Finding opportunities in maintenance

switchAs technology has advanced and organizations have become more and more reliant on smoothly running equipment, viewing maintenance as a critical function to support throughput, rather than as a cost center to maintain assets, has become a more common perspective. Improving key equipment uptime can be very valuable because of its knock-on effects elsewhere. Or thought about a little differently, downtime of key equipment can be extremely expensive because it hurts scheduling predictability and tends to lead organizations to either absorb costly waiting time or start making products out of sequence. The latter causes lost time with unnecessary changeovers and throws a wrench in inventory planning which damages throughput down the road or increases inventory requirements.

Looking for opportunities in maintenance areas generally falls into two categories; (1) to increase uptime of equipment, particularly key equipment, and (2) to improve the productivity of mechanics. We’ll briefly look at each one and give some thoughts as to how to find areas for improvement.

To find opportunities to increase uptime requires good downtime tracking, which is sometimes a general weakness in itself. The keys here are to identify and focus on the critical equipment (any that could become throughput constraints if they go down) and then understand any and all reasons the equipment is down when it could, or should be running. Some downtime has little or nothing to do with maintenance (e.g. changeovers) so the causes need some segmentation. This kind of investigation often leads to an assessment of the effectiveness of the preventative maintenance (PM) program. PM programs are designed to protect the uptime of equipment but they are not always adhered to as rigorously as they may require, and unfortunately this is often compounded when it is key equipment that is needed to run and stopping for planned maintenance might impact throughput. The opportunities here might be to change the scheduling of the planned maintenance to minimize disruption.

Opportunity to improve the productivity of mechanics is often related to how much time during the shift they are actually doing maintenance, or what we’ve referred to in the past as “wrench time.” Spending a few days-in-the-life of a mechanic and categorizing how their time is spent can be quite eye-opening. Depending on the environment, mechanics can spend a great deal of time traveling to jobs, waiting for equipment availability, and getting their tools and supplies needed to perform the task (particularly for unplanned maintenance). The opportunities to improve productivity often relates to the accuracy of the work-order, the proximity of associated tools and supplies, and of course at some point the effectiveness of the actual work completed. Some other opportunities that are sometimes relevant include where and how the maintenance groups are organized, where and how tools and supplies are staged, and the accuracy of time-estimates on work orders.