How to Create a Maintenance Program for Manufacturing Facilities
Regular scheduled equipment maintenance should be a core component of any manufacturing safety program.
Manufacturing operations have a number of advantages when it comes to administering a safety program:
- The setting is static
- The tasks are mostly the same from day to day
- The nature of the operation allows for good safety planning strategies
Because of this, a manufacturing safety programs should put an emphasis on ensuring that tools and equipment are regularly and properly maintained.
Manufacturing facilities can produce all manner of products. But no matter what their output, the processes tend to run fast, run hot, and run for long hours. This intense activity really puts the equipment through its paces, making preventative maintenance critically important for mitigating potential losses.
Most employers and safety professionals know that they need an effective maintenance program in place. But it's not always obvious how to proceed with implementing a new one or optimizing one that's already in place.
To figure it out, start by considering the 5 Ws: who, what, when, where, and why.
Who Should Be in Charge of Equipment Maintenance?
The individuals who oversee maintenance operations should have the qualifications required to service the machinery. Depending on the equipment in question, this could mean:
- A third-party specialist trained by the manufacturer
- A ticketed tradesperson (such as a millwright, electrician, or mechanic)
- A non-specialist with suitable training
The level of risk posed by a potential malfunction can partially inform whether you need the help from a specialist or whether you can rely on an in-house employee for regular maintenance.
(Learn about Preventative Maintenace in Hydraulic Systems)
From a management standpoint, the ideal situation is to have at least one person who can make maintenance their key forcus.
This, however, should not be a supervisor under pressure to meet production deadlines. While it can be convenient to have them take on both roles, this can introduce conflicts that discourage them from strictly adhering to the maintenance schedule.
If you can eliminate the temptation to push the machine a little harder for an extra week or two, you can significantly decrease the odds of an equipment breakdown.
What Should Your Maintenance Program Include?
Manufacturing operations should create an inventory of every equipment and tool asset used on their site, and update it as needed.
Almost every piece of equipment you would purchase for your facility will have clear and specific maintenace guidelines. Those instructions also usually specificy the equipment's optimal running conditions and the products that are compatible with it (e.g. what kind of grease you should use).
When it comes to using, inspecting, and servicing the equipment, the manufacturer knows best. Deviating from their instructions and recommendations might be expedient at times, but it can also negatively impact the machine's performance over the long term.
Following the manufacturer's instructions also makes things more predictable. The maintenance procedures and intervals specified in the instructions and guidelines will be based on the assumption that you're following the rest of their recommendations. That loss of predictability makes it almost impossible to know whether your maintenance program is adequate and sufficient.
When Should You Conduct Maintenance Tasks?
Since the goal is to prevent failiures and breakdowns before they happen, scheduling is a core feature of any maintenance program.
The inventory of equipment should be added to a schedule by the maintenance department. When this work is front-loaded using the OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) recommendations, administering the maintenance tasks is quite simple. On any given week, the maintenance department can view a spreadsheet or log that displays the equipment that is due for maintenance and what tasks are required - when bolts are tightened, points are greased, blades are sharpened, and so on. The log can be updated to add details of maintenance and the new due date.
In addition to maintenance, it’s important to know when to retire an asset altogether. Running machinery to death might seem like a good way to get the most out of your investment, but in reality it's unlikely that you'll get much more productive use out of it and attempting it can be dangerous.
Many things can go wrong with a piece of equipment once its past its operating lifetime. Pushing it beyond that point is gambling with worker safety.
Where Should Maintenance Take Place?
Like most things, this will depend a lot on the equipment in question.
A CNC machine will probably be serviced on site. Mobile equipment, portable machines, or handheld tools may go out for service.
What is more important, however, is having a plan for how and where to quarantine defective equipment and tools.
When an item has been identified as needing mainteance, it needs to be set aside so that no one uses it in an unsafe condition. This is true whether you're dealing with a total breakdown or a defect that requires servicing, such as a frayed cord or a bent blade.
This will require an effective lockout/tagout (LOTO) system that includes visual identification for items that are in need of service and, as applicable, a locking device to prevent the machine from being operated until it is deemed safe.
Portable items are tagged with the date and issue, then placed in a designated “do not use” area or rack for the maintenance department to deal with.
Why Is Preventative Maintenance Essential?
For all their precision engineering and meticulous production, even top-of-the-line equipment is subject to the effects of friction, heat, oxidization, and mechanical wear. Anything that moves - or even sits idle long enough - will start to succumb to these external forces.
Fortunately, well-designed equipment will have undergone sufficient testing to give manufacturers a good idea of where failures tend to happen and how long it can run before one of those failures becomes likely. Armed with that knowledge, you can construct a preventative maintenance program that will keep the machinery (and the entire production line) humming along to meet deadlines.
Outages are going to happen – it’s inevitable. However, it’s a great deal easier to accommodate a planned interruption because it allows the maintenance department to perform their work at a convenient time, with advanced warning, and with an estimate of the duration. This makes all the difference. If you really want to irritate personnel at every level of your operation, there's no better way than having production stop in the middle of a rush for an unknown amount of time.
Preventative maintenance programs improve worker safety by ensuring that the equipment that powers your manufacturing processes operate in a relatively predictable way. It also saves money by improving efficiency, reducing downtime, extending equipment lifespans, and reduced reliance on reactive maintenance.
It's easy to lose sight of the importance of equipment maintenance. Like any other preventative measure, it tends to become invisible when it's done well. The better it works, the less noticeable it is.
That's why management can sometimes devalue it. "We spend so much time doing maintenance even though our equipment never fails!" When in fact, that's precisely why they never have to deal with those failures.
Everyone can tell that remedying a failure is essential. But preventing one can often seem like a nuisance. In reality, preventative maintenance is a proactive approach that just makes sense.
That's not always obvious, which is why communication is the final, unspoken omponent of an effective maintenance program. Safety professionals have to clearly communicate the purpose of the maintenance schedule and demonstrate the benefits of these activities. That's the only way to ensure that the program, and by extension the safety of the facility, gets the support it needs.