Proper operating and maintenance methods should be the rule, not the exception

Make proper operating and maintenance methods the rule rather than the exception.

By Keith Mobley, contributing editor

High-quality asset care and optimum reliability are two touchstones for evaluating the efficacy of any maintenance organization. Most plants attempt to achieve these goals, but too many fail to achieve either. The primary reasons for this failure are an inability to define quality care and little, if any, real focus on reliability.

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Quality asset care means that proper operating and maintenance methods are the rule rather than the exception. Operating any asset outside its capabilities causes too many reliability and useful-life problems. Existing operating practices sometimes overload, exceed speed limitations or fail to provide adequate time for proper maintenance. As a result, reliability and lifecycle cost suffer.

In effective organizations, assets are always operated within their design envelope. Ramp rates, running speeds, incoming and output products and the myriad of other variables that directly or indirectly affect the asset's reliability and useful life are clearly understood. Operating procedures and practices universally adhere to best practices. Assets are never operated outside their designed capabilities.

The same is true for asset maintenance. At least 17 percent of asset reliability problems can be directly attributed to improper maintenance. Even though maintenance may perform tens of thousands of preventive and corrective maintenance tasks annually, both useful life and reliability suffer. The simple reason is that we're not doing the real maintenance that's needed to protect and prolong the asset's useful life. Generally, one-third to one-half of the maintenance tasks performed in a typical plant provide no real benefit. They're either inappropriate, improperly performed, performed at the wrong interval or not performed at all.

In an effective organization, required preventive maintenance is properly performed at the optimum interval while following best practices. Preventive maintenance practices are evaluated constantly to ensure that the highest quality of work is being performed. Evaluation should also confirm the validity of tasks and that performance intervals are compatible with both lifecycle cost and reliability requirements.

The lack of focus on reliability is a serious problem in many plants. When asked who is responsible, the answer is generally everyone or no one. Asset reliability should be a keystone of the plant engineering, procurement, production and maintenance functions in every plant, but who has the ultimate responsibility? Plant engineering has a vital role to play. It develops the functional specifications for new or modified production systems and is actively involved in the procurement process and installation. But once the asset is installed, its involvement ends. Production and maintenance also play a critical role, but neither has total control of the asset during its normal operating life. As a result, neither can be held totally accountable for reliability. So who should be responsible for quality asset care and reliability?

The ideal answer is a functional group that has the responsibility, authority and accountability to ensure these key goals are achieved and sustained. This groupmaintenance engineeringprovides the focus, direction, leadership and technical knowledge needed to ensure that the activities of every plant functional group are suitable for long-term asset optimization. In an effective organization, maintenance engineering is actively involved from the conceptual stage of functional development through asset decommissioning. Its role is to ensure that new procurements, as well as upgrades or modifications, provide optimum reliability, useful operating life and best lifecycle cost.

An ability to keep equipment operating at peak performance with the goal of avoiding a need for extraneous capital expenditures will go a long way toward the overall goal of maximizing plant profitability. However, nothing is free. Achieving and sustaining this goal is dependent on a focused, universal effort by each employee and functional group. Every activity directly or indirectly affecting asset reliability, operating condition and lifecycle cost must be performed in a manner that protects assets from damage and prolongs their useful life.

Contributing Editor Keith Mobley can be reached via email at

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