Maintenance planning

Begin with the basics.

By Gunnar Gustafsson

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In recent years I’ve visited several plants that lacked a formal maintenance program. Some had computerized maintenance systems available — but they weren’t being used. The reason seems to be that management purchased the system and thus it was applied “from the top.” Unfortunately, this often is done without knowledge about the system or the work that is required to make it a useful tool.

Often, the computer program had been delivered as an “empty shell” with little or no information included. The plant personnel already had more than enough work to do, and thus the software wasn’t used at all. The plant personnel simply didn’t have time to enter the required information. This situation represents a waste of money and worse, it’s a waste of a potentially useful maintenance tool.

I also found that the people on the plant floor didn’t know how to collect and analyze maintenance information, even if it was available. Operators and maintenance personnel would be well served by learning some of the basic methods used when planning for maintenance.

It’s important to stress that plant people can do this, perhaps aided by some suitable external resource that can provide guidance, advice and assistance when required. Involving plant personnel with the techniques not only teaches them about appropriate planning maintenance procedures, it motivates them to take part in, and perform, the maintenance required.

Rules and regulations

Plants that have pressurized vessels, or other equipment that can be considered dangerous, must abide by specific rules and regulations regarding their use and maintenance. The applicable rules and regulations often require periodic inspections that must be performed by independent and certified third parties. Whether or not there’s a formal maintenance system in operation, the plant must comply with these requirements. It’s of utmost importance that pressure vessels be clearly identified, and each inspection must be planned and executed according to the regulations.

Operation planning

A good way to start a maintenance planning program is to investigate how the plant and its equipment are intended to be used. It’s knowledge about how the equipment is going to be used that forms the basis for the maintenance planning. This information, the operating profile, is the key tool for the maintenance planners. Update the information continuously to ensure that the planner can optimize the work schedule.

Resources and limitations

Before evaluating the required maintenance tasks, evaluate the resources available for maintenance objectively and realistically. You want to know about limitations to the level and complexity of the maintenance work that can be performed in-house. If the limitations are too severe, either change the system deficiencies so the work can be done in-house or outsource the work.

Analyze the following factors and their effect on the maintenance work:

  • Maintenance resources available (personnel, shop facilities, instruments, tools, etc.)
  • The competence of the personnel (verifiable skills and training)
  • Access to spare parts and spare parts information
  • Access to information (maintenance instructions)

If you don’t have the personnel, the tools, the spare parts and the information, you simply can’t perform the maintenance. Establishing a realistic view of a technician’s competence might be more difficult, as it’s harder to assess a priori. Nevertheless, note any limitations, expressed or inferred.

Keep resource limitations in mind when evaluating maintenance tasks to be performed. If any are lacking, arrange to have them available before the work starts.

Levels of maintenance

When drafting your standardized maintenance procedures, it’s useful to assign each task a “level” that corresponds to the skills required to perform the work. It’s important to do this in advance, as it makes it easier to “sort” the procedures that need to be prepared. A system of four levels is usually sufficient, though this number can be increased or decreased if desired. An example might be:

Level 1 — Autonomous (maintenance performed by the machine operator)
Level 2 — Simple (maintenance requiring a technician)
Level 3 — Qualified (maintenance requiring a skilled/certified technician)
Level 4 — Outsourced (maintenance subcontracted to specialists)

Level 1 — Autonomous maintenance

The maintenance activities included here can be performed by the machine operator, with the equipment in operation and using readily available resources. The task shouldn’t take longer than about 20 minutes to 30 minutes to perform. It should be possible to perform these tasks as part of a normal daily routine, without the need for work orders. It’s enough to verify that the task has been performed by noting it the operator’s or machine’s daily log book.

The necessary instructions should be available through the maintenance system software, though the operators would normally get them through training and then simple check lists to confirm via a signature that the task has been performed. Some maintenance routines placed on this “level” aren’t performed daily. These might be simpler maintenance tasks performed weekly, monthly or after a specific number of operating hours or machine cycles. Such irregularly scheduled tasks should have written instructions or check lists to ensure the work will be performed and not simply forgotten. Take staffing into consideration to ensure that not too many tasks are scheduled simultaneously.

Level 2 — Simple maintenance

The maintenance tasks included here can be performed by the operator who has received some maintenance training or with assistance of a maintenance technician. The tasks might require an equipment shutdown lasting no more than one hour. These maintenance activities require a short written procedure prepared by the maintenance planner.

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