Manufacturing Resources and Tools

Reduce Maintenance Costs
Reduce Maintenance Costs

Maintenance doesn't usually become a priority until something breaks. Then it's a life-or-death situation to get everything up and running again. Avoid putting out constant brush fires by implementing a planned maintenance program.

By Valerie Van Kooten

Maintenance usually isn't a top priority for many companies until something breaks at the worst possible time. Then it's a matter of urgency to get everything up and running on schedule again.

But today's manufacturing companies can't afford breakdowns. "Today's customer expects zero defects and 100 percent on time from their ordinary supplier," says Miles Free, director of industry research and technology at the Precision Machined Products Association in Brecksville, Ohio.

Preventative vs. Reactive Maintenance
Too often maintenance is dealt with like a brush fire in that companies only take care of it when a problem arises, but that needs to change, Free says. "The role maintenance has to play is to get totally transitioned out of the traditional role of fireman — swarm over it and get it going — into a system of planning, predicting and assuring the process as you document it."

Planned maintenance, tracking and investigating common causes, must become the norm. "You need to be doing problem solving, not just putting a bandage on it," Free says. "If there's a piece that keeps wearing out, you need to get to the root problem of why, not just keep replacing it."

For example, Free worked with one company that was having 85 percent of its electrical issues in the summer. The computerized control cards on this machine overheated in Georgia summers. Instead of simply fixing the problem each time it arose, the company worked on why this was happening. After installing air conditioning on the control boxes, the problem was virtually eliminated.

"Very often, you can predict failure on your heavy equipment with bearings," Free says. "By investing $200 for an optical thermometer, you can walk around and shoot all the major bearings and track the temperature." By tracking this, Free says you will be able to set a standard and then, when the temperature begins to climb, replace the bearing before the problem occurs.

By sitting down with your maintenance staff and machine operators and putting together a preventative schedule, you can prevent crisis interruptions. If your company hasn't started documenting breakdowns, start immediately. Once you have several months' worth of information, track where and when breakdowns are occurring. Is it a seasonal issue, or does it happen after so many parts have been manufactured? Are certain operators' machines breaking down more than others'? Having the data in front of you will make it easier to determine these points.

Putting It into Practice
Vermeer Corporation in Pella, Iowa, a worldwide supplier of industrial and agricultural equipment, is one manufacturing company that has all of its equipment on a planned, preventative maintenance schedule. Dell Collins, director of facilities for Vermeer, says they use a software program that tracks all maintenance and tells them when it was last done, what was done and when future maintenance might need to be done.

"We also try to have operators involved in daily checks, cleaning up leaks and checking fluid levels," Collins says. "Our equipment is pretty expensive, and when you're a company like us that is so far down the LEAN path and implementing Just In Time, a breakdown affects not just those on your line, but everybody up and down that cycle."

Collins says putting the incentive on the machine operator helps free up maintenance staff's time, and helps the operator and his line avoid the frustration of downtime. The company also uses scheduled downtime, such as holidays, for larger, planned maintenance. "Tracking your maintenance really helps in knowing what is going to be coming up and what to expect," he says. "Having our operators involved in daily operations cuts our downtime, too."

By taking the information you have collected and getting your operators involved, your company can reduce the cost of expensive breakdowns and downtime.

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