Is Your Equipment Ready for an Economic Recovery?

Oct. 8, 2010

Experts are divided on whether or not the economy is in recovery. I'm an optimist and think that it is, at least for the manufacturing industries. So, is your equipment ready for the recovery?

Experts are divided on whether or not the economy is in recovery. I'm an optimist and think that it is, at least for the manufacturing industries. So, is your equipment ready for the recovery?

Regrettably, when the economy turns down, management predictably applies cost pressure on the plants.  This cost pressure typically results in cutting maintenance costs. It happens in a couple of ways. If part of the plant is moth-balled due to low demand, ignoring good maintenance practices for laid-up equipment is an easy target for cost cutting. Hey, we don’t need the equipment now – let’s turn our attention to the equipment we’re using and apply our scarce resources to keeping it fit for service. For equipment that’s kept in service, we typically skip or postpone proactive preventive maintenance tasks like lubrication, cleaning, adjustments and inspections. It’s also common to reduce or eliminate our condition monitoring activities and postpone or ignore condition-driven work orders where the equipment’s functionality is not yet affected.

The net result – when demand increases and we have the opportunity to pump up production and profits, we haven’t the reliability on tap to make hay while the sun shines, or we have to spend so much reacting to problems to keep the equipment producing, our profits are cut. It’s an unfortunate and vicious cycle. While we may not be able to control the forces that lead to economic recession and recovery, we can do a better job as reliability engineers and managers to deal with it. Here are some tips.

1.    If you’re seeing recovery on the horizon, don’t wait until customer orders weigh in the balance. Get moving to recover asset reliability now.
       a.    Laid Up Equipment:
              i.    Inspect, clean, lubricate and adjust laid up equipment – replacing any visibly damaged components or parts.
              ii.    Test laid up equipment utilizing condition monitoring technologies to uncover damaged bearings, gears, MCCs, etc.. Plan corrective actions.
       b.    In-service equipment:
              i.    Look into your backlog to identify condition directed work requests that were ignored, confirm with monitoring that they’re still valid and update to identify collateral damage.
              ii.    Double or triple your condition monitoring effort – applying more detailed analytical tests, where required, to identify damaged components. Create corrective work orders to repair the damage.
              iii.    Continue more aggressive condition monitoring during the first few months of returning to full production until the reliability of your equipment stabilizes.

2.    If you’re company is in the midst of the recovery and you’re experiencing reliability problems that occur because we didn’t properly manage our moth-balled equipment or because we cut maintenance on functioning assets, record the data and dollarize your findings. As a profession, we in the reliability industry don’t do a proper job of stating our case in economic terms. Learn how to do it. It’s the best way to communicate your case for better care of the assets during the next recession, which will surely come.

There’s no perfect solution – recessions are tough on everybody. Downturns require austerity to survive.  Unfortunately, our equipment assets often pay the price. However, with some foresight and planning, we can minimize the impact of recession-driven maintenance cutbacks and ease our transition to full production. By dollarizing the effects of cutting maintenance, we may be able to build a case for management to go a little easier on the maintenance cuts during the next recession. If we show them the real cost of arbitrary maintenance cost reductions, we may influence them to look elsewhere for their cost reduction the next time the economy decides to head southeast!

I would love to hear your war stories about this subject and what you’ve done to deal with it!



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