Forget the adage that if something is not broke don't fix it. Facilities management and maintenance professionals advise that if you maintain your building and equipment, you won't have to worry about fixing ? especially at a time when you can least afford it. Much of the general information and advice about equipment maintenance applies to your building as well. Experts say your plant, and its continued good health, is as critical as any individual machine on the plant's floor.
The role of facilities maintenance and skilled machine maintenance managers is changing. As with most everything else, usable knowledge in this field lasts months, not years as it used to. There is a constant need to educate managers and people doing the job. The skilled workforce, in general, is rapidly facing major changes. It's estimated that by 2005 the automotive industry will have to replace 250,000 skilled workers. Already nearly 90 percent of the manufacturers in this country are facing a skilled worker shortage.
You can't fix what you don't measure and, as managers have learned, without data you're down to emotions and opinions when asking the "why" questions. The good news is that machines are getting smarter. On-board data collection technology is helping maintenance managers guide and direct programs of predictive maintenance. Monitoring and diagnosing problems have helped extend the life of machines and other assets in the plant.
In general, there has been an increased emphasis on maintaining the value of assets as managers turn their attention to other related problems such as employee retention, safety and training. Mark Granger of Emerson Process Management says advanced maintenance diagnostic tools "create effective work planning schedules that minimize downtime and loss of productivity." Many of the current crop of monitoring devices and programs can be accessed from remote locations, allowing an off-site manager to stay abreast of plants and machines regardless of location.
Maintenance's changing focus
Smart material handling managers have long realized that good maintenance and support practices are an integral component of optimized production processes. At the same time, maintaining production floor equipment and preventing unscheduled downtime is a challenge for maintenance organizations. Historically, the focus has been more on keeping assembly lines and processes running than on the preservation of assets. Today, managers are becoming aware of the long-term benefits of plant floor support practices that provide methods and procedures for keeping the production lines humming, as well as preserving valuable capital assets.
The preservation of existing production equipment is essential in an economic climate where expenditure on capital equipment has been substantially curtailed, making good maintenance practices more important than ever. Companies across different industrial verticals have unique processes and subsequently unique issues with maintenance of plant systems.
There has emerged a set of common issues and practices familiar to maintenance operations whether the product is automobiles, planes, consumer products, or food and beverage.
Profitability linked to preservation
A new best practices study from ARC Advisory Group, Best Practices in Plant Equipment Maintenance Support & Services, provides manufacturers and suppliers with guidance concerning best practices in maintenance for production equipment and automation systems. The study is specifically targeted at providing strategies for support and maintenance for production systems, with recommendations for implementing methods and procedures to improve maintenance practices.
According to the study, return on assets is becoming the primary driver for capital equipment investments. Manufacturers are less concerned about purchasing the newest and best technology and are more focused on improving the efficiency of operations. Manufacturers are looking for solutions that can provide the greatest total value to the organization.
The cost of performing maintenance is predicated on a number of significant factors, including staffing, training, maintenance support plans, contractual support, enterprise asset management and computerized maintenance management plans. (We will cover software systems for facilities management in our August issue.)
How well all these components and methods are planned, executed and translated into cost savings and additional profits, gauges the level of maintenance a company has attained and where it is benchmarked in regard to best practices.
Facilities management experts warn not to confuse benchmarking with competitive analysis. Terry Wireman, senior industry analyst, GenesisSolutions, says there are differences between benchmarking and performance indicators that you should be aware of. "The core of every maintenance strategy must be preventive maintenance," says Wireman. "Fifty percent of machinery breakdowns have root causes that could be caught in preventive maintenance." He adds that many maintenance problems are actually training problems. Benchmarking relies on cooperation and trust. You have to define "best" in the term best practices. Experts say best often means doing the basics well, regardless of what your company's business is.
What are the key components for establishing best practices of any maintenance program? According to the ARC study, there are five elements: best skills, best processes, best solutions, appropriate resources and continuous improvement. The fundamental idea is to capture and document that which constitutes the aggregate of skills, processes and procedures necessary to continuously improve the processes that represent a company's core competency.
Equipment manufacturers, distributors and third-party service providers are beginning to use the latest communications technologies to provide immediate information from the field back to the office. For example, Advanced Handling Systems, Lakeland, Florida, a material handling equipment distributor and systems integrator, has equipped all its technicians with picture phones. "With the new picture phones," says Jack Phelan, president, "our technicians can take a picture of the problem in the field and send it to the equipment manufacturer or our office if they cannot solve the problem. It's leveraging the current technology for the customer's benefit, not necessarily your own."
Maintenance Resource, a Grandville, Michigan, facilities maintenance contractor, has completed implementation of a field service automation initiative, equipping its service technicians with Intermec 760 Color Series mobile computers and PW40 workboard printers with integrated credit card readers. The new system, which includes Field Master PRO, an Internet-based service management application by Aereon Solutions, is designed to practically eliminate paperwork, enhance the efficiency of administrative processes, improve billing accuracy, reduce invoice cycle time and increase cash flow.
Maintenance Resource serves commercial and industrial businesses throughout Michigan and parts of Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. The company offers facility maintenance and repair services such as electrical, heating and cooling, refrigeration and plumbing.
"Our system gives management visibility into field operations," says John Weeber, president, Maintenance Resource. "For the first time, this allows the technician access to customer activity logs, including sales and service histories."
Service technicians use the 760 mobile computers to gather customer information in the field and send it wirelessly over the Sprint network to the central database. Once the customer signs off on a work order, using the signature capture feature on the mobile computer, the technician sends the information back to the main office, where an invoice is prepared within minutes.
No easy answers
A common complaint of maintenance managers without preventive or predictive maintenance programs is that most of their workforce is too busy handling emergency repairs, to either machinery or something else in the building, to even start a preventive maintenance program. Maybe it's time to let someone else do the work.
The primary reason for using an outside contractor for your maintenance programs is so that you can focus on the core competency of your business. Experts suggest you first identify what you can do in-house and what makes sense -- or cents -- for someone else to do. You must investigate all the contract options and guarantees, and monitor the results of any third-party service provider.
In machinery maintenance or housekeeping, staffing has always been a problem and will continue to be so. The irony is that as the labor pool for these types of jobs shrinks, skill requirements have increased. And tying the whole problematic package together are employee retention and reimbursement.
A major step in the right direction of employee retention is proper training. With proper training people perform tasks more efficiently, productively and, thus, with more satisfaction. A basic part of any training program should be a clear path of advancement for the employee. Extra training should be a requirement of advancement and pay increases. Also, training should be viewed as an investment, not a cost of doing business. Doing a job a second time or extended downtime are not acceptable in today's lean manufacturing scenarios. Current programs offered by equipment manufacturers and third-party providers go beyond teaching an employee just enough to keep the machinery running.
Major material handling equipment systems suppliers are building in predictive and preventive maintenance programs as part of the initial sales proposal, says Todd Sermersheim, vice president customer service, HK Systems. "As part of every proposal we make," says Sermersheim, "we make a service proposal and talk with the customer about outsourced maintenance programs."
He adds that part of the customer service program is to provide a third-party service to customers new to today's more sophisticated material handling equipment. Many of these customers are not aware of the equipment's requirements.
"We provide full-time on-site services," he says, "as well as supplemental, quarterly or semiannual preventive maintenance programs."
Sermersheim adds that many customers are recognizing the value of predictive maintenance programs that allow them to stay ahead of any problem. "Customers are more aware of predictive programs and more willing to explore the alternatives, and expecting information that will help them determine when replacements will be required." Allied Services Group, Lebanon, Ohio, has opened a predictive maintenance school that goes well beyond basic training.
The Allied Training Center opened in Clinton, Indiana, in January. Its 12-week training program covers all aspects of predictive maintenance and includes on-site experience at local industries, says John Schultz, president. "We saw a need for a complete predictive maintenance training program in our industry, and this program is ideal for people who want to pursue a career in this field."
Training will take place in a non-traditional building, the former Clinton high school gymnasium. It was purchased by Allied a year ago and renovated to create classrooms, locker rooms and a cafeteria. Allied also purchased the nearby Clinton Nursing Home and renovated it to serve as a dormitory for students in the three-month program. Each of the 18 rooms has been renovated, fully furnished and equipped with color television and Internet access.
The company plans to use the training center as another way to recruit employees to meet its demand for predictive maintenance services. Many other companies, however, offer training and workshops on a smaller scale. Henkel Locktite Corp. offers programs specific to its line of products as well as continuing education and training programs approved by the International Association for Continuing Education and Training. The program of advanced training for the company's reliability process includes three comprehensive modules presented in a single-lesson format. Much of the training is devoted to plant-specific applications.
Whether talking about machinery or the building itself, maintenance managers agree that unplanned machine downtime is always more expensive than planned downtime. An investment in maintenance is an inexpensive way to manage change. MHM
Inspection Is Also Part of Maintenance
Too often, managers think as long as the rack remains standing you can ignore it. Even though there are no moving parts, there are important dynamics at work as the rack does its job.
Rack has a specific, predetermined capacity, and this load capacity is often reduced if the rack structure is abused and then neglected. Danger increases if alterations have been made to the original rack structure, or if shortcuts were taken during the initial installation.
Rack misalignment problems that can result in rack failure easily go unnoticed during day-to-day operations. Minor accidents involving lift trucks, for instance, often go unreported, so there is no prompt for an inspection.
Abuse is accumulative, maintenance is not Damage from lift trucks is the most common rack maintenance problem. Even minor impact, slowly backing into the rack, can cause misalignments, sometimes referred to as micro shifting, that add up to a macro collapse in the long term.
Dave Weaver, vice president, sales and marketing, SpaceRak Corp., has seen his share of rack abuse in the field. "When a rack column becomes deformed," says Weaver, "it can cause the load center to shift away from the center of the column. If it gets enough hits and shifts, the rack structure becomes so unstable that even a small impact may trigger a collapse of the rack frame. Then a domino effect occurs where the whole rack system comes down."
Instability can also be caused from side impact that pinches the connection between crossbeams and columns. This damage can be subtle and hard to notice. A column's strength, and its ability to resist bending, are determined by the thickness of the steel, as well as the column's depth at the point of impact.
A rack can be repaired with new labor-saving approaches. Dave Onorato, repair services product manager, Atlas Material Handling, says, "Today's repair systems offer a much safer and economical alternative to physically dismantling the rack." Through the use of a custom hydraulic jack system, one standard frame repair can be completed in as little as 30 minutes. Traditional cut-and-weld pallet rack repair kits, as well as structural retrofit kits, are now commercially available. Structural kits are used to repair frame damage and provide further value by preventing future damage. Management control, to a certain degree, can contribute if there is a problem with careless lift truck driving. One company had enough issues with abuse that it had its lift trucks repainted at the beginning of every shift. The equipment could be checked for marks at the end of the day, allowing any accidents to be documented.
Spend Money To Save Money
Sometimes you have to spend a little to save a lot, especially when it comes to maintaining trolleys in power-and-free conveyor systems. Acquiring and installing hundreds of trolleys in a system runs counter to continuing production in most plants.
Establishing an ongoing preventive maintenance program can be the best solution to this problem. A major element of the maintenance program would be to replace trolleys with remanufactured units on a regular basis. Cignys (formerly Saginaw Products) has been in the overhead trolley business for more than 70 years. Its dedicated rebuilding and remanufacturing program began four years ago and includes striping the trolley to its core to determine if secondary machining needs to be done, as well as inspecting and gauging of the final product.
Don Mastromatteo, vice president, material handling products, says, historically, industry found someone in the maintenance department to do trolley repairs ? not an organized trolley remanufacturing program.
"Proper wheel lubrication and maintenance," says Mastromatteo, "is inconsistent at most facilities where conveyor runs three shifts, seven days a week."
A typical replacement program, says Mastromatteo, includes trolleys in the process of being remanufactured, trolleys being installed and trolleys being delivered. It's a closed-loop system designed to minimize production interruptions and to spread related costs over a longer period of time.
For more information, contact any of the following sources:
Advanced Handling Systems, www.advancedhandlingsystems.com
Aereon Solutions, www.aereonsolutions.com
Allied Services Group, www.alliedservicesgroup.com
ARC Advisory Group, www.arcweb.com
Atlas Material Handling, www.atlasequip.com
Emerson Process Management, www.compsys.com
Henkel Locktite Corp., www.locktite.com
HK Systems, www.hksystems.com
Maintenance Resource, www.maintenanceresource.com
SpaceRak Corp., www.spacerak.com