Asset uptime for the rest of us

Nov. 30, 2015

There's the ideal proactive maintenance program, and there's reality most of us manage while we work toward it. Here are tips for optimizing your resources and starting a new program. 

This is not an article about why you should muscle-up and dedicate specific people, time, and budget to predictive maintenance. This article is about how to get excellent asset uptime with the maintenance and reliability resources at your disposal.

The ideal situation is a dedicated predictive maintenance (PdM) or reliability team at a large industrial plant that has identified the most important (expensive) equipment in-plant; uses automated systems or an expensive software program to monitor equipment and store and track data; determines that sweet spot of exactly when equipment needs maintenance to optimize performance and prevent damage or failure; and has the people, time, and budget to do proactive work.

Then there are the rest of us, with a small maintenance team at small or mid-sized industrial facility with broad responsibilities but not the scope of work or budget to dedicate people to PdM work, applying the best reactive maintenance practices we can manage, including gathering data manually as the job dictates to get the work done and solve problems as they arise.

That team knows its equipment, does some amount of scheduled maintenance, has strong troubleshooting skills, and has a team lead. However, the equipment knowledge and skills are stored in individual heads, so the information sharing part never really happens.

Technology has advanced to the point where maintenance technicians often use the same techniques and tools to troubleshoot and inspect, log, and share - the basics of proactive maintenance.

Another basic principle is that certain measurements can serve as warning signs of changes in equipment health. By taking those measurements regularly and comparing them to previous records, technicians can detect changes before they become problems.

If we narrow down the list of proactive maintenance must-haves to a "rest-of-us" list, it looks like this:

  • A little bit of planning up front helps to chart a course to success down the road, and will accelerate the speed to success.
  • Know your most important pieces of equipment and their tell-tale measurements/inspection points that inform you about their health in a location that everyone has access to.
  • Make it standard practice to check those tell-tales and save the data points to the shared location whenever you're working on that piece of equipment, organized by equipment type and marked by the date.
  • Check the data-share first whenever you're troubleshooting. It might help you identify the cause faster.

The team lead can do four things to help make this work:

  1. Hold lunch-and-learns for the team on the tell-tales and the objective so everyone knows what to look for and feels part of the mission.
    • Provide some basic how-to on using simple cloud-based spreadsheets. This helps anyone who's uncomfortable using the technology to learn what to do without feeling embarrassed.
    • Share the data logs every quarter and explain what the measurements tell you. This kind of "reason-why" is more meaningful in the context of your own equipment than in the abstract. Help people understand their work makes a difference.
    • Discuss strategies, tips, tricks, and rules-of-thumb to help keep your program simple and grounded in reality, balanced to your available resources.
  2. Check the data share on a semi-regular basis and look for changes that might indicate a problem (in general, when measurements start to deviate by 5 or 10 percent, it's time to investigate).
    • Management should be responsible for maintaining, checking, and assessing the data.
    • The team should be enabled and encouraged to check the log on the job, not just for data entry; also to check the data history on that system whenever they enter a troubleshooting situation.
  3. Set up incentives for the team to:
  • Speak up if they see something that might fall into a tell-tale category.
  • Think of other ways to use the cloud log and data sharing to improve team communication.
  1. Document success and celebrate saves to gain all skill level buy-in
    • Celebrate often at stand-ups with entire teams
    • Recognize and focus attention on the junior members of the team, not just the experts.
    • Be patient for breadth of machine coverage, but be impatient for ROI on the beginning machines.

Company culture keeps reliability programs alive, not budget or top level management. If you start small and grow the program, then continually document the successes, additional budget and staff buy-in comes gradually and naturally. 

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