The maintenance function, like manufacturing itself, is a rapidly changing environment

Facilities on average outsource more than 20% of maintenance operations.

By Amanda McLeman, Jack Smith and Kevin Parker June 23, 2021

Results of this year’s Plant Engineering maintenance study, an annual survey of the brand’s readership, sponsored by Advanced Technology Services (ATS), aren’t radically different from previous years, even though the year itself was quite different from anything that came before.

Click here to download the Maintenance Survey.

Unlike many other workers, during the COVID-related restrictions imposed by local and state governments, manufacturing personnel couldn’t work from the relative safety of their homes. They were deemed essential in a way others weren’t. And during the direst moments of the pandemic, manufacturers had a three-fold mission to fulfill: a) protect the workforce, b) manage risks so as to ensure business continuity and c) drive productivity at a distance.

It would be great if the essential nature of manufacturers’ work were recognized more broadly and more often.

Dealing with the aftershocks

The pandemic delivered a shock to U.S. production and supply chain systems. Slowdowns and shortages continue today. And rising prices for materials are not far behind. Steel prices, for example, are rising precipitously. Increases in input costs have added approximately $200 to $250 per ton to steel making costs.

Courtesy: CFE Media and Technology/Advanced Technology Services (ATS)[/caption]

Further change is coming, though. The changes in workforce demographics and the resulting skills gap in the manufacturing industries predate the pandemic. The introduction of new technologies into manufacturing environments, although undoubtedly welcome, only exacerbates the issue.

“Once we’re out of COVID, things will be less unpredictable. We’re taking a longer view and are prepared to help manufacturers address what is a severe lack of skilled labor,” said Freaner.

Already, 88% of facilities outsource some or all maintenance operations, with the average facility outsourcing 23% of those operations, the Plant Engineering maintenance survey found.

Freaner sees demographic change combined with technology advancements blurring the lines of responsibility when it comes to maintenance procedures.

“Historically, we’ve had clear delineation between what the operators do for equipment in the plant and what our maintenance personnel do when there’s an issue on the machine, and what the OEM or the equipment manufacturer might do. Those lines are starting to blur. Over the next few years, traditional roles and job descriptions in manufacturing plants are going to change,” he said.

The road ahead

The economic recovery in the U.S. will continue for the rest of 2021, say the nation’s purchasing and supply executives in the Spring 2021 Semiannual Economic Forecast issued by the Institute for Supply Management (ISM).

Expectations for the remainder for 2021 have strengthened somewhat, compared to December 2020, as there is hope the corner has been turned on the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic; both manufacturing and services sectors are signaling expansion, ISM said.

Manufacturing revenue for 2021 is expected to increase, on average, by 7.2%. This is 8.5 percentage points higher than the 1.3% decrease reported for 2020 over 2019. With operating rate at 88.3%, an expected capital-expenditures increase of 8.7%, an expected increase of 8.1% in prices paid for raw materials and an expected employment increase by 2.8% by the end of 2021, ISM concluded that manufacturing continues its comeback from the turmoil of 2020.

Survey highlights

Highlights of the 2020 Plant Engineering industrial maintenance study include the following:

  • Eighty-eight percent of industrial facilities follow a preventive maintenance strategy; 52% have a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) and 51% use a run-to-failure method.
  • Forty-six percent of facilities allocate up to 10% of their annual operating costs to maintenance processes; 41% devote more than 10% of this budget to maintenance. The average facility spends 33 hours each week on scheduled maintenance, up from 20 hours over 2020 data.
  • Production equipment, rotating equipment (motors, power transmission, etc.) and fluid power systems (air, hydraulic, etc.) are the three areas where facilities dedicate the most maintenance support, followed by material handling equipment and internal electrical distribution systems.
  • Eighty-eight percent of facilities outsource some or all maintenance operations; the average facility outsources 23% of their maintenance operations. Leading causes for outsourcing are an existing agreement with a manufacturer or supplier, lack of skills among current staff and lack of time/manpower to dedicate to maintenance.
  • Maintenance teams are mostly trained on basic mechanical and electrical/electronic skills, as well as safety. Other types of training include motors, gearboxes, bearings and lubrication.
  • The most common technologies facilities use to monitor and/or manage maintenance are CMMS, in-house created spreadsheets/schedules and automated maintenance schedules.
  • The leading cause of unscheduled downtime within industrial facilities remains aging equipment, followed by mechanical failure, operator error and lack of proper training. More than half of facilities are planning to upgrade their equipment to decrease unscheduled downtime.
  • The top challenge for improving maintenance at industrial facilities is aging equipment. Other obstacles include a lack of understanding of new options and technologies, lack of resources or staff and outdated technology.
  • Forty-eight percent of facilities allow the use of connected devices when monitoring production equipment for machine data capture, analysis and improvements across maintenance, engineers and/or operational technology/information technology (OT/IT).
  • The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and related technology has helped facilities better understand machine health, improve reliability and better predict and prevent equipment breakdowns.

Courtesy: CFE Media and Technology/Advanced Technology Services (ATS)[/caption]


Courtesy: CFE Media and Technology/Advanced Technology Services (ATS)[/caption]