World-class maintenance: barriers to success

People, process and technology can either hinder or help your success.
By Mark Cox June 10, 2016

People, process and technology can either hinder or help your success. Courtesy: ATSMaintenance used to be reactive, only done after a failure occurred. This run-to-failure approach used to suffice because the cost of maintenance exceeded the cost of failure. As failure costs increased, preventive maintenance was adopted. But today, there is yet another promising approach.

Focus on predictive maintenance

We are in the early stages of graduating from preventive-maintenance protocols to a world-class method of maintenance: predictive maintenance (PdM). It can deliver great rewards: the elimination of downtime, increased efficiency, a minimization of intrusive maintenance. What’s more, PdM can positively impact costs. The McKinsey Global Institute estimates it could have a $240 billion to $627 billion annual impact on factories by 2025, reducing annual costs by 10 to 40%.

Despite its advantages, PdM is very slowly being adopted because there are a number of significant barriers to adoption. Exactly what are those barriers and how can they be resolved to help manufacturers revolutionize their maintenance to world-class status, with all the rewards that status brings? The three main barriers can be broken down into the familiar categories of people, processes and technology.

People

The right people, or more importantly, the lack thereof, figures prominently as a barrier to achieving world-class maintenance through PdM. While manufacturing will need to fill 3.4 million jobs over the next decade, research indicates that 60% of these jobs may go unfilled due to the manufacturing "skills gap."

This skills gap is driven by the retirement of baby boomers, an increased demand for products and services and the lack of attractiveness manufacturing holds when viewed as a career option by young people. What’s more, the manufacturing industry is not the only one trying to attract technical talent, so there is stiff competition for a very limited resource.

How can manufacturers overcome the skills gap to find and keep maintenance workers? To find them, they can avoid the outdated "post and pray" methods of filling positions and employ innovative sourcing through social media outlets, military channels, technical-school relationships and even cold-calling techniques.

To retain these workers, manufacturers can offer third-party training programs that ensure the performance, productivity and job satisfaction of workers in the present and as time goes on.

Processes

The reliance on old processes also can be a barrier to achieving world-class maintenance. These process barriers take two forms: physical and intangible. The physical barrier takes the form of factories that still run processes on industrial equipment designed before the computer era. Others run processes on newer machinery with the capability to generate maintenance-monitoring data, but not necessarily data that will work with today’s PdM software. The solution to these barriers comes in the form of new equipment investment, with an eye to PdM compatibility.

The intangible process barrier comes in the form of how workers (and not just maintenance workers) interact within the context of the manufacturing process. Traditionally, maintenance workers/operational technology and information technology staffs have been fairly separate entities. To achieve world-class maintenance, these two disciplines must cooperate to fully realize the benefits of PdM, especially as it relates to the Industrial Internet of Things, or IIoT.

It’s about getting the right data to the right worker at the right time. To do this, two rarely paired, disparate entities must work very closely together. That’s a big change that requires skilled management and even third-party resources to establish smooth new, acceptable interpersonal processes. Other considerations that are imperative to a successful transition are related to work order control, maintenance scheduling, inventory control and the need for accurate equipment data.

Technology

The reluctance to adopt and use technology fully can be the final barrier to achieving a world-class maintenance operation. The adoption of new technology and the understanding of how to use it effectively is at the core of achieving success in today’s industrial arena, and will continue to be for some time.

However, in an age when most maintenance–related data is collected, stored and only used locally—with a significant amount of this data still being maintained on paper, if at all—manufacturing obviously has a long way to go. Working with a third-party maintenance vendor can help significantly with the introduction, adoption and success of new-technology implementation, whether a manufacturer has one facility or many.

Flexibility 

In the end, it all comes down to flexibility: in the way one looks at people, processes and today’s valuable new technologies. Most importantly, achieving world-class maintenance through the adoption of PdM and the technologies that drive it requires a shift in thinking about maintenance itself. In the past, maintenance was viewed as simply a cost center. But with enough flexibility, maintenance can become a truly value-driven aspect of the overall business. One that can put a manufacturer at the top of their industry if one acts sooner rather than later.

Mark Cox is director of technical training and advanced systems for Advanced Technology Services.