Strategic planning: Is your plant headed in the right direction?

What do road trips and plant maintenance have in common? A lot.

By David Rosenthal, PE, CMRP

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Road trips were always a favorite of my family. My children still recall favorite family moments from our numerous car trips throughout the United States. Planning is key to a good road trip, as jumping in a car with no plan with three energetic kids is not my idea of a good time. Our road trip plans focused on seeing national parks that were close together to minimize driving time. Hotels were always arranged ahead of time, and there were contingencies for weather, closures, detours, and caring for First Aid cases.

The analogy of planned road trips to the maintenance and reliability activities of many manufacturing facilities is not a stretch. Many manufacturing facilities basically jump into equipment care tasks without a plan delineating which tasks are most important, which equipment needs speedy attention, how the care satisfies the business’s needs, and how to move toward more proactive tasks and away from the “detours” of reactive work. Creating a safer workplace, achieving fewer failures, improving equipment uptime, and reducing maintenance costs is a journey of a few years. Every facility needs a map – a strategic plan – so as not to get lost.

Creating a strategic plan for maintenance and reliability (M&R) involves a unique set of activities within the asset care field. The essence of strategic positioning is to prioritize activities in the M&R field. Strategic planning is all about aligning M&R activities with the needs of your business.

Strategic planning basics

Strategic planning prepares to guide the facility for two to three years. It is different in purpose from tactical or operational planning, which have shorter time horizons. The strategic plan directs the facility on how it will approach the various areas of M&R to “fit” with the needs of the business.

For example, if a manufacturing site is producing a commodity product where margins are tight and market share is won and lost over a few cents per pound, then the maintenance approach will be directed more toward the lowest-cost care options, such as the use of contract maintenance/contract services, expanded use of technology, and reliance on benchmarks for evaluating performance. If a facility is sold out but enjoys a lucrative margin in the marketplace, its approach to maintenance and reliability will focus more on the use of in-house resources and wider use of reliability practices and consultants. The decisions all are based on the input and outputs to and from the strategic planning process.

The process begins with gathering information on the business’s current situation – its position in the marketplace, its place in the industry, its customers’ demands, etc. An assessment of the facility’s care for its assets and the performance of its assets will be needed inputs.

A strength, weakness, opportunity, and threats (SWOT) analysis is then populated to understand the internal and external impacts on the facility. This analysis includes strategic questioning of how equipment strategies are created and executed, how effective those executing care are, how reliability gets built into new capital projects, and the status of the operations, maintenance, and engineering partnership.

The analysis looks at combinations of opportunities versus strengths and weaknesses and threats versus strengths and weaknesses. The conclusions from these comparisons generate the strategies, which provide an overall direction to aligning asset care with business needs.

Once the strategic focus areas are formed, each is broken down into objectives that will provide measurable outcomes. Plans are generated that represent the improvement path projects needed to meet stated objectives. Then, milestones or goals along the improvement path are generated, challenging the organization to perform at higher levels. The entire “package” must then be sold to all stakeholder groups – investors, leadership, community, and facility personnel.

Case study example

The fictional Ruff Manufacturing plant produces pet-food solutions in various sizes of packaging. The Ruff facility contains food processing equipment (silos, mixers, grinders, and ovens), packaging equipment (sterilizers, box makers, box and bag fillers, palletizers, conveyers, and stackers), and utility systems (compressed air, steam, water). The facility has four production lines and six packaging lines for cans, boxes, and bags. The operation runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Housekeeping and safety performance are below industry norms.

The maintenance organization has eight multicraft mechanics in production and 10 multicraft mechanics in packaging on a 12-hour day shift. A smaller crew of four multicraft mechanics are in production, and six multicraft mechanics are on the second 12-hour shift. A weekend crew exists for coverage and is used for vacation relief. There are two supervisors on the day shift and one supervisor on the second 12-hour shift. The weekend crew reports to production supervision. Two planners, one for production and one for packaging, are on the day shift. Reporting to the maintenance manager are one maintenance engineer and one packaging engineer.

The maintenance strategy has been based on OEM recommendations for care, focusing on PMs for the majority of care tasks. The maintenance work is mainly reacting to equipment failure and executing PMs (see Table 1). There are no predictive maintenance tasks. Operators do not take an active role in providing care for the equipment and are accustomed to running equipment until it fails. Most operators learn on the job how to run the equipment, which is not highly automated.

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  • David, my compliments on a great article; one that establishes the road-map for a successful Strategic plan. You state that the plan is developed 'top down'. Fair enough, but I would ask, in the light of the failure to prevent production stoppages as a result of breakdowns, whether the PM's are objective. OEM models for PM's in many cases, do not offer the insight necessary for success. Without the hands on experience and knowledgebase of the workforce, many PM's are without substance. This is my experience anyway; I found it necessary to review all PM's ( M,E&I), re-writing these to provide more applicable substance, not just a 'cut and paste' exercise from an OEM manual. A lack of strategic planning is rampant in the industry on my continent. Too many 'top down' maintenance plans and not enough shop-floor input. So, the plan may be great, but the delivered value may miss the mark, unless the focus is widened. I re-wrote all the PM's for both E and I at 2 factories, with amazing results. These came about as a result of consultation at the artisan/technician level. What I found was a lack of input from the E & I knowledgebase. Once I had included this in all the PM's, we found that production stoppages as a result of breakdowns reduced by a significant amount.


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