Fix Your Maintenance Program

Take steps to ensure practices boost your competitive position.

By John Murphy, Infor

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Downtime is costly in any industry but particularly in chemical manufacturing where it can equate to hundreds of thousands of dollars or more in waste and lost production. Problems can lead to scrapped output or the need to rework a batch, incurring extra material and energy costs. Safety mandates may require emptying equipment prior to its repair. Cooling and then reheating units to operating temperature takes energy and time. In addition, today's lean supply chain and lower inventory levels may mean insufficient raw materials and finished product are on hand to meet demands.

Most companies, of course, have maintenance programs in place to prevent equipment failures. However, many of these still focus on tactical procedures to track and fix assets; they don't provide much analysis into why assets fail or predict when they will. With today's corporate focus on reducing operational expenses across the enterprise, it's time to assess your current procedures, determine what kind of asset management system you have in place and, depending on what you find, move to a more-strategic process that incorporates predictive practices.

Knowing Where You Are
There are five stages to a company's asset management maturity, starting from the very basic and completing with a comprehensive enterprise-wide maintenance strategy.

1.Operate. In this stage, you are reactive on all of your maintenance; you fix something when it's broken. You take few or no preventive measures. This approach raises downtime costs and often results in lost sales. It prompts excessive safety stocks that reduce inventory turns and increase pressure on cash flow.

2. Consolidate. Here, you recognize maintenance could be improved but can't properly fund a major overhaul in practices. You continue to focus on reactive procedures but add some element of planning, such as ensuring spare parts are in inventory and, when practical, rebuilding instead of replacing equipment.

3. Integrate. This is the stage when you begin to emphasize financial aspects of maintenance. You better communicate return on investment to senior leaders to secure extra funding for additional preventive measures such as routine inspections, lubrications, adjustments, and scheduled service to improve equipment mean time between failures (MTBF).

4. Optimize. As the evolution continues, enterprise participation grows; management support is mandatory. A shift toward predictive maintenance occurs -- data are collected to understand when failure is likely to occur and the business impact. This stage affords significant improvements in MTBF because you're proactively managing risk.

5. Innovate. The final stage includes maintenance as part of a total company system where you combine prior techniques with operator involvement to free maintenance technicians to concentrate on repair data analysis and major maintenance activities.

The stages have closely followed the evolution of enterprise asset management (EAM) systems, from early computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS) to today's advanced asset performance management ones.

CMMS usually is tactical in nature. It provides an understanding of when to repair assets and sets the flow for issuing and tracking work orders. Such a system is well suited to small single-plant operations with limited resources. However, it doesn't take into account the hierarchical nature of complex assets.

Assets aren't isolated; instead each consists of a complex system of other components, likely interrelated to assets across the plant floor. This hierarchical setup requires the ability to monitor, track, report and execute activities based on an understanding of how one move will impact another. Such an asset chess game can be daunting when you realize how far reaching an asset problem can be. For example, a sudden drop in pressure of a liquid moving from one tank to another can be due to many factors, including a crack in a nozzle, build up within a pipe, inaccurate pressure in the origin tank, a pump's motor or even a faulty transformer or voltage regulator feeding power to the entire process. Managing this ecosystem takes an understanding of how each asset works with others, identifying indicators to determine where a failure is and then acting to correct the problem.

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