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Eric Whitley


How Can Maintenance Managers Improve Productivity on the Plant Floor?

Seven tips for efficient maintenance

Published: Thursday, May 19, 2022 - 11:03

Unplanned downtime is a major source of costs and loss in productivity for the manufacturing industry. According to IndustryWeek, unplanned downtime costs industrial manufacturers an estimated $50 billion annually. A major cause of such unplanned downtime is usually poor maintenance.

The importance of maintenance is visible in the fact that unplanned downtime costs manufacturers $260,000 per hour on average. Since maintenance is a process required across the plant floor, mitigating maintenance interruptions can boost productivity. Maintenance managers can play a pivotal role in reducing downtime to improve plant productivity through maintenance scheduling and management. Here are seven tips maintenance managers can use on the plant floor.

1. Develop proactive maintenance strategies for your plant

Many manufacturing plants still rely on reactive maintenance strategies that wait for signs of damage or breakage to perform maintenance on assets. It causes major disruptions and regular unplanned downtime, which incurs costs both in damages and low productivity.

man operating manufacturing equipment

To avoid the woes of reactive maintenance, maintenance managers have to develop proactive and unique maintenance strategies for their plants to prevent unplanned downtime. As part of the effort, the plant must have clear goals and KPIs (key performance indicators) to keep track of progress. All the goals should have realistic deadlines that can be met without affecting operations.

To ensure smooth asset maintenance, workers must be assigned clear roles and responsibilities with no space for ambiguity. This helps prevent misunderstandings that can keep assets waiting for maintenance, even when workers are available. Workers must be trained to perform regular checks on assets when they’re not in use to spot any issues that might have popped up recently.

As part of the proactive strategy, maintenance managers can also implement predictive maintenance to take advantage of the latest technologies. Creating contingency plans with reserved resources is always advantageous to keep the plant productive.

2. Explore new technologies for maintenance optimization

Proactive maintenance requires technologies that can help improve maintenance scheduling and accuracy. A key to better maintenance is moving toward a smart, interconnected factory using IoT for better information on all assets. With artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), predictive maintenance can prevent breakages and achieve near-zero unplanned downtime across the plant.

Implementing new technological solutions for maintenance optimization is a big change for the plant due to the costs involved. As a maintenance manager, you have to choose which technologies and assets require the upgrade.

This task becomes easier when you have an updated inventory, with critical assets separated from others. You have to balance the cost of equipment for predictive maintenance and the returns you expect from the improvement in productivity. Based on the results, more assets can be brought into the system with time.

3. Keep a close eye on your critical assets

Critical assets are always at the top of the list for maintenance managers on the plant floor—and understandably so. These are the assets that can cause major disruptions to the entire production system if not kept in good health. Making sure they run perfectly and are regularly checked for signs of wear and tear helps achieve the production goals.

Maintenance managers should keep their critical assets list updated based on the changes and experiences on the plant floor. Dedicating the resources and maintenance time only to the most critical assets is vital to keep the list relevant. Frequent checks and on-time part replacements for these assets ensure zero surprise breakages and improve productivity.

A critical asset list also comes in handy when deciding the assets to upgrade with new systems like IoT and predictive maintenance. Assigning priorities to different critical assets based on the effects of their downtime and cost of repair ensures operational availability of the machines when you need them to produce.

4. Inventory management is important

Only maintenance managers know how closely related inventory management and maintenance are. All maintenance tasks require tools, spare parts, and other resources that have to be taken from inventory. Keeping a visible, accurate, and regularly updated inventory gives you a better idea of the maintenance capabilities.

To make sure maintenance always has the resources required, workers should be trained to update inventory whenever a tool is lost or a part is returned. When workers update the inventory by habit, it stays accurate, and all assets are found when required. Using an EAM software can simplify asset management to keep an accurate and visible inventory.

5. Stay on top of deferred maintenance backlogs

Production goals and unplanned downtime can often affect maintenance schedules. Almost all plants have a deferred maintenance backlog because of many such reasons. Staying on top of deferred maintenance backlogs is a key task for any maintenance manager: it ensures no critical asset misses maintenance for a long time, and all assets get repaired on time.

EAM can be of great help with this task because you can assign different priorities to the backlogs. This ensures all the workers know which work orders have to be completed first. Handling the deferred maintenance backlogs with EAM also provides the important inventory information about the resources required for a work order.

6. Implement total productive maintenance

Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) is a strategy where all departments participate in maintenance. The workers are given the responsibility to routinely maintain and repair the assets that they work with every day and know closely. This makes routine maintenance faster and easier by taking some work off the maintenance department.

managers at manufacturing equipment

TPM also helps improve the communications between departments, which can save time during unplanned downtime. Just as production learns about maintenance, maintenance learns about the causes of breakdowns as well as issues faced by different assets during operations. TPM can become a key part of production and significantly improve productivity when implemented with the right training and resources.

7. Keep improving and upgrading

This age-old wisdom still rings true today. With advancing technologies and a competitive environment, maintenance strategies and tech are changing faster than ever. Keeping up with the latest advances in management and technologies can help your plant stay competitive and highly productive.

With changes in production runs, product design, and manufacturing methods, maintenance has to be customized for the new system and workload. Maintenance managers have to keep trying out new solutions to optimize maintenance schedules and achieve zero unplanned downtime.

Maintenance managers have an active role to play in improving productivity on the plant floor. When the maintenance department strategizes with productivity in mind, it makes a huge difference. IoT, predictive maintenance, and TPM can be good tools for bringing the operations and maintenance departments closer. The tips listed here can be a great place to start your plant’s journey toward near-zero unplanned downtime.


About The Author

Eric Whitley’s picture

Eric Whitley

Eric Whitley is senior account manager at L2L. He has 29 years of experience in and around manufacturing, with 10 of those years being dedicated to consulting, and the last several years with Leading2Lean (L2L). Over the years, Eric has worked with all sectors of industry including food, timber, construction, chemical, and automotive, to name a few.

Prior to his current role, Eric held the position of total productive maintenance champion for Autoliv ASP, an automotive safety system supplier that specializes in airbags and restraint systems. In his time with Autoliv, Eric was the driver for the implementation of TPM in all of the U.S.-based plants for Autoliv. The early implementation of TPM at Autoliv led to the development of a world-class maintenance system and was a primary contributing factor to the development of L2L's Lean Execution System software.