Safety and maintenance conference report: An open road to world-class maintenance

4 mins read

The overarching theme of the Works Management Factory Safety and Maintenance Conference was that improvement is a journey, not an event, and the ride can deliver enduring benefits

A major problem facing UK industry is that we still produce about a quarter less for every hour we work compared to countries such as Germany and the US. When striving to improve productivity a key target is improved uptime for equipment, which places the focus squarely on the maintenance department.

The role of maintenance has been evolving over many years. The days are numbered for the practice of regular plant or line shutdowns for routine maintenance, while the emphasis is moving to preventative maintenance by line workers backed up by effective condition monitoring.

"When we are called in to help we are constantly told that against our global competition we are not as productive as the rest of the world," Ashley Maile, managing director of maintenance outsourcing company, PEME, explained. "What that means when we come to maintenance is that, typically, we have poor maintenance systems, which has a negative impact."

The trouble is a lack of investment in effective maintenance is a hidden cost. Lack of investment and poor practices have an invisible impact and are often not felt for up to 10 years. Once practices are put in place to improve this, it will usually take at least three years to get back to parity.

"We see a lot of improvement initiatives that are started, but not delivered effectively or followed through," Maile added. So what does a factory with poor maintenance practices look like? "Typically, the assets are not running well," Maile explained. "They will suffer from increasing engineering downtime. The cost of maintenance will be rising; reactive maintenance is the least cost-effective solution. There will be challenges when it comes to safety and a shortage of trained and competent engineers."

That brings us to what good looks like – is it TPM, or is it lean? "Good has a structure, whatever tag or acronym you want to put on it," Maile continued. "What good does is it structures itself in such a way that it can be communicated and understood by everyone within the organisation; it doesn't have to call itself anything. I have worked with a lot of organisations that know what they want to do and how they are going to achieve it, but they don't call it anything."

Every company sits somewhere along an improvement curve when it comes to maintenance starting with those whose sole maintenance is reactive, if it's not broken don't touch it. This moves through companies that have some preventative tasks in place such as lubrication, directed preventative maintenance tasks or some form of computerised maintenance management system (CMMS) in place. Next up the curve is predictive with condition-based monitoring (CBM) and, at the apex of the curve, comes proactive companies who rely on root cause analysis (RCA) and carry out autonomous maintenance.

"Every company sits somewhere along an improvement curve, more often than not in the reactive/corrective area, where they are in a continuous breakdown and fix it loop," Maile said. "Other times they have little pockets that are better than that, sitting along the curve where they carry out some lubrication or carry out some RCA, but they are not truly along the improvement curve."

When attempting to implement an improvement strategy, the first port of call is always to discover the current situation. To achieve that it is useful to use a tool to decide where you are at and where you want to go. "We have designed our own one, the PEME Maintenance Model radar chart, but there are plenty of others out there," Maile continued. "This divides the performance into 25 sections from health and safety, through maintenance planning, asset criticality though to things such as cost optimisation and spares and inventor control. We score them in each of these 25 areas and that gives us a clear picture of where they are. Armed with that information, you can decide where you want to get to. What that model is and what the sections are is less important than where you are and that you are on a journey and what you are going to do about it.

"I am a firm believer in non-invasive maintenance; maintenance and engineering have to understand that they must keep the production line running. Wherever possible you need to adopt a maintenance strategy that is non-invasive; don't fall back on maintenance days. So that brings in things like operators' SOPs depending on how far you want to go with operator line side maintenance."

A theme picked up by Ben Rowlands from ARMS Reliability was reliability excellence, but not before he clarified what he believes asset management really is. For this, he pointed to ISO55000 which is a co-ordinated activity of an organisation to realise value from assets. "The key thing from that definition is working in a coordinated fashion," Rowlands said.

So where does reliability comes from? "The traditional view is that the maintenance department is responsible for it, but what we find is that there are various areas of the business that will affect reliability," Rowlands continued. "For example, if you look right back at the start of the process, things such as the type of equipment purchased, raw materials, spare parts can all feed into the process as well as more obvious things such as how the equipment is operated and maintained."

To reinforce his view that the causes of unreliability are not solely focused on the asset itself, he pointed to a UK Trade and Industry Benchmarking exercise that identified that, in industry, the causes of unreliability could be grouped into three categories. The largest cause of unreliability was operations (40-50%), followed by asset (30-40%) and maintenance in third at 10-30%. "From this it is clear that a really large proportion of unreliability is caused by operations," Rowlands said. "We need to look at a whole range of areas in the business to improve. Reliability in design is carried out early in a plant's lifecycle or perhaps when a new line is installed."