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Maintenance audits offer cost and energy savings

Oct. 9, 2013
Use maintenance audits to help utilize resources more efficiently.

Plant maintenance audits are powerful assessment tools that can help your company to utilize resources more efficiently and achieve specific objectives such as cutting energy use or reducing overtime expenses.

Maintenance audits originated a few decades ago and have steadily grown in popularity. They find use today in diverse industries ranging from manufacturing and papermaking to steel production and energy processing.

The auditing process can take anywhere from a half-day to a week or more to complete. Although audits come in many forms, they can generally be classified in two categories: plant-wide general audits and small-scale targeted audits. Plant-wide audits provide a detailed overview of a facility’s maintenance strategies, organization, and activities, while targeted audits hone in on specific maintenance issues such as lubricant use or rejected parts.

General audits

General audits are usually conducted by consulting firms or other parties skilled in auditing methods. The audit typically starts with a mapping of a facility’s operational processes and maintenance assets. Diagrams are produced showing the plant’s organizational structure and layout, including locations of maintenance workshops and storerooms. Charts detail the shift rosters and work functions of maintenance groups such as pipefitters and electricians.
The audit also outlines the facility’s schedule of planned maintenance on major equipment. This includes the frequency of expected maintenance on key machines, which can range from monthly to every three or six months. The planned downtime required for each procedure is also listed.

After the mapping is completed, the auditing team analyzes the maintenance department’s overall effectiveness and compares it with that of similar facilities and with widely accepted industry benchmarks. Data on downtime events, machine availability and overtime hours are examined. Finally, a report is issued summarizing the audit’s findings and including recommendations for improvement.

Telltale signs

Your facility might benefit from a maintenance audit if it has recently expanded in size or been restructured. Such changes can disrupt work flows and affect delivery of maintenance services.

Maintenance audits commonly review activities such as bearing installation for adherence to best practices.

Other signs that an audit may be advisable include:

  • breakdown of the in-house work order system that manages maintenance activities
  • overtime levels amounting to 10% or more of total maintenance hours
  • rapid recent growth in the size of your maintenance staff
  • increases in energy consumption compared with similar operations
  • a string of bearing failures traced to poor installation practices.

Consider the hypothetical case of a mid-size manufacturer. The company has four production lines, dozens of critical machines, and a large maintenance staff. An audit creates a detailed model of the company’s operations and maintenance activities. A questionnaire gauges the attitudes and morale of maintenance technicians and solicits their feedback on plant conditions.

The audit discovers high costs associated with overtime and pinpoints an inefficient use of labor resources. It also notes the lack of a formal program to identify the root cause of machine failures, leaving most failures unexplained.

The final report finds that too many non-core procedures such as equipment rebuilds are performed in-house by maintenance techs. It recommends shifting more of this work off-site to outside contractors, allowing technicians to focus more on core responsibilities. The audit also proposes creation of a failure analysis program to identify the causes of failures and to prevent recurring failures.

Targeted audits

Targeted audits focus on a narrower set of maintenance issues. They can be performed by an outside firm or by a company’s own employees. There are software programs available that are helpful in guiding the auditing process.

Paul Michalicka is North American area sales manager for maintenance products, SKF USA. Contact him at [email protected] or (416) 299-2894.

One new tool audit software program, for example, equips a facility to self-assess its maintenance practices and equipment inventory. The program includes a dynamic questionnaire in which the questions change depending on the user’s responses. The audit’s algorithm generates results based on user input and recommends possible solutions. The audit automatically produces a full report and suggests useful tools such as shaft alignment systems and automatic lubricators.

Rotating-equipment technology providers can often provide auditing information and assistance. Check with them when considering a small-scale or general audit.

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