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Making maintenance work for you: stay ahead of the repair curve, and maintenance costs can be an investment rather than a reason to shut down.

The word maintenance typically is associated with negative connotations. Whether the word makes one think of a broken machine or a repair need, it often is linked with negativity and pessimism. But in reality, maintenance should be viewed as the work of keeping something in proper condition or upkeep. Thus, maintenance is much more important than many people realize.

In an effort to view maintenance as a positive activity, try to see it as a profit center instead of a cost center. A cost center approach is concerned strictly with adhering to the budget and decreasing expenses as much as possible. In contrast, the profit center model realizes that investment and operating costs can be allocated to maintenance to improve efficiency. This increased efficiency naturally results in higher profits.

Maintenance is the backbone of any organization where equipment must be maintained, including metalcasting plants. For example, if your furnace is down and your melting operation is not synchronized with mold production, your efficiency will be compromised. Some of the consequences could include losing customers, money and business. When dealing with a consumer, equipment breakdown could mean a direct loss of money. But if maintenance is treated as a profit center, such equipment breakdowns can be avoided.

Prevent Now, Profit Later

One example of how companies can turn maintenance into a profit center is through preventive maintenance. Hypothetically, let's say that for every hour of downtime, $1,000 is lost. Since it is not uncommon for equipment to be down for a few weeks each year, we will assume 100 hours per year. In this example, a metalcaster will lose $100,000 in the 100 hours/year. Multiply that by the number of machines per facility, and the amount could be staggering. If appropriate preventive maintenance were in place, downtime would be minimized, a great deal of money would be saved and maintenance would be turned into a profit center.

Preventive maintenance schedules the rebuilding or replacement of parts or machines prior to failure. Through recordkeeping, it is possible to determine that certain parts will fail after a certain number of hours of operation. Scheduled downtime to administer preventive maintenance becomes routine, with various parts being rebuilt or replaced prior to failure. Unscheduled downtime can be reduced dramatically. Using preventive maintenance techniques, the maintenance team contributes to the facility's efficiency and profitability. Maintenance departments transition from a loss center to a loss prevention center.

Predict the Future

As a metalcaster institutes preventive maintenance techniques and practices, the next step is to predict equipment failures and then try to prevent them. Many years ago, it was not uncommon for mechanics to listen to a bearing or a gearbox with a screwdriver. The mechanic would put the screwdriver handle to his ear and place the tip onto a gearbox, pump or bearing housing and "listen."

This is a technique that can be used to this day on various pieces of equipment, including engines. The human ear is especially sensitive to various vibration states, and our brains are wired to remember variations of different sounds. It actually is easy to pick up the slightest amount of grit grinding away at a bearing race or a pump experiencing subtle cavitations.

This approach is known as "predictive maintenance and condition monitoring," where various analytical techniques are performed on a regular basis to determine if failure is approaching. Action is taken if imminent failure is possible.

If preventive maintenance is a good diet and exercise, then predictive maintenance and condition monitoring is a check-up by your doctor.

Computers Can Help

To streamline the process of preventive and predictive maintenance, metalcasters can use a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS)--a computer software program designed to assist in the planning, management and administrative functions that are required for effective maintenance. These functions include:

* the generating, planning and reporting of work orders;

* the development of a traceable history;

* and the recording of parts transactions.

A CMMS can be used to assure the high quality of both equipment condition and output.

A CMMS is not just a means of controlling maintenance; it is one of the primary tools that improves the productivity of maintenance. The benefits of using a CMMS include increased labor productivity, increased equipment availability and a longer life of equipment. Of these, one of the most significant is increased labor productivity. When the system provides employees with a planned job, procedures and needed parts and tools, they are able to work without delays or interruptions. The employees also work more safely, since job plans include all safety procedures. Some of the tangible benefits of a CMMS include reduction in overtime, reduction of outside contract work, reduced maintenance backlog, reduced cost per repair, improved morale, better service, less paperwork and a reduction in the follow-up required by the supervisor.

A CMMS also can benefit a metalcasting facility's inventory control and environmental control. Inventory control, in turn, reduces inventory costs and excess inventory and improves availability of parts. In terms of reduced inventory costs, experience shows that a reduction of 10-15% in parts stocked and consumed is possible. Eventually, improved product quality will result from adequately monitoring predictive and preventive maintenance. By keeping the equipment in good condition, the product's quality is enhanced.

In terms of environmental control, safety and compliance issues are critical in metalcasting facilities. Preventing accidents and injuries as a result of proper procedures (documented by CMMS) can save companies a significant amount of money. Metalcasters must comply with industry regulations. A CMMS can be tailored to have similar provisions, and meeting the regulatory standards can save you money that would otherwise be spent on fines for not meeting the requirements.

Get Down

In addition to a computer tracking system, keeping a more personal eye on the goings on at your metalcasting facility through "on the floor" maintenance can be useful.

Imagine that a six-year-old boy is having problems tying his shoelaces. From where you stand, it may be hard to determine the difficulty. But when you get down on the floor and try to understand what the problem is, you may find that you're able to provide a solution. First off, you learn that the child has tucked the tongue of his sneaker under his foot as opposed to letting it rest on top. Secondly, he was attempting to loop the ends through and not just tying the loops. Only after you spent time "on the floor" were you able to understand the problem. You then offered up some quick and accurate suggestions, set the boy on the right path and "increased his production rate." Problem solved.

Problems that occur on the metalcasting floor are far more complicated and critical than understanding why a six-year-old is having problems tying his shoelaces. But the idea of actually spending time understanding the problems by direct involvement is critical and beneficial regardless of the machine or application. You have to spend time on the floor with the folks that are actually skinning their knuckles and getting dirty. If not, you will never know what the problems are or how to effectively address them.

Measure Your Progress

Another way that metalcasting plants can turn maintenance into a profit center is through measuring overall equipment effectiveness (OEE). In many ways a method of measuring the effects of preventive and predictive maintenance, OEE consists of three factors: availability, utilization, and quality rate. Availability is the percentage of time that a machine is available for production. Utilization, essentially, is the rating of a machine. The manufacturer provides the customer with a design specification rating for the machine. And quality rate is how good the final product is. Out of every 100 items produced, how many of them meet company standards of approval for distribution or sale?

By multiplying those three percentages, we arrive at the OEE value. Unfortunately, North American companies average an OEE of only 40%, which is less than half of what world-class standards consider acceptable. Whereas many companies simply buy newer machinery, it is much more cost effective to maintain the equipment you currently have. Higher OEE means higher machine capacity, which in turn means higher output leading to increased sales capacity. This is a good example of how maintenance can be turned into a profit center.

Stay Fit

It is clear that companies must take a profit center approach to maintenance. There are numerous ways in which companies can turn maintenance into a profit center. Just as professional athletes must train to keep their bodies in excellent shape to be able to perform, it is important to keep machinery and facilities in the best possible condition. Thus, producing higher quality products will lead to a lower return rate and increased profit.

For More Information

For a free trial of CMMS software, visit or

Keys to Turning Maintenance Into a Profit Center

* Practice preventative maintenance by putting in the time to care for your equipment before it breaks down.

* Use predictive maintenance to give extra attention to the equipment that is in danger of breaking down

* Use an accurate record-keeping mechanism to track your maintenance, such as a computerized maintenance management system.

* Get down on the floor to learn what is going on: don't run your maintenance program from above.

* Keep tabs on your progress with an overall equipment effectiveness rating.

Kris Bagadia, PEAK Industrial Solutions, Brookfield, Wisconsin

Kris Bagadia is president of PEAK Industrial Solutions ( and can be reached at
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Author:Bagadia, Kris
Publication:Modern Casting
Date:May 1, 2006
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