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Preventive maintenance: see no evil.

Preventive Maintenance: See No Evil

Maintenance engineers strive to be included as key players on the team that makes U.S. industry work efficiently and effectively.

The late longshoreman poet and philosopher, Eric Hoffer, once wrote, "Show me your records of maintenance, and I'll tell you what kind of country you are." One wonders what he would write if he were alive today. Certainly, one of the major contributors to the declining state of industrial manufacturing in the United States today is the lack of good preventive maintenance programs.

Until very recently, the only time that good preventive maintenance procedures were followed was in life-threatening situations, such as those used in hospitals, public transportation or the military. With human lives at stake, protective safety was paramount. Unfortunately, their principles of preventive maintenance were not followed by industry. Because industry chose not to follow the path of preventive maintenance, much of our manufacturing capacity is now limited, and, thus, we are unable to compete with many offshore industries.

The fact is that short-sighted managerial practice has concentrated its emphasis on using new technology strictly for production purposes while relegating maintenance to the traditional role of "a necessary evil." This approach, over time, will be the downfall of our industry.

Much has been accomplished with new production methods. Computer integrated manufacturing (CIM), computerized numerical control (CNC), statistical quality control (SQC), just-in-time manufacturing (JIT), computer aided drafting (CAD), robotics and other new technologies are now common production practices. With these, the problems of an efficient and effective workplace and related processes are resolved, without the old standby trial and error methods.

All of these uses of computer technology are absolutely necessary if we are to survive as an industrial nation. However, the maintenance function must be upgraded at the same time. The more sophisticated the manufacturing process, the more important its maintenance function becomes. If a company is using JIT as part of its production scheme, one small breakdown of one piece of equipment could stop the whole process. Thus, nonscheduled maintenance downtime becomes a luxury that can't be tolerated.

Computerized Maintenance

It is now time that managements start insisting that new technologies, as they become available, be rigorously applied to the maintenance function. The use of computerized maintenance management systems is already established in a small number of progressive companies, and the results are outstanding. Because of these results, the number and capabilities of companies furnishing such technologies is expanding. But, before the systems can be made effective, much work needs to be done in the area of establishing good preventive/predictive maintenance programs.

I define preventive maintenance as those preventive inspections that can be made using nothing more than a worker's senses and simple hand tools. The more sophisticated predictive maintenance, on the other hand, uses such advanced technologies as vibration analyzers and heat detectors to predict when a machine failure is imminent.

Too often, those in charge of maintenance say that they are "too busy putting out fires" to even try to establish a preventive maintenance program, claiming it is too costly in terms of manpower and time to implement. When increased costs and maintenance are thus coupled, too many managers accept the excess burden charge against maintenance departments without challenge.

Traditional wisdom pegs maintenance productivity at 30-35%, and who wants to add to any payroll workers with that kind of perceived negative burden? The problem begins when most maintenance professionals are silent about or tend to agree with this evaluation. It is a concept completely out-dated in the light of modern manufacturing practices and increasingly discredited by factory production analysts.

The 35% productivity concept is a holdover that measured maintenance productivity in terms of hands-on work done by craftsmen, e.g., turning a wrench, splicing a wire, etc. It implies that 65% of a craftsman's time is spent in nonproductive activities such as running after spares, waiting for assignments, etc. Admittedly, this ratio still exists in many maintenance departments, but it does not have to be.

If work is properly planned, at least 80% of a craftsman's time can be utilized in hands-on maintenance. But hands-on maintenance can be applied only when there is adequate time to plan the tasks to be completed, and is normally scheduled on down shifts when equipment is not running. At all other times, productivity should be measured in terms of hands-off maintenance.

Hands-off uses the craftsman's eyes, ears, hands and common sense to inspect operating equipment and to determine those repairs needed to keep machinery running properly. These inspections can and should be enhanced with the use of new devices such as vibration analyzers, heat sensors and the like. The old adage, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," must give way to a new concept, "If it ain't broke, keep it from breaking."

Unfortunately, many production managers see equipment in one of two modes, running or broken down, and link the performance of maintenance departments with how fast downtime is converted to uptime. This attitude must change. Management must realize that for optimum performance all equipment must be properly maintained from the day it goes on line. Preventive/predictive maintenance is the best way to protect any company's capital investment.

Proper Maintenance Procedures

The first step in keeping equipment running properly is preventive maintenance, which establishes regular equipment inspections on a run shift. Using only his sight, touch and hearing, the craftsman checks equipment on a scheduled basis, and notes any problems or defects, typically recording them on a special PM form which alerts the maintenance personnel to specific problem areas. His supervisor then turns these notes into work orders for follow-up on a down shift. If the problem noted is severe enough that a breakdown appears imminent, arrangements are made for a machine shutdown to make the needed repairs.

The next step in proper maintenance procedures is the establishment of a predictive maintenance program involving the purchase of state-of-the-art instrumentation, such as vibration analyzers and infrared heat detectors, used to catch equipment failures before they occur. Parts then can be repaired or replaced in time to prevent breakdowns and the subsequent loss of production time. Another plus for a predictive maintenance program is the prevention of problems which would cause a machine to run scrap even before it fails.

In addition to utilizing preventive/predictive maintenance programs, the maintenance professionals must learn how to use another tool common to production managers: statistical quality control (SQC). Using SQC and its control charts, maintenance personnel can establish benchmarks to track the performance of equipment and measure machine and personnel performance. Results not measured against such standards are meaningless.

Many managers argue that preventive/predictive maintenance programs are too expensive to implement, claiming that they require highly-trained maintenance personnel, and, thus, are not cost-effective in terms of predictable value returned. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Initially, these programs can be phased into a maintenance department over time, concentrating in the beginning on assuring the operation of the most critical production machinery, gradually expanding to include other equipment as staff and time permit. Rather than increasing the maintenance work force, a good preventive/predictive program actually can decrease it, reducing overtime and limiting expensive downtime in the bargain. Properly implemented, it can be among the most cost-effective innovations introduced by any industry.

Managers must realize that the only way their companies can be profitable is to give maintenance the time and technology needed to keep their plants fully operational. To do this, however, requires commitment and money for proper training of craftsmen who must operate in a world of enormous technology-induced change-a world where just keeping pace won't feed the shop. Additionally, management can no longer afford to rely on equipment suppliers' technicians to service equipment breakdowns; the economics of lost production will not allow this luxury.

Overcoming Traditional Thinking

Traditionally, management has looked upon maintenance essentially as overhead, contending its function is one of the negative "costs of doing business". Again, nothing could be farther from the truth. Good maintenance, properly funded, can and will be among the most effective profit centers in the company. To remain competitive, U.S. industry must come to treat it as such.

Several recent surveys of engineers and maintenance professionals have asked them what they perceive as their greatest professional growth limitations. Over 60% cited their lack of management skills. Because of this handicap, most members of top management come either through the manufacturing ranks or via accounting/finance, both of which, generally, lack any significant background in plant maintenance.

Those members of management who come along the production route tend to remember only the negative things that may have happened during their encounters with maintenance, and they tend to side with manufacturing managers in performance disputes with the maintenance department. Some bias may be justified, but the work of an efficient department often is overlooked. It's the old story of, "When I'm right, no one knows, but, when I'm wrong, everyone knows."

Similarly, finance-oriented managers focus on the apparent low productivity rate of the maintenance department, and shudder at the thought of production having to support a department that is scarcely 35% productive. Then there is the problem of maintenance professionals being unable to communicate with flanking department managers.

This was highlighted recently during a Certificate of Management course I took. In one of the segments, Finance and Accounting for Nonfinancial Managers, our group was introduced to some of the financial concepts engineers don't learn in college. While studying the material, I suddenly realized that for all the years I had been working with and for financial managers, I had no understanding of the basics of their language. Many of the problems I had blamed on the "bean counters" were in fact due to my own lack of understanding of how accounting works, and I learned that I was not alone.

The reverse must also be true--that many managers do not understand the language and thought processes of engineers and other maintenance professionals. Perphaps it should be mandatory that, before a manager succeeds to a CEO position, somewhere along the way he or she should spend at least six months in a maintenance department as part of his or her training. An indoctrination into the problems and frustrations of the work of maintenance professionals would provide many with a new outlook on a key operations function.

Recognize Each Department's Value

For American industry to thrive, it is imperative that the adversarial relationship between production and maintenance functions give way to mutual cooperation. Maintenance professionals must broaden their management skills, and their production counterparts must recognize that manufacturing output depends upon maintenance department performance. For maintenance to fulfill its part of the equation, realizing this interdependence is a first step; proper staffing, training, funding and performance evaluation will make it work.

One need look back but several decades to realize that heavy industry made the U.S. a great power, and it is heavy industry that will help it regain that lost position. Maintenance, that "necessary evil", then will be recognized as the leader in our nation's climb back to world industrial preeminence.

Richard M. Norman ITT Grinell Corp Statesboro, GA
COPYRIGHT 1989 American Foundry Society, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Norman, Richard M.
Publication:Modern Casting
Date:Oct 1, 1989
Words:1865
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