Everybody’s looking at process inefficiencies to improve maintenance but there’s lower hanging – and bigger – fruit to focus on first: unplanned events!

Maintenance has pretty simple goals; guarantee and increase equipment uptime and do so at the lowest possible cost. Let’s take a quick look at how unplanned events influence these three conditions.

Guarantee uptime

When production went through the evolutions of JIT (Just In Time), Lean,… and other optimisation schemes, schedules got ever tighter and deviations from the plan ever more problematic. WIP (Work In Progress) has to be limited as much as possible for understandable reasons. However, this has a side-effect of also limiting buffers, which means that when any cog in the mechanism locks up, the whole thing stops. Therefore, maintenance receives increasing pressure to guarantee uptime, at least during planned production time. Operational risk is something investors increasingly look at when evaluating big ticket investments or during M&A due diligence and for good reason; it’s like investing in a top athlete – don’t just pick the fastest runner, pick the one who can do so consistently!

Failures are bound to happen so the name of the game is to pre-emptively foresee these events in order to remediate them beforehand; planned, and preferably outside of production time.

Increase Uptime

The more you are able to increase (guaranteed) uptime, the more output you can generate from your investment. Unplanned events are true output killers; not just because they stop the failing machine but also because they may cause a waterfall of other equipment – depending on the failing machine’s output – to come to a halt. Unplanned events should therefore a) be avoided and b) dealt with in the fastest possible manner. The latter means having technicians and parts at hand, which can be a very expensive manner (like insurance policies; they’re always too expensive until you need them). In order to avoid unplanned failures, we have therefore introduced preventive maintenance (for either cheaper or cyclical events) and condition based or preventive maintenance. Capturing machine health and deciding when to pre-emptively intervene in order to avoid unplanned failures is a pretty young science but one that shows the highest potential for operational and financial gains in the field of maintenance.

Lower maintenance cost

By now most people know that unplanned maintenance costs a multiple of planned maintenance; by a factor three to nine (depending on the industry) is generally accepted as a ballpark figure. It therefore keeps surprising me that most of the investments have traditionally been made in optimising planned maintenance. Agreed, how to increase efficiencies for planned maintenance is easier to grasp but we have by now come to a level where returns on extra investments in this field are diminishing. Enter unplanned maintenance; can either be avoided (increase equipment reliability) or foreseen (in which case it can be prevented). Increasing equipment reliability has not always been the goal of OEMs. In the traditional business model, they made a good buck from selling spare parts and they therefore had to carefully balance how to stay ahead of the competition without pricing themselves out of the market (reliability comes at a cost). Mind you, this was more an economic balancing act than a deliberate “let’s make equipment fail” decision. Now however, with uptime-based contracts, OEM’s are incentivised to improve equipment reliability. Unfortunately, unplanned failures still occur; and due to tighter planning and higher equipment utilisation requirements, these failures’ costs have increased! Therefore, in order to lower maintenance costs, we have to lower the number of unplanned events. The only practical way is to become better at foreseeing these events in order to be able to plan interventions before they occur. The simple plan is: gather data, turn it into information, make predictions and take action to avoid these events. And voilà, 3-9 times more money saved than if we focused on planned events!

Life can be simple.