Back to basics in maintenance
Back to Basics
No matter what our role within our organisation, we are all here for the same reason – to produce a reliable and quality product for our customer. Whether we work in maintenance, operations or serve lunch in the canteen that is the reason why we are all here. We can argue that we already provide a reliable and quality product for our customers and even argue that we are the market leaders, but we will only stay that way if we remain focussed and keep on top of our game. For maintenance that means always striving to improve asset reliability because if we aren’t continuously making improvements then we can be sure that we won’t stay at the top of the heap for long in this globally competitive world.
The over-riding concept of good maintenance is strikingly simple. Get the basics right before moving on to more complex tools and processes. As engineers we love to focus on complex tools – whether that’s a physical tool like a new thermo-graphic camera or a process based tool like Reliability Centred Maintenance. For most of us it’s far more satisfying to use something new than it is to ensure we are doing the basics right.
So where should we start? The easiest productivity gains can be made in work management. Planning and scheduling is often the Achilles heel of the maintenance department, but when the figures show that unplanned maintenance is 4 to 12 times more expensive than planned maintenance it’s easy to see the radical effect improvements to work management can have. We need to look at our planners and schedulers and ask ourselves whether they are getting the support they deserve. Was the CMMS designed for maintenance or for accounting? Do they get the support of management? Are they well trained? Are operations involved in maintenance planning? Work management is a cornerstone of good maintenance and any investment we make in it will pay huge dividends.
Improvements to work management will give productivity gains but when looking for equipment reliability improvements then the easiest gains can be found by focusing in 3 areas: tightness of fasteners, detailed cleaning and correct lubrication.
In one study it was found that 55% of failures could be attributed in one way or another to incorrect tightening of fasteners. In a recent maintenance training course I ran, less than 30% of the technicians had easy access to a torque wrench. We all know how to correctly tighten fasteners and we all know the importance of the correct locking of fasteners, but it is still an area that we should all consciously work to improve.
By carrying out detailed cleaning we are able to spot faults before they cause failure. Dirt and foreign matter penetrate rotating parts, pneumatic and hydraulic systems, electrical control systems and sensors. This causes loss of precision, malfunction and failure as a result of wear, blockage, frictional resistance etc. It is so easy to prevent this type of failure by a simple routine of cleaning and examining equipment but this must be more than a cursory wipe over with a rag. We should clean regularly, clean deeply by opening covers and guards, clean attachments as well as the main unit and not give up when a part gets dirty again. Note how long the area takes to become contaminated and implement a solution to prevent or protect from contamination. Another area where real reliability gains can easily be made is lubrication. Lubrication is a huge and complex subject, but we aren’t talking here about the relative merits of different lubrication systems or the molecular structure of oil. At an elementary level we simply want to ensure that lubrication is taking place when it should, that the correct type and amount of lubricant is used and that lubricants and lubrication equipment are correctly stored and identified. The smallest particle that can be seen by the human eye is around 40 microns but the oil film on a mechanical seal or bearing is far thinner than that. So, just because the lubricant looks free from dust and particles doesn’t mean there aren’t microscopic particles in it that could harm seals and bearings. The only way to ensure lubricants are not contaminated is to take care when using and storing them. We have to ask ourselves whether our approach to lubrication is as precise and controlled as it should be.
The only way for our organisation to succeed is to produce a reliable and quality product for our customer. The role of maintenance in this process is to continually work towards greater equipment reliability. While it’s tempting to look for a “quick fix” in the form of the latest tool or process it just isn’t that easy. Good reliability stems from good maintenance and good maintenance has always been about getting the basics right. Putting extra effort into better work management, detailed cleaning, correct lubrication and correct tightening of fasteners isn’t as interesting as some things we could be doing but the results will always speak for themselves.
Phil Hurford is the Maintenance Excellence Programme Manager for Skills4Work. 027 488 6446 firstname.lastname@example.org