Excellence in maintenance can reduce costs

Start looking at maintenance in a new light by focusing on maintenance excellence.

In today's struggling economy, we all need to think differently about how we do our jobs, and that means thinking about costs.

Maintenance is the largest controllable cost in any organization, according to Ricky Smith, executive director for maintenance solutions at Life Cycle Engineering, Inc. (LCE), North Charleston, SC. Smith has years of practical maintenance experience and currently works with companies to improve maintenance operations. He spoke recently at a computerized maintenance management software users' conference.

Smith challenged everyone to ask, "How bad is my maintenance program?"

Smith's contention that maintenance costs are controllable is a concept growing in popularity. Some manufacturers have begun to optimize their processes and have found significant savings as a result. But, a company can only optimize process if it has optimized equipment reliability.

"We need to start looking at our maintenance in a new light," said Smith. That requires focusing on maintenance excellence, which Smith described as having three components.

First, maintenance excellence involves organizing and managing an efficient and effective maintenance program. Second, it involves ensuring operational capacity. Finally, maintenance excellence involves maximizing the contribution to process capability,reducing the total operation cost below industry benchmarks.

Sounds simple. It's not. Smith challenged everyone to ask, "How bad is my maintenance program?" This may sound harsh, but he cited research indicating most maintenance programs are in sad shape.

Most maintenance departments in North America operate at between 10 percent and 40 percent efficiency, said Smith. Even more damning is research indicating 70 percent of equipment failures are self-induced. That number, he said, may be low. In fact, other studies put it at 85 percent.

These numbers point to the need for formal, effective maintenance programs. However, Smith warned, "If the basics of maintenance aren't there to start with, then a sophisticated approach won't work." For example, a maintenance team cannot implement preventive maintenance programs on equipment that is breaking down continually. "Preventive maintenance doesn't provide reliability," he said. "It maintains reliability."

It's impossible to maintain equipment until its reliability is upgraded. Smith advised financially strapped maintenance departments to take one piece of equipment, in one area of the plant, and perform necessary inspections. Order parts for permanent repairs, complete a work order and do the work. Then, write a preventive maintenance procedure to guide future inspections and repairs. Only then can you begin maintaining that piece of equipment. Move to another piece of equipment or plant area, and repeat the procedure. "The only way you can eat an elephant is one bite at a time," he reminded everyone.

This first step toward a proactive, preventive maintenance program can save a lot of money. Imagine, Smith said, the savings a maintenance department can offer a company if this practice alone is extended throughout a plant.

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