After years in this industry as both a practitioner and business owner, I’ve come to a few realizations. Planners fail because they are under trained and overwhelmed. We still think the new shiny thing will solve our problems (IIoT, CMMS, Industry 4.0), companies still misunderstand the return on investment in reliability, and most folks struggle with how to develop their preventive maintenance (PM) strategy.
This struggle is not simply because organizations do not invest the time or money to develop sound PMs. In many cases, these organizations lack awareness of a better way. Perhaps your organization is one of the thousands who do not have planners, schedulers, or a reliability position. Maybe you are the maintenance manager of a small team in manufacturing. Maybe you are responsible for a large campus facilities team for a company that has never heard the word reliability. This article is for you, so keep reading.
Let’s consider some statistics. According to IBISWorld, there are 577,000 manufacturing plants and 91,000 hotels in the United States. The EPA reports 14,000 water treatment plants, EIA.gov reports 11,000 power generation plants, and U.S. News reports 4,000 different universities or colleges. Roughly 700,000 in these industries alone are supported by, according to Zippia.com, 7,000 reliability engineers. 1% of these plants are supported by a reliability engineer. Only 2% are supported by a maintenance planner.
It’s no wonder that countless companies have either “We’ve always done it that way” PMs or OEM recommended maintenance strategies. It is safe to assume that many of these companies/locations have never heard of FMEA, RCM, or PM optimization. Even if they have, going down the path of FMEA or RCM would be a daunting and costly task which they struggle to see the ROI in.
Should these companies go the path of PM optimization? PM optimization is typically an exercise in eliminating waste: removing tasks that are not addressing failure modes, grouping tasks for routes, and ensuring the tasks lists for asset types consider the various contexts. If the PMs they have are not effective, would removing the waste help? Maybe a little, but PM optimization is not usually the path for robustness. What if the internal expertise does not exist to identify failure modes and develop robust tasks?
Couple all of this with the currently challenging climate of “we don’t have enough resources,” and it is easy to imagine many organizations simply continuing to execute the PMs currently in place. There are hundreds of thousands of companies whose maintenance manager is doing all that they know to do and working miracles to keep the plant running. Whether resources lack knowledge or are unavailable, the struggle is real. When deciding how to attack this month’s cover story I wanted to provide real-world ways organizations can take simple steps to relieve pressure on current workforce capacity, improve effectiveness of their PMs, and work toward PM uptimization.
What is PM uptimization? It’s a mindset when developing PM strategies that focuses on balancing tasks that which address failure modes and ensure maximum availability of the equipment. Let’s consider a simple example, one which you may be able to recognize in your plant today. A typical air handler system will have a common PM that includes tasks such as lubricating bearings, checking damper actuation, inspecting belts and sheaves, inspecting for any leaks in coils, testing freeze-stat, etc. Many organizations have a quarterly PM that is largely driven by the lubrication requirement. The other tasks are performed “because we are there,” not because we expect these components to fail often enough to need a quarterly inspection. PM uptimization wants you to consider how you can keep the asset running, as much as possible while addressing the failure modes at the appropriate time. Wouldn’t this be the outcome of an FMEA or RCM study anyway?
Yes, but as we mentioned, most organizations are not likely to go through that effort. This article attempts to provide practical steps that can be taken immediately to add value and increase reliability and availability for those who cannot afford to currently spend the resources for these studies.
For our example, let’s just do some basic math to see if there is value in uptimizing PMs. In my past I worked at an R&D facility with 30+ buildings and roughly 100 air handlers. If each air handler has a quarterly PM that takes an hour, that’s 1 × 100 × 4 or 400 hours of PM yearly. If we can remove the quarterly lubrication requirement, most other failure modes can be inspected yearly. Installation of automatic lubricators eliminates 75% of the PM requirement AND keeps these units running 300 hours more/year. Could you use 300 additional hours of available maintenance time?
This is just one example. There are many ways to reduce PM workload, increase the assets availability, and give valuable time back to the maintenance staff. Let’s look at a few key areas you may be able to look at which can add similar benefits to your plant and maintenance staff.
How to improve the identification of potential failures at your plant
Time for smarter PMs: How intelligent technologies are improving preventive maintenance routines
Your 7-step guide to effective PM optimization
First and foremost is the basic premise of stop doing things just because you are there. Your car oil is changed based on mileage, and that PM is typically isolated from other recommended maintenance intervals. You likely have a recommended maintenance interval at 100,000 miles that asks you to do things such as flush the coolant, flush the transmission fluid, or replace some timing belt/chain. It is unlikely that each of these components has the exact same MTBF. Rather, it is just more convenient to do them all together since the MTBFs may be similar. As in our example, all PM frequencies are driven by some requirement associated to the lowest MTBF component. In the case of our air handler, it’s a bearing failure due to lack of lubrication. The rest of the inspection is simply convenient. Like with the car, we should separate out the lubrication and shift our PM interval to a more realistic time/usage interval based on remaining component MTBFs.
With all PMs, there may be multiple frequencies with their own specific job plans. Perhaps there is a quarterly to lubricate and an annual for the remaining inspections. Either way, you should only do what you came to do based on the expected component MTBF or the P-F interval.
CMMS systems can handle this approach, but perhaps not all the same way. Some require individual PMs; others allow you to sequence the job plan, which will be attached based on intervals of a set frequency. Find out how your system handles multiple PM frequencies. When developing multiple PM frequencies for the same asset, be mindful of what will be produced on the work order. A system that sequences job plans has a PM shell of some set interval, let’s say 1 month. Each job plan is then given an interval sequence that determines when it will produce a work order. So, if we have a job plan with sequence 1, a job plan with sequence 3, and a job plan with sequence 12, we will get monthly, quarterly, and yearly PMs. However, when the sequence number generates the other job plans do not. As such, the 12-month interval job plan must also include the monthly job plan steps. Keep this in mind.
Next up, use automatic lubrication or ultrasonic lubrication wherever possible as part of a route. Completely pull-out lubrication from the normal PM crew. Have a dedicated person, if the workload exists, for lubrication. If using automatic lubrication, you will visit the equipment once per year to replace the lubricant can and batteries, and check for back pressure. If using ultrasonic lubrication, you will have a route setup with all lubrication points and a trained technician listening and adding only the proper amount of lubricant. As a side note, ensure your lubrication tech is MLT-certified.
Speaking of routes, ensure everything that can be a route is a route. When deciding what should/can be a route the question to ask is, “which recurring tasks across similar asset types are non-intrusive and can be done quickly?” Use of route stops for lubrication, visual inspections, gauge reading collections, inspection of emergency lights, or fire extinguishers will make things much easier. When creating routes, ensure logical flow of work to optimize efficiency of the technical staff and remove the non-intrusive tasks from the regular PM increasing overall equipment availability.
As mentioned above, some routes will be gauge readings. Two points for these types of inspections. First, unless you are trending the readings in some database or in the CMMS, you do not need exact numbers. Get go/no-go visual indicators that allow the technician to easily determine if the reading is within specification or not. This will dramatically increase the speed at which this route can be achieved. Second, if your SCADA or BAS system already has alarm points for these readings, stop collecting them. It would be much less expensive to have these systems trend the data for you and give you back valuable time.
On the manufacturing side of things there are several ways to increase availability and improve your PM uptimization. The first is to take some time to centerline the equipment. Create markings or jigs that reduce the time it takes to bring equipment back into operating specifications. These can be used by operations during change overs or by maintenance during routine centerlining activities. Countless times we have seen maintenance teams struggling to get complex equipment aligned properly to make quality product. The use of jigs and centerlining markings takes the guess work out, and gets the equipment back up and running faster with confidence that it is within specification.
Just like in the facilities side of the house, in the manufacturing space we should be looking for ways to execute PMs that increase availability. Separate the tasks that do not require the equipment to be offline and do those separately before locking out the equipment or afterward depending on which is better for the task’s execution. When intervention that requires equipment downtime is needed, attempt to schedule such interventions when it’s convenient for operations. The goal being, as always, proper maintenance with limited interruption to operations.
Some preventive maintenance tasks should be executed by operations during change over or at the beginning or end of shift. Inspection of wear components such as suction cups and belts can be executed by the operations staff and minimizing the work needed by maintenance when the line is taken offline by them.
Another area for PM uptimization to help with the overall reliability of the plant has nothing to do with the existing running assets. Some of the parts coming from the storeroom also need a preventive maintenance strategy. PMs for the storeroom are important to ensure that when those parts are installed, they work properly for their expected life. A PM program for inside the storeroom that rotates shafts monthly will limit the effects of false brinelling.
This article could literally go on for pages and pages with quick win items that can be immediately implemented for improved reliability, increased asset availability, and efficiency of maintenance staff. Alas we are running out of space to do so and must quickly add a general statement for predictive technologies. There are some technologies that are easier to get into the hands of your technical staff and gain benefits from for PMs. Technologies such as ultrasound and infrared can be easily implemented and reduce overall PM time. “Check connection” is not a great task for electrical components. Use of IR to quickly inspect for issues and move on is highly recommended where appropriate.
I hope these ideas are helpful. As I close this out, please keep in mind that I am not recommending this approach is in any way better than doing formal PMO, FMEA, or RCM. If you have the resources available, you should seek the most robust strategy you can. You will certainly have more robust results using those methods. However, if you are still at “we’ve always done it this way” and lack the resources needed for formal strategy development, PM uptimization just may help.
This story originally appeared in the June 2022 issue of Plant Services. Subscribe to Plant Services here.