Contract maintenance: 5 ways to keep things humming in a cost-effective model
With manpower in high demand, fewer highly qualified personnel are available in the labor pool. More and more operators recognize the value of a resident maintenance program, offering guaranteed uptime, guaranteed staffing, and limitless access to OEM engineers and support staff.
Today’s manufacturing facilities and automated order fulfillment and distribution systems operate faster and longer to meet increased volume. Typical operational requirements at a distribution center, for example, mandate sorting and shipping orders 18 to 20 hours a day, seven days a week. These prolonged hours of operation limit available time for maintenance teams to perform required repairs, preventive maintenance (PM), and rebuilds, and prevent benchmarking the relative health of a system.
The intangible cost of downtime can quickly escalate, cutting into slim profit margins and jeopardizing future business and customer loyalty. However, preventing downtime and optimizing operational efficiency of these highly automated systems requires PM programs planned and executed by a skilled maintenance staff that is competent with the latest versions of software, systems, and diagnostic techniques.
With manpower in high demand, fewer highly qualified personnel are available in the labor pool. This increases the risk of losing key personnel and their legacy system knowledge due to employee turnover. More and more operators recognize the value of a resident maintenance program, offering guaranteed uptime, guaranteed staffing, and limitless access to OEM engineers and support staff.
While maintenance outsourcing is not a new concept, particularly during peak demand periods, replacing internal staff with on-site experts and a turnkey maintenance program is proving to be a cost-effective model for today’s high-volume, high-speed demands.
There are five basic benefits to an outsourced maintenance system:
- Solving maintenance staffing and training challenges
- Controlling the cost of high-tech system and software maintenance
- Integrating a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) with enterprise resource planning (ERP) and warehouse control system
- Implementing a robust PM program
- Guaranteeing and achieving uptime
Staffing and training
Staffing shortages, particularly skilled mechanical, electrical, and software maintenance technicians, continue to plague plant operators. A resident maintenance program provides an attractive alternative, deploying staff already trained in OEM equipment and resourced to start work on day one. Rather than spending time with internal human resources staff to define and redefine the required skill sets for this month’s maintenance recruitment effort, the resident maintenance service technicians deployed to the facility match operational and maintenance requirements, including any seasonal demand adjustments. Facility staff no longer bears the burden of initial training and subsequent training as equipment is added, upgraded, or changed. In addition, resident maintenance programs eliminate the risk of losing legacy knowledge due to staff turnover. The service provider institutionalizes this information among a broad base of system experts and databases.
“Recruitment and training can be a real inconvenience considering all of the trade disciplines required for a robust preventive and emergency maintenance team,” said Kieran Ryan, director of maintenance services, Intelligrated. “A resident maintenance program frees operations staff from worries about system uptime and extended system lifespan so they can focus on product flow and making the customer happy.”
Control high-tech systems costs
Increasingly complex hardware and software demands new and specialized maintenance knowledge from technicians. Increased productivity brings a potential risk of higher associated maintenance costs.
“The more automation, the more maintenance required. We have seen older non-automated facilities running with 700 to 800 operational staff and perhaps 25 maintenance staff. Upgrading to an automated facility with higher throughput may only need 80 operational staff but require 50 maintenance technicians,” said Ryan.
Keeping a high-throughput automated system up and running with short maintenance windows can be a challenging exercise. Factoring in the staffing and sparing requirements to meet throughput KPIs adds an additional challenge and costs. With less time for maintenance, preventive tasks can get pushed aside for more urgent repairs, with a compounding impact on downtime and maintenance costs as the system ages.
Annual Salary Survey
After almost a decade of uncertainty, the confidence of plant floor managers is soaring. Even with a number of challenges and while implementing new technologies, there is a renewed sense of optimism among plant managers about their business and their future.
The respondents to the 2014 Plant Engineering Salary Survey come from throughout the U.S. and serve a variety of industries, but they are uniform in their optimism about manufacturing. This year’s survey found 79% consider manufacturing a secure career. That’s up from 75% in 2013 and significantly higher than the 63% figure when Plant Engineering first started asking that question a decade ago.