2018 Maintenance Survey: Playing offense and defense

Maintenance requires monitoring assets today while looking to the future.

By Bob Vavra, Plant Engineering March 15, 2018
There are two ways of looking at plant maintenance—as a defensive measure against the potential of downtime (preventive maintenance), or as an offensive strategy aimed at improving uptime and increasing asset life (predictive maintenance).
Both are valid strategies, but predictive maintenance is gaining some more attention, according to the 2018 Plant Engineering Maintenance Survey, sponsored by Advanced Technology Services (ATS). The growth of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) in manufacturing is one factor, but the general use of data analytics also is increasing, providing plant managers and maintenance teams with better insights into what’s happening with their assets.
The use of predictive maintenance with analytics increased from 47% in 2017 to 51% in 2018. Preventive maintenance still is favored by 80% of maintenance personnel in a multi-faceted maintenance strategy, according to this year’s Survey, and that’s up from 78% in 2017. Run to failure, still a viable option for some assets, fell from 61% in 2017 to 57% in 2018. The use of computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS) decreased from 59% in 2017 to 50% in 2018. Predictive and preventive maintenance still are seen as the best options to improve productivity, decrease downtime, and improve safety. 
“ATS has been a repeat sponsor for the annual Plant Engineering Maintenance Survey for several years. As such, we’ve had the unique opportunity to see the changing trends across our industry,” said Jeff Owens, CEO of Advanced Technology Services. “Repeated key themes in the study and our customers are: the need for technical recruitment and training, safety as a top priority, and the shift to seeing maintenance as a profit center that delivers greater capacity to their facility. 
“It’s clear, from my perspective and the majority of survey respondents, that the number one barrier to improved maintenance is the lack of staff resources, which lends itself to the need for experienced talent and technology providers like ATS.” Owens added.
Maintenance remains a time and resource-intensive process, as 35% of respondents said they spend more than 10% of their operating budgets on maintenance, and another 34% spend between 5% and 10% on maintenance. Scheduled maintenance takes on average about 19 hours a week, with 31% of respondents reporting more than 30 hours a week spent on maintenance and 14% spending between 20 and 29 hours.
Some of the time and money is spent outsourcing to third-party providers. While 16% of respondents do not outsource any maintenance, 44% outsource up to 20% of their overall maintenance, and 10% send at least half of maintenance to a third-party provider.
The primary factors that drive maintenance outsourcing include a lack of in-house time and personnel to dedicate to maintenance (52%), a lack of maintenance skills among existing staff (46%), and the existence of too many specialized skills in modern maintenance (46%).
Training is the key to effective maintenance, and safety and electrical skills remain the keys to effective training, the survey found. While maintenance training stretches across many disciplines, safety training (84%), basic electrical skills (68%), and basic mechanical skills (67%) continue to be the core of maintenance training. Training on predictive maintenance (58%) jumped into the next spot on the list, ahead of traditional focus areas as motors, gearboxes, and lubrication.
“At ATS, we see this influx of data and automation in factories changing the hiring landscape, not eliminating jobs,” said Owens. “Reliability engineers, maintenance technicians and integrators are just a few of the careers of the future that automation will be a driving force and ones that we are focusing on from a reliability standpoint. 
“I know many of our customers agree with the 85% of respondents who are concerned about the retiring workforce and how these jobs will be filled,” Owens added. “We hire and develop our people to support these more technical roles and future automation in order to drive measurable results and strategic growth for our customers." 
Decreasing unscheduled downtime is the goal of maintenance practices, and upgrading equipment remains at the top of the list for plant managers. Aging equipment (44%) is by far the leading cause of unscheduled downtime, and that’s up 2 percentage points from 2017. Operator error was blamed for 16% of downtime, but that was down 3 percentage points from a year ago. 
The solutions for unscheduled downtime include upgrading equipment, improving preventive maintenance strategies, and increasing training. All were cited by at least 50% of respondents. 
Finding the right resources for successful maintenance strategies—human, financial, technical and strategic—is always the challenge. The lack of maintenance resources and staff is cited by 49% of respondents as the challenge, while understanding the new maintenance technologies was mentioned with 38% of readers and a lack of funding and a lack of training each are mentioned by 33% of respondents. The lack of support from management still is seen as an issue by about one-quarter of all respondents.

Bob Vavra, content manager, Plant Engineering, bvavra@cfemedia.com