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Maintenance as a competitive advantage

In the past, maintenance was largely seen as just a cost item in the budget: a necessary evil to prevent production backlogs. Equipment breaks down and must be repaired, costing money.  Maintenance also suffered from a grungy image: it seemed like dirty, unpleasant work.  A career in maintenance wasn’t exactly exciting or sexy.

A more positive view
New technologies and strategies have led to a more positive (and more accurate) view of industrial maintenance. Good maintenance keeps critical assets available.  If maintenance occurs at the right time—not too late, but also not too early—it can help maximize productivity and therefore profit. And that’s definitely exciting.

Transforming data into valuable information
With good data management practices, it is now possible to perform maintenance tasks at precisely the right time.  Modern machines generate a great deal of data: temperature, pressure or pressure differences, vibration, voltage, CO2 content, speed, noise and so on.  The data itself typically only leads to small improvements. But if this data is used in the right way, it turns into valuable information.  Proper analysis can accurately predict the upcoming failure of a machine or part, with several positive effects on the organization. First, you know how your equipment is performing in real time.  Second, you have enough lead time to order spare parts, so you don’t need shelves of “just in case” safety stock.  Third, you can draw up a strategic maintenance plan that drives production uptime to its maximum. That means maintenance is far more than a necessary budgeting evil: it’s a true competitive advantage, driving value across the company.

Creating support
That said, the strategic switch to condition-based maintenance doesn’t happen overnight.  Your company will first have to create support for the new predictive strategy throughout the entire organization.

There are plug-and-play solutions that you can easily buy and install, but the company will also have to learn to work with them. For example, you may need to make changes to your production and maintenance processes.  Production, IT and maintenance may need to work together much more closely than before. It makes sense to implement condition-based maintenance step by step. Employees have time to get used to a new approach, everyone can more easily understand the roadmap, and the change process will be clearer.

Go after low-hanging fruit first
The first important step is to identify which assets are critical and require high availability. You should also perform a clear analysis on the type and number of failures and their impact on production and on the company (such as financial impact).  That will provide you with an accurate picture of your machinery and its failure modes, so you’ll know where the greatest profit can be achieved.

From this initial picture, decide which asset you’ll tackle first. Determine what data you need to predict this asset’s failures. It’s wise to choose an asset where you’ll see rapid success; realizing immediate value will foster broader acceptance across the company.

Cultural change
Maintenance managers have long had to rely on their expert intuition; now they’ll have to learn to trust the data. By starting small and achieving immediate success, you lay the groundwork for data-driven maintenance decisions, transforming maintenance from a cost item to a competitive advantage.


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