Equipment maintenance plays a critical role in enabling companies to achieve high-performance targets. When the systems operate at their optimum levels, the companies reduce the shutdowns, downtimes and operational costs. However, the availability and reliability of the equipment largely depend on how well they are maintained.
Unfortunately, most of the maintenance experts often face various challenges in keeping the machines and systems in working conditions.
For companies to succeed in their maintenance activities, the management must understand the dynamic and complex structures of the whole process. While traditional maintenance policies are based on the reliability of the sub-systems or individual components, there is a need to assess today's complex systems, and come up with policies that increase their availability while reducing the degradation.
The maintenance teams must be efficient in the way they implement the maintenance processes and how they utilize resources such as manpower and tools at their disposal. This ensures smooth flow of the maintenance processes, free of delays that may arise from lack of parts, skills or poor planning.
To improve the maintenance operations, here are the five efficiency tips for the reliability and maintenance experts.
1. Moving from reactive to proactive maintenance
A preventive maintenance improves the safety, predictability, revenue, reliability, and peace of mind. It also allows the company to make better budgeting and productivity estimates.
On the other hand, waiting for machines to fail in order to perform the service is very inefficient and expensive. While putting off a preventive maintenance may seem like a saving, it eventually turns out to be costly. Other than the cost of repairs, which can be avoided, frequent unplanned downtimes reduce the production and employees’ morale.
The management should support regular preventive maintenance since it is one of the most effective ways of minimizing failures. A proper planning, scheduling, and preventive maintenance policy provide an effective means of moving from the reactive to proactive maintenance. This allows the company to improve their operations, efficiency, and production while avoiding wastage of resources.
A company should have an effective maintenance department whose main goal is to keep everything in working condition at all times. The maintenance managers, supervisors, and technicians should work together towards improving the performance of the systems. In addition, all the other departments, including engineering, supplies, operations, and others should support the maintenance goals of the company.
Companies should determine the effect and cost of downtimes, and then see how to prevent these. Besides the regular servicing, the preventive maintenance should include the monitoring and inspections of assets in order to determine and fix impending failures. Once a problem is identified, the teams can plan and schedule the repairs hence prevent failures that can affect the production.
2. Use the unplanned downtime to perform other proactive maintenance
Any unexpected or unplanned downtime provides an opportunity to perform some other maintenance tasks in addition to the corrective service. Most often, the maintenance personnel may want to just fix the immediate issue and postpone the proactive maintenance. However, performing a preventive maintenance at this time increases the system performance and may reduce possible failures.
The best practice is to have a schedule ready work at all times. This will include a preventive maintenance plan, resources, and ensuring that the necessary parts are available for use when a breakdown occurs.
The maintenance supervisor should ensure that while one team is focusing on the breakdown, another group is carrying out schedule ready jobs which may take the same or less duration. With proper planning, the proactive maintenance will end at the same time with the repair or even before, hence will not interfere with the other operations or extend the downtime unnecessarily.
3. Use drones and other modern technologies to gather data
Using the technologies such as the drones, robots and IoT and others enables the maintenance teams to perform frequent inspections and identify issues. The data helps them to include the impending issues in their maintenance plans, hence avoiding surprises when carrying out the services. In addition, understanding the status of the various components influences what to prioritize.
Other than the maintenance data, companies can also plan to regularly collect from the equipment using the modern technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and drones. The IoT Sensors can help to detect problems such as corrosion in remote structures and then send the data to the operators in real-time.
The maintenance teams such as roof inspections professionals can also use drones to gather a lot of data from the field and hard-to-reach areas within a facility. A variety of sensors allow the drones to detect structural defects, insulation breakdown, leakages, surface defects and others. This allows the company to identify defects and problems before they cause major problems or failures.
The benefits of using drones include improved safety, less labor, reduced time and cost to perform an inspection, hence providing the maintenance teams with an inexpensive, yet effective means of collecting useful information. A drone based inspection reduces the manpower requirements, is easy to launch and it can perform the inspections quickly in addition to collecting data from difficult to reach areas as well as remote locations.
Further, investing in other modern technologies such as robots, cloud systems, data analytics, Artificial Intelligence, and others, enables the companies to collect, analyze and make better data-based decisions.
4. Use data to make better decisions
Accurate and timely data can help the management to make better maintenance decisions. Obtaining data from all components of the entire system makes it easier for people to understand and make better decisions in relation to maintenance and upgrades.
Having these data can help the management decide on their next step, such as upgrading equipment when frequent failures become the norm. The data can provide a lot of useful information, and help the people concerned to understand the impact of a failure and also see if there is room for improvement. Typical data include
- Statistics such as how many times a machine fails within a certain period and the associated production losses.
- How much money the company spent repairing the piece of equipment over a period of say two or three years.
- Data from similar equipment can help in determining if a particular machine has reliability issues
- How long it takes to repair a particular machine and what causes delays if any.
5. The management should protect planners
The management should ensure that the planners have the time to carry out their work and avoid assigning them other tasks outside the planning docket. Sometimes, the extra tasks overwhelm the planners and leave them with inadequate time to plan well.
For example, asking the planners to perform duties such as root cause analysis, looking for data, ordering parts and other non-planning roles, causes them to lose focus. This reduces their efficiency and may lead to increased failures and delays to fix problems when they occur. Eventually, the company will spend more on maintenance while experiencing increased downtimes and loss of production.
Any other non-planning task takes away useful planning time from the planner hence affecting their performance. The planners should be given the opportunity to concentrate on the future work.
Companies that make and implement the right maintenance choices are able to minimize unplanned and surprise failures. The managers must first understand the dynamics and how they impact the performance of the systems. An effective maintenance policy requires a combined effort by all departments as well as proper planning and allocation of resources, manpower parts and time.
However, the maintenance is a process that requires continuous improvement. As such, the maintenance department must measure performance and determine what needs improvement. Whether it is the processes, parts, skills, operations or coordination issues, the management should address these in order to increase the efficiency.