipment Management

For those manufacturers that involve frontline staff in routine maintenance activities and/or incorporate some management elements of planned maintenance, savings are quick to emerge as losses are prevented. Team maintenance and planned maintenance also provide the information that allows executives to strategically plan equipment expenditures. You cannot manage equipment and make capital-equipment decisions until you accurately monitor and detail the status of your equipment. It is this third phase — early equipment management — that delivers significant strategic savings to an organization by accurately identifying and meeting long-term equipment needs.

Early equipment management involves systematically planning for, purchasing, and installing new equipment. It aligns equipment requirements with expected life of current equipment and future process and product needs, helping manufacturers to be prepared for market changes and flexibly transition to new products running on new machines. It also requires skilled maintenance staff who aren’t constantly chasing machine stoppages and breakdowns — instead, maintenance is a partner in equipment planning, providing a realistic picture of equipment longevity and adaptability to new materials and processes, and managing the efficient installation of equipment and ramp up of production.

To learn more about these steps, and how to implement them for your company, contact us today.

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