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Bryan Christiansen


How to Eliminate Excessive Maintenance From Your Production Floor

Four keys to improving productivity

Published: Wednesday, January 6, 2021 - 13:03

A manufacturing facility can’t operate without a maintenance team. Frankly, most businesses can’t. In one way or another, we all rely on different machines and infrastructure to deliver our products and services.

To avoid expensive, unexpected breakdowns and keep assets in good operating condition, the maintenance staff is tasked with a lot of routine preventive maintenance work.

However, there can be too much of a good thing. You wouldn’t buy new tires for your car if the current ones are still in good condition, right? Similarly, maintenance managers do not want to schedule work that is not necessary. Doing unnecessary work adds expense, requires extra coordination, and of course adds additional planned downtime. All of which limit a manufacturing’s facility production output.

This begs the question, “How do you eliminate excessive maintenance from your production floor, and only do the work that is needed?”

Here are a few different things you can improve upon that would get you closer to that goal.

Have a digital maintenance calendar

Coordinating maintenance work with paper and sticky notes can be a mess. You’re not sure which tasks have been assigned and when or if a certain task was already performed. This leads to duplicated work and just wastes everybody’s time.

Because of the lack of accountability and organization, some tasks will get lost or forgotten. Sooner or later, that will result in a major breakdown. Instead of spending 20 minutes to replace a certain part, you’ll have a three-hour downtime with all hands on deck.

Although it might sound counterintuitive, doing more maintenance work on a regular basis can actually result in less overall maintenance work performed throughout the month. Implementing a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) with a digital maintenance calendar is the most straightforward way to automate, track, and organize your maintenance work.

Match maintenance levels with production levels

Many organizations that try to be proactive fall into the trap of doing maintenance according to OEM guidelines. While OEM guidelines can be very helpful, they are still only recommendations.

Those guidelines are based on standard use. In other words, the equipment manufacturer might presume that the machine will be running 14-hours a day with recommended breaks, that you use input material of certain quality, that you use original spare parts, and so on.

If you deviate from those conditions, that should be reflected in your maintenance work. So when you’re scheduling future maintenance work, keep those things in mind and spread out routine work accordingly.

Make sure you are addressing the right failure modes

When you are performing preventive maintenance work, you want to make sure that you are addressing the right failure mode. If you only want to spend time on maintenance tasks that will actually make a difference, those tasks have to aim to eliminate (or minimize the chance of) a common cause of failure.

One way to focus on the right causes is by turning on your CMMS and looking at asset history. Look at mean time between failure (MTBF) and repair notes, talk with the technicians, talk with machine operators, and try to extrapolate the most common causes of failures. Based on that, schedule maintenance work that addresses the most common causes and eliminate maintenance work that seems unnecessary. Of course, track if these changes affected the failure rates of that asset, and further tweak the maintenance schedule until you get satisfying results.

Another way to focus on the right failure modes is by bringing in a reliability engineer. Besides performing failure mode effects and criticality analysis (FMECA) and reliability centered maintenance (RCM), a reliability engineer can review your maintenance practices and check the effectiveness of your maintenance tasks.

I loved the example Ken Culverson, a reliability engineering expert, gave in this article in Reliable Plant:

“During an annual shutdown, I watched a crew change belts on a critical air-handler. I watched as the five D-size belts were rolled on over a bar. I asked the obvious question of why that was being done. ‘You have to pre-stretch the belts or come back later and retension them,’ I was told.”

This was an outdated practice, so they did the following:
“Our belting vendor was brought in for a training session where myths about belts were discussed. Following that session, we changed our maintenance instructions to require loosening the motor, properly installing the belts, and then setting the tension.”

Of course, this added about 15-percent more time to accomplish than the original, so how did this change affect reliability?
“By not damaging the belts during the installation, we changed the task from an annual one to a triannual one.”

Although the maintenance task took a bit longer, it had to be performed less often. Overall, the amount of performed maintenance work was reduced.

Invest in predictive maintenance and condition monitoring technology

We can’t talk about eliminating excessive maintenance without mentioning condition-monitoring sensors and predictive algorithms. After all, their main purpose is to eliminate unnecessary maintenance from the plant floor.

While the implementation of that technology can be complicated, the idea behind it is simple. You install condition-monitoring sensors on critical assets that send you real-time data about asset performance and deterioration signs. Those data are fed into an algorithm that takes into account numerous variables and tells you exactly when a machine will fail. The more data it has, the more accurate the prediction is.

If you know the likelihood of when a certain part will fail, you can replace it just before that happens. This way, it is easier to forecast your inventory needs, and you only do maintenance when it is necessary.

Final thoughts

Doing preventive maintenance work is great, but doing too much of it is obviously not optimal. Following the tips outlined in this article, you will be very close to eliminating all unnecessary maintenance work from your production floor.


About The Author

Bryan Christiansen’s picture

Bryan Christiansen

Bryan Christiansen is the founder and CEO of Limble CMMS. Limble is a modern, easy-to-use mobile CMMS software that takes the stress and chaos out of maintenance by helping managers organize, automate, and streamline their maintenance operations.


How to Eliminate Excessive Maintenance - Medical Equipment

Bryan is entirely correct.  Performing maintenance by blindly following manufacturers' recommendations is not only costly but also reduces productivity.  This has been proven in the case of medical equipment (which often directly affect patient's lives and wellbeing).  After insisting on folowing manufacturers' recommendations for several decades, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) finally accepted evidence presented by the clinical engineering community and since 2013 has been allowing the adoption of the "alternate equipment management" (AEM) program (with some exceptions).  Through basic root-cause-analyses of the equipment failures, it is possible to determine the best alternative maintenance strategy that will keep medical equipment safe and reliable with minimal resource investment and, at the same time, not reduce clinical productivity (i.e., keep equipment available for care delivery).  This approach has been named "Evidence-Based Maintenance" to help the clincial professionals understand the rationale used is analogous to the Evidence-Based Medicine that they are trained to practice.  There are now many articles and even a book published on this subject.