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Lower cost, increase profits while optimizing production

Make the connection with the overall cost and send savings to the bottom line.

September 19, 2018   by Steve Gahbauer

Maintenance technician working on an electric pump. PHOTO: FOTOLIA

Good maintenance management is all about preventing costs from escalating. There are ways to keep costs low, make the process more efficient and contribute to the bottom line.

Start by acknowledging the difference between expenditure and investment, as well as cost and value. It’s also important to establish the link between maintenance and the overall cost of production.

In the book Maintenance Excellence by Andrew Jardine and John Campbell, maintenance excellence is defined as getting exemplary performance at a reasonable cost. The meaning of reasonable cost needs to be clarified. Maintenance costs vary for a variety of reasons, including: working environment, equipment age, operating standards and technology.

Look at maintenance from a proactive rather than reactive perspective, and explore the potential for profitability through strategies that maximize the productivity of a plant’s physical assets. Breakdown strategy is more expensive than linking maintenance actions to likely causes of failure. It costs three times as much as preventive, predictive or planned maintenance. The reasons are production interruption, unprepared site, shortage of adequate skills, delays in equipment rental and/or special tools procurement, and overtime.

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Preventive and predictive routines help keep costs low. But a planned maintenance strategy is even better. That requires a work order; a work request or notification; an inspection; failure call-in; a failure report; auto-generated PM (whether time-based, or condition-based); a breakdown report; or a note of a run-to-failure requiring a corrective action. Planning ensures the technician, inspector or contractor has all of the requirements identified to do the job promptly and effectively.

Ben Stevens, the principal of DataTrak Systems Inc., a provider of assessment management solutions based in Godfrey, Ont., observes many work orders in a CMMS are too brief and contain little or no detail to be of any value (for example, “repair motor Nr. 1245” or “investigate problem and report”). And inspections are often unplanned.

Technology is changing rapidly. Stevens says with the advanced capability of online monitoring systems, it’s now easy to collect data faster than it can be analyzed – thus missing critical changes in the asset. He also reminds us that the upsurge in reliability centred maintenance in past years has resulted in greatly expanded use of condition- and time-based maintenance. The former tactic must restore the asset’s condition and performance, and the cost of maintenance must be less than the cost of failure. The objective for time-based maintenance is to balance the cost of failures before replacement against the loss of asset life of items replaced earlier than needed.

More accurate data

A sensitivity analysis is useful in determining optimal replacement decisions. It looks at the relative costs of a planned replacement versus those of a sudden and/or unexpected failure. Sensitivity analysis allays unwarranted fears and indicates when to obtain more accurate cost data to reduce overall expenses.

There is one other aspect to consider – the future of maintenance. An editorial in a recent MotorDoc LLC newsletter posited that it’s realistic to assume in a very short time artificial intelligence (AI) and self-repairing systems will soon become a reality.

Howard Penrose, MotorDoc’s president, notes we are currently dealing with ‘expert systems’ that require interaction, or in-operation changes that follow specific rules to make those changes, a process that’s programmed by a human being. Repairs on most systems still require skilled workers and/or technicians who may follow procedures that were initially programmed, but are kicked out as instructions. Variations and issues that aren’t contemplated during programming will require human experts to bring knowledge and thought processes to the table.

At the same time some variations to the rule-based ordering through CMMS or enterprise systems follow human-developed rules, although they’re programmed to be more automated. Technicians will be required, although their skill set will have to expand to understand new technology, complex controls and monitoring tools.

As AI and self-repairing systems become the new normal, they’ll help to significantly lower the cost of maintenance even more.

Steve Gahbauer is an engineer, a Toronto-based business writer and a regular contributing editor. E-mail gahbauer55@gmail.com