Imagine if someone told you that you could operate your existing manufacturing facility with up to 25% greater productivity. You may well question this claim, but if you need to increase output then it’s worth stopping to think about how you may be able to realise the full potential of your existing plant before investing heavily in new production capacity. For example, a simple measure such as adopting improved maintenance and operational practices, or eliminating inefficient production processes and unplanned downtime can all have a significant impact on productivity without the need for major change to processes or investment in new equipment.
Identifying production loss
It is estimated that the cost of making improvements to existing production or management procedures, as a means of improving productivity, is between 30 and 50 times less than that required for purchasing and commissioning new systems that achieve the same results. Indeed, if existing procedures are already inefficient, and remain unchecked, then they will inevitably transfer to any new production systems; this exacerbates the root problems still further and delays the point at which a commercial return on investment can be realised.
The symptoms of inefficient procedures typically include unplanned shutdowns, planned shutdowns that overrun, reduced production rates, start-up failures and design related issues.
The solution is to assess and analyse the lost opportunity and to eliminate the reasons for the downtime through improved maintenance practices. Once these are understood then it becomes possible to create a suitable action plan, complete with appropriate methods of measurement and control.
This may be as simple as training and equipping production staff to conduct front line inspection techniques, known as Operator Driven Reliability (ODR), or by reviewing the complete maintenance strategy via a streamlined reliability-centred maintenance approach. Very often it is a combination or blend of new techniques and practices that enable an organisation to move from being reactive to proactive in its maintenance function.
Whatever new techniques are applied it is imperative that they are linked to business goals and that these goals remain the focus at all times during an improvement process.
Traditionally, maintenance in many factories was carried out on a reactive basis; either linked to set time intervals or because a component or machine had failed. This approach gives little control of production assets – people and machines - and means that productivity almost always falls far short of optimum levels.
To regain control and strive towards maximum efficiency of assets, a more defined proactive maintenance and practices regime, as an overall holistic plant strategy, is needed.
One such holistic approach is the Asset Efficiency Optimisation (AEO) concept, a work management process structure that delivers maximum efficiency and effectiveness from activities focused on the overall business aim of the plant. This helps transform asset management to meet the collective facility performance goals, through the development of properly balanced requirements for individual plant equipment. The plan takes account of top-level business planning, system-wide analysis and includes a shift from a largely reactive to a selective mix of planned, proactive, predictive and reactive maintenance. This approach has in-built sustainability and provides rapid results and payback on investment.
The fab four
Within an AEO strategy plan there are four key integrated elements. These are: maintenance strategy, work identification, work control, and work execution.
The maintenance strategy sets out business goals and objectives, assesses plant criticality and risk, and states the most important issues and priorities. This is essential for a suitable and effective maintenance plan to be created, as it sets in place a recognised and auditable company asset management programme, which can be easily conveyed throughout an organisation.
One important aspect of this strategy involves the adoption of an Operator Driven Reliability (ODR) solution that is designed to empower front line machinery operators to play a proactive role in the maintenance of assets. Through simple training and the ability to carry out machinery inspection, a wealth of inspection data can be accurately and consistently recorded, stored, analysed and shared. This offers the potential for proactive remedial action to be taken quickly and effectively when necessary, maximising production levels, managing risk and minimising the costs associated with maintenance and machine downtime.
With the complexity of modern production machinery and associated support systems, operators usually have at least some interface with maintenance. Typically, this could be to request maintenance support to investigate and correct suspect conditions that they have detected. Through this approach, operators become involved in maintenance through greater participation in reliability-related activities, such as Root Cause Failure Analysis (RCFA) or maintenance strategy review processes.
Another cost-effective aspect of the maintenance strategy focuses on key equipment where criticality is high but addresses the dominant causes of equipment failure. The initial part of the Reliability Centred Maintenance (RCM) process identifies the operating context of the machinery to produce a Failure Mode Effects and Criticality Analysis (FMECA). This process will help determine the appropriate maintenance tasks for the identified failure modes. The effectiveness of this maintenance is kept under constant review and adjusted as further experience is gained.
While RCM focuses on reliability improvements in specific equipment, in general it is inappropriate for the rest of the plant. This has led to the development of a similar maintenance technique that is more appropriate on a plant-wide basis. This enhanced version of the RCM process focuses on the dominant failure modes of equipment and the significant effects of those failures such as production losses, personnel safety and environmental issues. This is a key benefit of helping develop the understanding of plant personnel on the value of a modern-based maintenance strategy, particularly where a major change in the maintenance culture within the enterprise needs to be made.
The second element of the AEO strategy plan deals with the identification of work, where critical plant information is gathered and analysed, allowing informed decisions to be made and the corrective maintenance operations to be carried out. This element also looks at making condition-based and specific asset maintenance recommendations. Work requests are then combined with other pre-determined planned and corrective maintenance activities.
The third element, work control, relies heavily on the priorities and structure determined during elements one and two, allowing maintenance activity to be planned in detail and scheduled. This requires tasks to be prioritised, taking into account timescales, man-hours, data feedback, and competence levels.
With these three components fully realised, the final element, work execution, can be implemented, with detailed plans put into action and maintenance carried out. It is crucial that feedback is collected via post-maintenance testing to ensure continuous improvements are maintained and maximum return on investment achieved.l