preventive maintenance 1It is not always easy to indicate or appreciate what the benefits of maintenance are, but as product processes become more automated, they are more interconnected. As a result, a direct relationship now occurs between process reliability, uptime and profitability.

Maintenance, particularly preventive or predictive maintenance, is an expense charge against current earnings. As such, maintenance can be a simple area to cut.

Yet, organizations are becoming aware of the merits of preventive maintenance and are in tune with incorporating a disciplined preventive-maintenance program. The key to establishing such a program is the commitment from senior management all the way down.

“The reality is, there is a cost associated with preventive maintenance, and it’s a very apparent cost,” says James Shorten, technical specialist at Centris Consulting, in Scranton, Pa. “When business fluctuates — particularly when business goes down — it’s the type of thing that’s easy to cut. So the best practice really is a commitment to it.”

The best companies at preventive maintenance are heading toward predictive maintenance, Shorten adds, so an organization has an understanding of how long a process is going to run before it has an issue.

Another key to a solid preventive-maintenance program is having capable people to do the maintenance when it is required. Typically, most organizations schedule maintenance work in the off shifts. Having operators involved in preventive maintenance also is a good thing to do, but obviously a limit exists to how much they can do, Shorten says. Depending upon the equipment, the process and work required, maintenance needs to be involved and sometimes engineering does too, he adds.

Parts inventory also factors into preventive-maintenance programs.            

“A lot of times organizations will put extra people on, but they don’t necessarily have their inventories where they need to be,” Shorten explains. “As a result, they can’t be as effective as they need to. If you are going to get involved in maintenance, you really need a holistic approach, and that involves having the right parts, tools and requisitioning processes in place to enable maintenance people in the process to work properly.

“That’s really the elephant in the room,” he adds. “Often times, there is down time and they really don’t have the parts required to fix what they need to fix.” (For more on spare-parts strategies, read “Reducing your spare parts/MRO inventory risk”.)

Results matter

If a company is spending money on preventive maintenance, it’s not a quick fix. Over time it becomes important to track an organization’s performance.

“If you’re not seeing an uptick in uptime, then something is wrong obviously,” Shorten says. “At the end of the day, it really is about production, and it’s about performance and being able to produce in the most productive way possible. There is an investment, but the main thing is to see that the investment is a wise investment and is actually delivering the outcomes that they expect.”

In addition, production equipment is typically covered fairly well by preventive-maintenance programs, but many times supporting equipment, such as boilers, chillers and air compressors, don’t receive the needed attention.

“There is a whole support infrastructure that is really required to enable the actual production equipment to operate properly,” Shorten says. “It’s very important that that equipment gets the same level of attention that some of the production equipment gets.”

Another key to getting the results a company wants from its preventive-maintenance program is finding qualified maintenance employees.

“Some organizations don’t want to invest as much as they might need to in a maintenance function, but as organizations and manufacturing environments become more interconnected and more reliant on their production equipment and technology, obviously the maintenance role is emerging,” Shorten says.

As preventive maintenance gains momentum along with predictive maintenance, Shorten equates the status of maintenance with where the quality initiative was back in the 1970s and early ’80s.

“Quality to a large degree was perceived as an expense and an afterthought, after the fact, kind of thing,” he explains. “Then people got on board, and they realized that as they could produce and build quality, it actually saved them money. I think maintenance is in a similar place right now.

“It’s just going to continue to grow,” Shorten adds. “Organizations, particularly in the U.S., are looking for near 100 percent uptime, and they are going to keep driving until they get it.”