If you’re a manufacturing plant manager, what don’t you want to see out to the production floor? Probably a significant number of things, but near the top of that list would probably be a large group of workers congregating around a critical piece of machinery that should be running—yet isn’t. Rarely does such a sight have positive implications.
The downsides of unplanned downtime are well-documented. Missed deliveries. Premium freight costs required to get product to customers on time. Quarterly earnings dinged by lower-than-expected volumes and higher-than-expected costs related to repair or replacement.
Equipment that is running at less than optimal conditions can present similar, if not worse, challenges. For instance, in February Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. recalled more than 100,000 pounds of ready-to-eat chicken patties that may have been contaminated with unwanted materials, specifically rubber. Equipment failure contributed to the introduction of the foreign material, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Less-than-reliable manufacturing equipment is an ongoing challenge, and there’s no lack of organizations trying to help industrial companies overcome it. Indeed, market research released in November calculated that the global predictive maintenance market for manufacturing was valued at $741 million in 2017. Persistence Market Research forecasts that it will grow to $4.75 billion by 2026 on the strength of technologies such as machine learning, artificial intelligence and Big Data analytics.
That said, “simply throwing technology at a reliability problem won’t make it go away, but it is key to scaling reliability across an organization,” according to Saar Yoskovitz, CEO of Augury, a company that provides technology to make machinery more reliable.
So, how does a manufacturing organization improve the reliability of its equipment? What are key components to developing a reliability program that won’t let you down? We’ve sought out and discovered some answers.
1. Acknowledge that reliability isn’t easy.
“If you think about it, managing the maintenance and reliability function in a reactive fashion is easy. All you do is sit back, wait for something to happen and then go respond to it,” says Bruce Hawkins, director of technical excellence at Emerson Automation Solutions, working in the Operational Certainty Consulting organization.
On the other side, though, “there are lots of things you have to do proactively to achieve good levels of reliability,” he adds.
And Hawkins would know. He’s got more than 40 years of experience in maintenance and reliability engineering and has served on the board of the Society for Maintenance & Reliability Professionals. Moreover, Emerson annually presents a Reliability Program of the Year award, testament to the importance the company places on proactive maintenance and reliability.
2. Don’t relegate reliability to the maintenance function.
“Reliability is an everybody thing, not a maintenance thing,” says Jeff Shiver, founder of People and Processes Inc., a maintenance and reliability consulting and education services firm.
Fixing maintenance alone will not fix reliability if operators are operating the equipment incorrectly, if procurement is purchasing cheaper parts, or if the sales organization is not providing enough time for maintenance activities, he notes.
“It’s very important that we think of reliability as a holistic approach,” Shiver says. “We all have to be headed in the same direction." That, he adds, requires leadership to paint a picture of the direction and make it clear to all levels of the organization how they contribute to the direction.”
3. Know what you have.
Hawkins says that, were he hired to build a maintenance reliability program, his first step would be to understand all the equipment he had, and then to assign a level of criticality to each piece.
“I want to understand which ones are most important so that I focus attention on those,” he says.
4. Be sure the equipment is designed correctly.
A key characteristic of organizations with good reliability programs is that they do not ask equipment to do something that it is not capable of doing, says Hawkins. Working in tandem with this tenet is that such organizations “know the operational limits of that equipment and they don’t go outside the operational limits.”
5. Get the fundamentals right.
Make sure maintenance work on equipment is based on standardized processes and procedures, Shiver says—and that it gets done right. You can collect all the data and information possible, “but if you can’t execute what you’ve learned from that, then there’s no point in doing it. The work execution piece is huge and foundational.”
Moreover, sustain those fundamentals with regular audits that assure best practices in processes and procedures are being followed, he suggests. Operations, engineering, maintenance and any other functions that touch asset management play a role in that audit.
6. Have a robust condition monitoring program in place.
Reliable organizations are monitoring their asset condition.
“This is one of the things that excites me with the whole Industrial Internet of Things concept,” Hawkins says.
Manufacturers have long had the ability to measure vibration, heat, and lubricant condition, “but we are now starting to see organizations couple that with process data [via IIoT technologies] to gain insight into equipment condition,” he says. “They are linking the traditional predictive maintenance monitoring methods with how the process is behaving. So, they are gaining insight into cause and effect between, 'OK, if the process does this, my vibration levels do that.' ”
He makes the analogy to a crying baby. You know he or she is in distress, but because the infant can’t speak, you don’t know why. On the manufacturing floor, some of traditional technologies tell you a problem exists, but they don’t tell you why. The new IIoT offerings give the equipment a voice.
7. Develop a robust root cause analysis program.
The pacesetters in reliability are “really robust” in this area, the Emerson expert says.
8. Don’t forget continuous improvement and engagement.
Automotive supplier UGN Inc. outlines two processes that encourage the entire workforce to participate in improving the organization. The first is the kaizen card process, “which functions as an instrument to leverage the knowledge and ideas of our team members in order to make improvements,” the company explained.
The cards provide the workforce with a method to address any improvement opportunities, from equipment efficiency and safety to potential cost savings. They also provide space to articulate the identified issue and provide ideas for solutions, and ultimately are funneled to process improvement boards for review.
“The kaizen cards actually have a dual functionality—they not only streamline our manufacturing processes and allow us to keep our machinery and manufacturing assets in optimal condition, but they also serve as a way to engage our team members and make them fully invested in UGN,” says UGN CEO Peter Anthony.
The manufacturer also employs a “red tag” system, in which any team member can identify equipment or fixtures that are not working correctly.
“It makes the most sense to have the individuals who are running the equipment day in and day out be our eyes and ears and notify our maintenance/engineering teams when there is an abnormal situation that occurs,” Anthony says.
“Both of these tools foster early detection and preemptive problem solving.”
Emerson’s Hawkins provides a compelling addendum to UGN’s continuous improvement focus, as well as a final suggestion. “Never rest on your laurels,” he says. “there’s always opportunity to make improvement, so you have to have some good continuous improvement processes in place.”
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