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Maintaining the right procedures

25 January 2013

Jeremy Salisbury, head of marketing, Brammer UK, looks at the contribution that a procedure-based approach to maintenance can make to best practice, with a major impact on equipment reliability and reduced downtime De

Jeremy Salisbury, head of marketing, Brammer UK, looks at the contribution that a procedure-based approach to maintenance can make to best practice, with a major impact on equipment reliability and reduced downtime

Designing and implementing an effective maintenance strategy is essential for a company's competitiveness, with modern maintenance practices and technologies able to reduce the cost of production and maintenance and improve productivity.

Modern maintenance practices are about far more than reactive or regularly scheduled maintenance. Forward-looking manufacturers aim to ensure production quality and output while minimising downtime from unscheduled maintenance and optimising resources throughout the production process.

But exactly what form should the maintenance process take? Traditionally, maintenance, whether planned or reactive, has often relied on the knowledge and skill of maintenance engineers. There has been a mystique about the process, with a perception - often perpetuated by maintenance engineers themselves - that the many variables associated with maintenance tasks make compliance with written procedures impractical. Meanwhile, the 'I've always done it this way' approach still prevails in many organisations. This results in inconsistencies, both between how different people undertake the same task, and in how knowledge is transferred between maintenance engineers.

However, many manufacturing organisations are increasingly realising that a strategy based on thoroughly defined, codified practices is preferable to this 'intuitive' approach as it can deliver greater consistency and, for multi-site operations, greater accountability and economies of scale.

Ultimately, the more detailed the procedures and the greater the insistence on compliance with them, the more precise and less susceptible to error the maintenance process will become. Truly procedure-based organisations will generate and comply with detailed written instructions for all aspects of maintenance (and indeed other operational activities). However, it must be remembered that the value of procedure-based maintenance lies not in the existence of documents themselves, but in the experience, ingenuity and engineering knowledge that these procedures represent.

In essence, decisions about how maintenance will be conducted are codified into a procedure that represents a benchmark for the organisation. Not only does this clarify what is expected - enabling managers to better assess individual performance - and help ensure consistency throughout the organisation, it contributes significantly to delivering continuity of practice in the event of a member of the maintenance team leaving or simply being unavailable.

Key to the maintenance plan should be the optimisation of the maintenance tasks undertaken and the manner in which they are completed. Some common preventive maintenance tasks fail to add value or actually cause problems themselves. For example, greasing motors monthly - because this is what has always happened - when sixmonthly greasing may be all that is required creates five potentially damage-causing procedures. Tasks should be prioritised in relation to criteria such as criticality and reliability goals, failure history, access for maintainability, and available technology and skills. The knowledge and insight of employees and industry experts should be harnessed at every stage in developing the work plan.

The availability and effectiveness of computerised maintenance management systems (CMMS) will impact on how maintenance programmes are designed and implemented - and vice versa. If a welldefined procedure-based maintenance programme is developed, sophisticated planning and scheduling software becomes a key enabling tool, providing access to work plans and supporting documents.

The 'maintainability' of equipment - the degree to which maintenance tasks can be carried out - will also have an influence.

Equipment which must be shut down for inspection or adjustment, or on which these tasks are time-consuming or potentially hazardous, is said to offer poor maintainability. However, if work has been optimised, then a list of required equipment modifications will already exist. Irrespective of the scale of modifications required, the key is to close the loop with engineering and procurement so that maintenance and purchasing activity is aligned with maintainability goals.

With all this taken into account, the next phase is to create optimised equipment maintenance work plans. Using hard copy documents, such as procedures from OEM manuals, does not generally allow the flexibility to develop and enhance processes.

However, using 'pseudo documents' stored in a database, printed off when needed, but easily updateable, enables greater flexibility in managing each process and the more rapid adoption of best practice into each procedure - which is, after all, the key rationale for adopting this approach to maintenance.

While successful procedure-based maintenance relies on strict compliance with agreed checklist of tasks, its true value lies in offering the flexibility for continuous improvement of each maintenance procedure by harnessing knowledge from within and outside the organisation, clearly codifying tasks, which negates the possibility for individual errors or non-optimal practice, and so delivering consistent and measurable results.