The true workhorse of any modern manufacturing plant is the equipment. Manufacturers around the world know that consistent, high-quality maintenance is crucial in keeping equipment in optimal condition, minimizing downtime, and eventually, cutting costs and improving production.
Nevertheless, in reality, many manufacturers are still conducting up to 90% of maintenance tasks from a reactive basis rather than a proactive standpoint. Amongst all, they often blame it on the age of the equipment; the shortage of important, expensive spare parts; and the fast pace of manufacturing.
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Instead of making excuses, it’s time for equipment owners to step up and start applying periodic, proactive measures in their care and upkeep applications. Here are some of the best maintenance practices to help your organization achieve operational efficiency.
1. Implement a proper preventive maintenance program.
Preventive maintenance consists of actions performed after a period of time or after a certain level of production. This helps your business detect, prevent, or minimize degradation of components and replace them at the first signs of wear. It also allows you to decrease the number of failures and extend the life of the equipment. In return, this translates into dollar savings. Think of the reasons we take our personal vehicles in for regular tune-ups, oil changes, and all-around maintenance checks.
According to a report sponsored by the United States Department of Energy, Office of Federal Energy Management Programs, studies have shown that adopting preventive approaches can save businesses approximately 12-18% of costs over that of reactive maintenance programs (implementing maintenance practices or scheduling maintenance after incidents of equipment failure or other occurrences).
2. Keep operator training up-to-date.
Even though operator training is essential as soon as a piece of machinery is acquired, it’s equally important to stay on top of training. Employees come and go. Even the most veteran operators are not excluded from making mistakes. As skills become rusty, make sure to revise operator manuals for specific work situations and always use the most current version of each manual.
3. Conduct periodic inspections.
Even if you’ve got a preventive maintenance program in place, it’s highly recommended to add periodic inspections to your to-do list. Over time, many key components will age – you might want to replace some gears, belts, wires, and cables with higher quality and more reliable counterparts. Regular inspection enables you to check for signs of wear, keep the equipment in peak condition, and quickly conduct the necessary replacement of any worn parts.
Taking things a step further, try to conduct preventive maintenance inspections in conjunction with a corrective maintenance approach, which involves repairs or replacement of components that have broken down. Another purpose of corrective maintenance inspections is to identify, list, and record the reason for a specific failure so that appropriate action can be taken to minimize the chance of having similar failures in the future.
The ability to integrate inspections that are directly related to failures into your equipment maintenance strategy will undoubtedly lead to improved machine conditions and optimize production.
4. Use historical data to estimate future spare part and supply needs.
Quality control is essential in operating a business and is best demonstrated through how companies handle machine failures. Running out of spare parts or supplies when you need them most is certainly going to cause disruption in the production line. Disruption leads to downtime, which then gives birth to poor productivity and higher costs. Identify critical spare parts based on historical figures; prepare and order them well in advance.
5. Maintain a clean environment.
Cleanliness is imperative, especially if your business is operating in the food processing industry. Machines are like humans – after a heavy day of work, they are in need of proper care. They must be cleaned, monitored, and lubricated frequently.
Keeping up with worksite hygiene is more than just complying with government regulations. Whenever possible, store large machinery under covers. Exposure to extreme temperatures can lead to rust and rot. Rotate equipment frequently to avoid contamination and condensation. Contaminated machinery will lower productivity, shorten the life of your equipment, and result in significant costs for your business.
6. Apply reliability centered maintenance (RCM) methodology.
The reliability centered maintenance (RCM) approach recognizes that all equipment isn’t of equal importance to either the maintenance process or facility safety. Some equipment will have a higher probability of experiencing failures than others and subsequently will need more maintenance work. In other words, RCM activities focus on critical components that are important to facility reliability and eliminate unnecessary overhauls.
The RCM methodology addresses some key issues that other maintenance programs fail to deal with. Your facility might not always have unlimited financial and personnel resources. As a result, your maintenance efforts need to concentrate on the most critical components. This allows you to closely match resources to needs while increasing component reliability, minimizing the chance of sudden equipment failures and lowering costs.
7. Outsource as needed.
Bringing technicians from outside to conduct some or all of your maintenance activities is a common approach. In fact, many businesses do not have the capacity and expertise to establish metrics, define processes, and implement the full maintenance program entirely on their own.
Specialized maintenance activities are extremely expensive and time-consuming to train your technicians in since they might be more productive doing other work. Therefore, outsourcing your maintenance process to qualified, competent technicians is a win-win solution. It helps reduce costs, provides your employees with more flexibility, and allows them to focus on what they do best.
Moving the needle from reactive maintenance to proactive, reliability centered maintenance practices takes careful planning, analysis, and time. However, this is critical in growing and sustaining your business in today’s ever-competitive manufacturing world.
Deploying these maintenance practices across your organization will increase production efficiency, prolong the life of your equipment, and let you reap considerable benefits on a much wider scale.