Electrical Testing
Tip of the Week: What Is It You’re Really Maintaining?

Tip of the Week: What Is It You’re Really Maintaining?

Maintenance programs should emphasize preventing downtime instead of fixing breakdowns.

Many, if not most, maintenance departments reach a “point of stasis” in which they do just enough basic preventive maintenance (PM) to keep equipment breakdowns at a level that gives them just enough time to do the basic tasks.

They are not maintaining the equipment so much as they are maintaining the breakdown level. They keep it where it is. In one sense, you could say this is great for the maintenance department that also handles repairs (nearly all do), because it means job security. Or does it?

Credit: alexmillos/iStock/Thinkstock

Take just one aspect of this situation. Unplanned downtime can mean late shipments. How many late shipments before customers switch to a competitor? Lose enough customers, and the revenue produced by a plant isn’t worth keeping the plant open. So much for job security.

This situation of stasis comes about because the maintenance department emphasizes getting equipment back online rather than preventing downtime in the first place. This happens because production managers don’t yell at you for missed or backlogged PMs, but they can raise a terror when something isn’t running and operators are just standing around.

Speaking of standing around, a ritual in many companies is for clueless managers to pour out of their offices and gather around critical equipment when it’s down. If they were wearing black and white, they’d look like penguins.

It’s as if standing there uselessly and staring at the under-pressure maintenance technicians is a better use of their time than doing their own jobs. This diversion of the managers’ productive time also costs the company money, but the problem for the fix-it, er, maintenance department is all the negative attention. One consequence is it reinforces the need to quickly fix anything that’s down, rather than actually maintain the equipment.

The pressure to fix instead of maintain can be reduced, however. The first step for the maintenance department is to educate the folks who apply the pressure. Explain that you need to put prevention first, and firefighting second. It’s a matter of resource allocation.

They will agree momentarily, but may forget that the next time something major breaks. So you need to free up more of those resources that you’re allocating.

One approach is to bring production people into the solution. If, for example, a common cause of downtime at a particular machine is operator error, ask the manager of that production area about some training to stop that error.

Another approach is to look for wide area causes. For example, the air powered tools constantly have problems on line three because of low air pressure. This uses up hours from the mechanics, who could be spending time on PM work. So hire an industrial services firm to conduct ultrasonic testing of the air lines to identify leaks. Fix those leaks during shift changes, holidays, and other times that won’t interrupt production.

Another approach is to look for root causes. Power quality is usually the bad guy here, if you have much in the way of electronics failures. And if there hasn’t been a power quality study at your facility in a while, you can bet you’ve got power quality problems. Have the study done; the improvement in your rate of equipment failures could be rather amazing.

In some situations, it makes sense to focus on particular equipment. For example, your plant has one line that the plant manager says must run all the time because there’s more demand for what comes off it than what it can produce. The other lines, not so much. So for this line, you conduct all of the analysis and develop all of the predictive maintenance. Even if you have to rob Peter (less important lines) to pay Paul.

If you keep this line running with no breakdowns, the absence of breakdowns frees up resources. Perhaps massively. And it may increase your budget because of the improved revenue.

There is no single best way to put the horse back in front of the cart. But if you’re maintaining the breakdown level instead of maintaining uptime, you need to make this your mission. Put your thinking cap on, and determine where and how to free up some resources so you can actually maintain the equipment and thus maintain uptime instead of downtime.

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