Use the maintenance function to achieve meaningful energy reduction

Costly attitudes: A commitment to energy efficiency needs to be more than a bunch of hot air.

By Dan Towse, T.A. Cook

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Our economic climate demands a renewed appreciation for continuous improvement methodology within maintenance organizations. As operating costs rise and profit margins shrink, it’s imperative that maintenance organizations focus on being a profit center and not merely a black hole from which capital returns never escape.

Maintenance organizations can achieve this by leveraging their team’s combined talents and experiences to foster an environment of world-class maintenance with a focus on energy conservation.

Many outside of the maintenance arena don’t understand that performing world-class preventive maintenance (PM) and predictive maintenance (PdM) provides more than just equipment reliability; it also helps to save energy, extend equipment life, reduce system downtime and increase the overall safety of the manufacturing facility.

Organizations that established holistic preventive and predictive maintenance programs find that total costs can be reduced by 40% to 50%. When we think of PM or PdM, we usually think of replacing worn parts such as filters, belts and couplings, as well as testing and refreshing lubricants. When maintenance technicians perform scheduled maintenance, they focus on a task list. Rarely will they venture deeper than instructed by the written word. Still, some technicians even possess the attitude that “close is good enough” when it comes to preventive maintenance. Have you heard any of these comments from your maintenance team after PM/PdM tasks are completed?

  • “The V-belts looked fine, they’re a little glazed, but they’ll last another six months.”
  • “The sheaves are almost aligned; no big deal, it’s pretty close.”
  • “The steam trap has a small leak, but it can wait.”
  • “I couldn’t find the right belt, but this one is close enough.”
  • “The motor is running a little hot; no big deal.”
  • “The motor trips every once in a while, so I put some extra fuses on the top of the box.”
  • “The alignment of motor and pump is good enough.”
  • “I ran out of grease, so I greased the front bearing; the other one looked alright.”
  • “I just blew the air filter down with an air hose; it’s fine.”

While there are many facets to the world-class maintenance organization, they typically have one thing in common: world-class people. In short, the technicians and managers have the desire to be world-class. These professionals feel empowered and valued as important partners at their manufacturing facilities. Managers can help their teams become world-class by engaging them to be an instrument to facilitate energy savings. As maintenance personnel, they have a unique opportunity to make significant contributions to a company’s energy savings. Why? Because the technicians have a detailed understanding of the equipment’s functionality and the opportunity to make a difference.

Don’t let your team minimize its stature in the organization by telling you, “We’re just technicians.” How many CFOs or COOs can jumper a pressure indicator while a process is running or correctly torque a 300 plate titanium heat exchanger? None. That’s important because everyone needs to understand how much they contribute to a team’s success and to own it.

So, own it and challenge your team by tracking energy consumption trends. Many maintenance organizations employed and communicated process key performance indicators for years and they’ve become a valuable tool in managing complicated processes. Communicating energy consumption trends should receive the same visibility. Build a continuously updated dashboard (Figure 1) to communicate raw material and energy consumption and challenge your team to optimize their part of the energy conservation equation. In effect, empower your team with the information needed to succeed and help facilitate ownership of the process.

Figure 1. This dashboard display can spur a maintenance team to achieve significant energy reductions.
Figure 1. This dashboard display can spur a maintenance team to achieve significant energy reductions.

Many maintenance technicians tend to be competitive people. You can see that characteristic reflected in their personal lives. Their free time is consumed by pursuing their passions, family time or hobbies, as they strive to be the absolute best in their areas of interest. For example, technicians who are hunters spend countless hours in the woods scoping out trails and trees for the ideal place to put a tree stand. Then, there are the fishermen, always looking for the latest and greatest fishing lure or secret fishing spot. These folks are passionate and talented individuals, and it’s essential for managers to tap into this passion at the workplace to develop their world-class maintenance organizations.

It can’t be overstated that poor preventive maintenance practices cost manufacturing firms billions of dollars a year in wasted energy and production downtime. In the United States, energy costs often are upward of 25% of a manufacturing facility’s total operating cost. For example, energy accounts for 43% of a petroleum refinery’s operating cost. In steel manufacturing, energy makes up 15% to 20% of the cost of production. Electricity constitutes 30% of total production cost for manufacturing aluminum. With staggering figures like these, it’s not enough to confirm that equipment is running merely by checking filters and V-belts. Every aspect of the equipment must be scrutinized to ensure it’s being maintained as intended and operating as efficiently as possible. Moreover, we also need to consider how we can improve maintenance each time we put our hands on the equipment.

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