Turning unwelcome downtime into a maintenance opportunity
25 Aug 2020
Pauses in production have been thrown into the spotlight with the pandemic. Yet, says Chris Johnson of SMB Bearings, they offer useful opportunities for factory maintenance...
An unexpected factory shutdown can have a profound impact on the company operating the facility and its bottom line.
In 2017, it was estimated that downtime cost the country’s manufacturers £180 billion annually. Actually, the true cost of downtime goes far beyond the financial data, and can wreak havoc in multiple areas of a business.
An alternative way of looking at shutdowns is that they are a fantastic opportunity to conduct preventative maintenance, make incremental equipment upgrades, or even invest in staff development opportunities.
Preventative maintenance and condition monitoring procedures ensure that downtime associated with equipment failure can be kept to an absolute minimum. Gathering machine data through the use of an automated system can help facility managers plan and foresee production disturbances far more accurately.
However, if an unavoidable shutdown does occur, then how should plant managers respond?
It might not be possible to accurately predict the length of a production disturbance, so it isn’t advisable to implement lengthy maintenance tasks. Instead, manufacturers should focus their efforts on projects that can be completed in a single day, so that the facility can be back up and running if circumstances change.
Opportunistic maintenance to prevent future equipment failures is an ideal undertaking in this scenario, taking advantage of unscheduled pauses in production to replace components, improve system availability and reduce production losses.
An alternative way of looking at shutdowns is that they are a fantastic opportunity to conduct preventative maintenance
However, for opportunistic preventative maintenance to be successful, managers must be aware of when, and where, replacement components are needed in order to gain the most cost-effective improvement. For instance, if a machine has been idle for some time, temperature changes and condensation may create moisture within the system. Therefore, changing the oil to remove contaminants before start-up is cost-effective, if it prevents future equipment failure.
Aside from part replacements, an unexpected production disturbance can be an ideal opportunity to undertake unscheduled equipment upgrades.
Take bearings for example. As a critical machine component that keeps manufacturing processes running and rotating smoothly, bearings may require relubrication, realigning or for the equipment balance to be addressed to avoid premature equipment failure.
By replacing a standard bearing with a smart bearing, this can provide operators with a real-time overview of the bearing’s performance and health. Installing a smart sensor, or a bearing with a sensor integrated into the component’s housing, is a simple facility upgrade that is both cost-effective and easy to integrate into existing systems. The self-diagnosing bearing can then send signals to an external condition monitoring unit, which can notify the operator when an action is required.
Having a reliable computerised maintenance management system (CMMS), or a database of unscheduled equipment upgrades, means that plant managers can make decisions quickly and use the downtime period more effectively.
A pause in production can also be a fantastic opportunity to train and upskill employees. Especially as, according to a study, nearly a quarter of unplanned dowtime in manufacturing is due to human error. If a course is tailored to a specific job role or skillset, then the worker can develop a deeper understanding of the installation, programming and maintenance of specific pieces of equipment.
Shutdowns needn’t be something to dread but, rather, an opportunity for manufacturers to seize unexpected opportunities and gain competitive advantages.
Chris Johnson is managing director at SMB Bearings