Driving maintenance notifications for safety, ecology, and efficiency

Nothing is more important to an operating plant than maintenance. Once a plant is in operation, safety, ecological performance, efficiency, and optimization of every function depend on the reliable, controllable performance of equipment and other infrastructure. How's that for preaching to the choir?

Okay, we’re all committed to maintenance and reliability. And what is the first step in the chain for any maintenance action? Right, it’s notification.

And what are most of us doing to encourage the creation of maintenance notifications? Well, most of us are doing a lot, and it’s almost never enough. Different kinds of maintenance notification come from different people and places. Most of us are encouraging some of the groups in some of the places, but summarily ignoring others. Operators, the most knowledgeable members of the production team, seem to be the most frequently ignored.

Those of us who support solid PM and PdM programs encourage the production of a lot of maintenance work orders. We generate orders to perform periodic inspections and condition monitoring checks. This is a very good start. The output from the PM and PdM efforts typically drives more maintenance notifications where the need for corrective maintenance is identified. Of course this is all good stuff.

More advanced companies who have active reliability engineering groups further focus the PM and PdM efforts on equipment with high criticality scores. When there isn’t enough order writing capacity among the engineers, it is essential to focus it on the equipment that will create critical safety, environmental, and productivity impacts when it breaks, right? Again, this is all good stuff, but it isn’t the only good stuff.

There’s a very large portion of the maintenance world that deals with things other than critical production equipment. In a lot of plants it contains most of the things that break. Here are a few notes on these equipment groups, along with a few thoughts on how they can be addressed to reduce the number of maintenance surprises they generate.

STUFF THAT BREAKS A LOT – can be production equipment or anything else that generates maintenance work without warning. HVAC, compressed air, and cooling water systems probably top the lists of non-critical equipment that pulls maintenance staff off the work they had planned for the day. Of course there is also production equipment that breaks frequently. In most organizations, there is no system that uses frequency-of-failure information to drive any kind of preventive activity toward stuff that breaks a lot. Timely notification just doesn’t happen. In fact, where conveyors and other fairly simple equipment tends to break, local people, be they maintenance or operating personnel, often get pretty good at making temporary repairs. This gets production going again, but of course it guarantees future failures as well. Notifications don’t generate work orders, so the history is lost.

Two tools that can help with stuff that breaks a lot are smart use of the computer maintenance management systems (CMMS) and encouragement of equipment ownership among the production and maintenance team that support the plant. When maintenance people insist on work orders to perform repairs and then maintenance management or engineering review the orders by frequency, equipment that breaks becomes evident. Please note that everyone must have an easy way to generate maintenance notifications, or work orders will never become a routine part of the maintenance culture.

Similarly, ownership of performance and equipment by area personnel tends to create frustration when the machinery is constantly interrupting production. Stuff that breaks (Do we need an acronym, perhaps STB?) should be a source of frustration and irritation to everyone. By the way, ownership backfires if management doesn’t see to it that the repairs happen. Frustration sets in. “Why request an order? They’ll never fix it anyway.”

MAINTENANCE ISSUES OTHER THAN PRODUCTION EQUIPMENT - tend not to attract the attention of reliability programs. This makes sense in one way, but it hides a lot of potential problems. Most plants don’t have formal programs to address degradation of guards, walkways, ladders, area lighting, and other infrastructure. Left unreported, problems with these items can be a major source of safety and ecological headaches. It is amazing the degree of dilapidation that area workers will come to accept as normal in production areas. This is especially true in plants where maintenance repairs are difficult to order and/or area ownership is not actively encouraged.

A great tool to promote early reporting of safety-related problems is a zone or area maintenance program. If every area of the plant is surveyed by a cross-functional group on a schedule, a fresh set of eyes checks the infrastructure and the production equipment on a predictable basis. The inspectors, when they issue their reports, give area management a useful tool to encourage ownership by operators and to order repairs before safety issues can create injuries. Participation in the inspection teams tends to bring the fresh sets of eyes back to people’s own work areas, thereby encouraging vigilance and ownership.

The zone approach can be used to create a system where area inspections coincide with the simultaneous execution of as many area work orders from the backlog as possible. This means that each area periodically gets a fresh start on maintenance. This kind of program, when coordinated with the PM/PdM system, can be a major component of a history- and criticality-driven maintenance culture.

People are encouraged to create notifications and management is obliged to follow through. As a tool to create plant control, it’s hard to beat.