Value adding23 January 2015

Managers turning to the belief that maintenance may be non-core need to consider the implications of that notion before they outsource key engineering functions.

There are contrasting schools of thought around UK manufacturing that have implications for plant and equipment maintenance. At one extreme, there are those who believe organisations should be masters of everything, from brand management to product design and production, including maintenance. At the other, the view is perhaps best expressed in quasi-lean parlance as: maintenance doesn't generally add value for which customers are willing to pay.

Both approaches have shortcomings and each is ultimately perverse. In the first case, there are businesses out there specialising in maintenance, and fielding skills and buying power difficult for most manufacturers to match – so, many might benefit from at least periodic assistance. As for the second, this is the path to classifying maintenance as 'non-core' and mistaking that for meaning it's not important. It's the slippery slope to cost cutting, the vicious circle of break-fix, production inefficiencies and unplanned downtime.

As Ashley Maile, managing director of maintenance engineering services organisation PEME, says: "Properly configured maintenance should be about getting your plant or factory to run better and driving performance." Clearly, everyone needs help with that from time to time, although achieving excellence entails initial costs, not savings. However, the rewards should be felt in terms of improved productivity and delivery metrics – indicating that good maintenance practices rooted in TPM (total productive maintenance), RCM (reliability centred maintenance) or lean maintenance, absolutely can add value.

How much? According to Dennis McCarthy, of manufacturing performance improvement specialist DAK Consulting, around 40% of the total business gains in a lean improvement programme. Just as important, however, his company's research suggests that only one third of those gains relate to planned and/or corrective maintenance. "Two thirds of the benefit is delivered by capturing the lessons learned from those using the equipment, and engineering-out problems and/or engineering-in good practices," he says.

Maintenance adds greatest value when it is harnessed not only to prevent breakdowns, but also to improve equipment performance. And he goes on to assert that in top firms, the role of maintenance is not preventing breakdowns at all – this being largely down to operators working under TPM processes – but preventing defects.

Why aren't more companies adopting such enlightened practices? McCarthy believes most people don't understand what is needed to secure reliability. They also don't comprehend the costs and benefits, even though these have been well articulated – for example in Zane Mitchell's 1998 'A statistical analysis of construction equipment repair costs using field data and the cumulative cost model'. This paper identified that well-maintained assets deliver some 50% longer useful life. It also found fewer product defects, more flexible and shorter production lead times, and lower lifecycle costs.

TPM and lean are key to such outcomes, argues McCarthy, because they focus on increasing collaboration between production and maintenance, "so releasing skilled maintenance engineers to focus on higher-value activities, such as optimising operational performance". How? By systematising routine maintenance so that asset reliability tasks can be delegated to front-line production staff.

Unsurprisingly, for Maile, getting best results is achieved not through consultancy services alone, but by embedding maintenance professionals in factories. "We go in with long-term solutions. We might undertake maintenance planning, or carry out failure analysis work, but we also educate staff in RCM, TPM and root cause analysis, where appropriate. And we also help middle management to understand the value you can get out of maintenance," he explains.

McCarthy doesn't disagree, but suggests that outsourcing neither helps nor hinders maintenance improvement. His view: specialists need to make their margin so have to field better managers and practitioners than the incumbents to do so. That, of course, is the point – and we might add that they should also offer fresh eyes and a pragmatic approach that uses maintenance improvement methodologies appropriate to the organisation's current state (technology and workforce competence), what it's trying to achieve and how it sees itself in the future.

Top tips

  • Meaningful maintenance metrics (by machine or production line, according to priority) are essential to identifying the location, nature and criticality of problems.
  • Identify your top five losses last month, specifically including any requirement for maintenance intervention.
  • Monitor. measure and characterise repeating failures – they may only cause a few minutes of downtime each, but it adds up.
  • Apply root cause analysis not only to solve problems and direct projects, but also to give your plant or factory breathing space to improve.
  • Avoid spreadsheet-driven, cost centre maintenance management – transforming to profit centre thinking and metrics is a key starting point.

Brian Tinham

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