Many manufacturing executives overlook the importance maintenance plays in ensuring that facility and equipment operate at maximum capacity. In fact, poor maintenance practices are often to blame for limited production capacity, volatile performance, low equipment reliability, lack of the ability to accurately plan and forecast, poor product quality and low profitability.
In manufacturing environments, maintenance is often viewed as the fire department: a team of resources reacting to problems and events with few formal processes in place for identifying and planning work, scheduling resources, executing tasks and then measuring results. In companies that use metrics to evaluate the effectiveness of their maintenance departments, the metrics are often tied to production effectiveness, which is a step removed from maintenance.
Instead of implementing a comprehensive maintenance program, companies typically hire additional resources, make large capital investments in equipment, purchase non-critical replacement parts and spend on specialty contractors in an effort to improve equipment uptime. Unfortunately, these efforts increase costs and administrative burden without addressing the maintenance system and process gaps that are the true root of the problem. These stop-gap measures deliver the perception that equipment problems have been addressed, but in reality it’s only a matter of time before equipment failures recur, leaving managers exasperated.
Three Tenets of an Effective Maintenance Improvement Program
Too often, amidst the day-to-day demands of operations, manufacturing executives find maintenance low on the priority list or they don’t have a clear vision of what a proactive maintenance program should look like or where to begin.
The following three key guidelines provide a basis for building an optimized maintenance program designed to fully leverage time, maximize resources and ensure equipment is performing at maximum capacity.
1) Start planning and scheduling maintenance activities
Good planning always precedes great execution. For this reason, one of the most critical components of your proactive program is an effective maintenance planning and scheduling meeting (MPSM). In these meetings you and your team should review:
- Equipment performance data
- Reports from operations
- Work order backlog and other data
Just as production schedules are used in operations to establish output targets by hour and/or day, the same methodology should apply to maintenance. Both preventative maintenance and scheduled corrective repairs should be scheduled using reasonable expectations or, what is commonly known as work order time estimates. Work order time estimates are valuable for accurately scheduling maintenance resources and also provide the production team with critical information about how long a particular piece of equipment or production line will be out of commission. The discipline of documenting estimated versus actual repair time is valuable for future planning and improved accuracy.
2) Measure and audit results
Once a maintenance schedule has been implemented, metrics must be defined to measure execution levels. By tracking metrics directly related to maintenance, you can better understand the efficiency and effectiveness of maintenance. These metrics also point to areas where improved efficiency may be required, clearly paving the way to action plans and adjustments that yield further improvements.
It’s common for maintenance to consistently meet preventative maintenance attainment targets, but equipment reliability remains low. While there are many factors associated with low equipment reliability, preventative maintenance is typically a key contributor to either poor or excellent equipment reliability. Preventative equipment audits are a good way to gradually improve the quality of preventative maintenance content and ensure that execution is carried out safely, efficiently and effectively.
3) Conduct “baselining” on critical equipment
Baselining is a proven maintenance technique that yields immediate results. Also known as the “Red Tag” approach, this technique involves overhauling machinery to restore it to “like new” condition through deep cleaning and technical audits to identify potential repairs, build a backlog and prioritize and execute repairs.
To maintain productivity, companies often neglect their equipment, which naturally deteriorates over time. Many companies make critical, piece-meal repairs that address only the symptoms of equipment failure or temporarily bridge the gap to enable continued operation. Savvy manufacturers identify equipment that if it were to fail, would represent the largest potential source of loss and then schedule baselining maintenance to improve the overall productivity and extend the life of that equipment. While a major investment of resources and scheduled downtime, baselining minimizes the risk of a major and sudden failure of critical equipment and also saves overspending on parts and repair time.
There are many benefits to implementing a maintenance improvement program in manufacturing facilities of all kinds. From increased equipment uptime and availability, to reduced parts spending and improved team morale, the investment in preventative maintenance returns both tangible and intangible benefits. For manufacturers that are experiencing recurring equipment failures, consistently overspending on maintenance parts and labor, and/or viewing and managing maintenance as “firefighters,” an investment in a maintenance improvement program is well worth a closer look.
The important part is not implementing a program with 100 percent success the first time, but taking steps toward improvement, making progress over time. By setting the expectation that the program must be 100 percent successful the moment it is implemented, teams run the risk of “analysis paralysis,” and fail to take action for fear that the system design is not yet perfect. As long as your team is reviewing metrics and implementing improvements, the program will mature and improve over time. Don’t get overwhelmed and decide not to take action for fear of “not getting it perfect.”
As with any other major initiative, a maintenance improvement strategy must have the support of upper management and the executive team. Their communication of and support for program expectations and objectives will drive the entire team to prioritize the program and follow-through. By communicating the need for change and the benefits of a proactive program, management can align all stakeholders and ensure that employees champion the program.
Rigo Frias serves as a Director with Myrtle Consulting Group, a consulting firm dedicated to passionately partnering with clients to rapidly create sustainable operational efficiencies that increase productivity and result in significant, long-term financial returns.