A stitch in time

Posted on 13 Jun 2011 by The Manufacturer

Better maintenance — and better performance tracking — can unlock the ‘hidden factory’, boosting reliability and output. But how best to do so, asks Malcolm Wheatley.

Recognising that better maintenance of its plant and equipment would help it on its journey to manufacturing excellence, Heinz Frozen Foods turned to an enterprise asset management application (EAM) from Infor. The goal? Better maintenance—and, what’s more, lower-cost maintenance, too.

But having implemented the EAM solution, the business quickly realised that a significant opportunity, linking its maintenance activities to its ongoing lean programme, was being missed.

“We started to identify maintenance waste elements—those that didn’t add value—and to use Infor EAM as it was meant to be used: in concert with lean manufacturing and lean maintenance,” says Heinz maintenance manager Milton Slagowski.

“What we learned was that lean practices are instrumental in implementing an EAM application to achieve excellent results quickly and cost effectively, and that asset reliability is a key tool for successful lean manufacturing operations,” he explains. “In other words, lean manufacturing and asset reliability have a mutual relationship.” Summing up, Slagowski says: “We saw lean maintenance as the way to preserve our assets in good operating condition, and to improve their reliability in both the short term and the long term.” This thinking led Heinz management to recognise that reactive maintenance—namely repairing machinery when broken—is itself inherently wasteful, typically costing up to five times as much as planned maintenance. This maintenance, incorporating lean practices, on the other hand, was not only cheaper, but could also enable an estimated 30% more actual maintenance work to be completed.

The upshot? The business achieved considerable gains in process efficiency while also cutting the cost of the maintenance activities that it carried out—a virtual cycle that quickly drove benefits to the bottom line. Slagowski details: “We’ve realised 10% to 11% efficiency improvements, and our maintenance costs have dropped by 5% to 10%. “We’ve also reached world class levels of maintenance inventory management: 1% of estimated replacement value.” All of this paints a picture that is undeniably tempting in its combined promise of better asset reliability, lower maintenance costs, and greater operating efficiencies. But for all of that, evidence shows that, in practice this promise is proving eminently resistible to most manufacturers. Time and again improvement initiatives within manufacturing plants seem to side-step equipment-related issues, and focus their attentions elsewhere.

Technology avoidance
Around since the late 1980s and early 1990s, Computerised Maintenance Management Systems (CMMS), EAM systems and Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) systems could have been expected to do much more to address this opportunity.

Each, in their own way, acts to direct management attention towards pieces of equipment that require corrective actions or maintenance activities – OEE systems by highlighting performance shortfalls, and CMMS and EAM systems by identifying when and how to best carry out maintenance activities.

Yet uptake on the factory floor is patchy at best— especially in small and medium-sized manufacturers, where such approaches have generally yet to make much headway. The result? For most manufacturers, the ‘hidden factory’ is a huge opportunity, and one that lean manufacturing on its own has only gone so far to address.

“There’s a lot of ‘technology avoidance’ going on: we see manufacturing managements spend an awful lot of time and attention on ‘lean’ and people development, and relatively little on asset-related opportunities,” says Brian Holliday, divisional director of industrial automation at Siemens. “There’s a culture of managing by clipboards and whiteboards, rather than a reliance on an automated solution to maintenance or equipment effectiveness that can deliver highly reliable data at a far higher level of granularity and reliability.” Worse, adds Steve Knight, associate director at operational and financial performance improvement specialists Newton Europe, clipboard-based approaches to data capture can be actively misleading.

The problem? Humans, despite managements’ best endeavours, typically take note only of interruptions or breakdowns that they deem to be significant. What’s more, they are highly subjective when it comes to interpreting failure modes and ascribing causes.

“The result is that the gearbox failure that happens twice a year does get logged, but the sealing machine which jams twenty times a shift doesn’t,” says Knight. “Because it takes only a couple of minutes or so to correct the problem, it’s deemed too trivial to record—yet the overall loss of predictive capacity is many times greater.” Better still, he adds, systems for tracking OEE can usefully supplement whatever maintenance regime a plant is running, by identifying instances when periodic, planned or preventative maintenance practices haven’t succeeded in preventing performance degradation.

“When OEE declines, it’s often an indicator that maintenance might be required,” says Knight. “In an ideal world, best practice should call for OEE metrics to directly feed into maintenance systems—although the companies that do this are few in number.” Indeed, adds Andy Bates, a director of Artesis, a supplier of condition monitoring solutions, performance indicators can provide a highly accurate indication of asset condition, and therefore the applicability of maintenance activities.

“Several decades’ of in-depth research has identified that planned maintenance—carrying out maintenance activities at fixed intervals of either time or production volume—isn’t necessarily the best or most economic way of scheduling maintenance,” he notes.

The familiar ‘bath tub’ failure curve, in short, turns out to only apply to a minority of industrial equipment—perhaps as little as 10%. For the other 90%, there’s no significant increase in failure rates when maintenance intervals are extended.

“The technical case for condition-based maintenance is pretty well proven—provided that you’ve got the people and processes in place to properly interpret it, and implement appropriate corrective action. Sadly, when companies possess actionable information, they don’t always act on it.”

Talk to experts such as Bates, Knight and Holliday, and the vision they paint is of a manufacturing environment where maintenance happens when it should, and is driven not by simplistic assumptions about equipment degradation over time, but instead A gearbox failure that happens twice a year gets logged, but the sealing machine which jams twenty times a shift doesn’t. Because it takes only a couple of minutes or so to correct the problem, it’s deemed too trivial to record Steve Knight, Associate Director, Newton Europe by real-life equipment usage, production output and environmental conditions.

The problem? “Companies—especially smaller ones—can quickly find themselves with an information overload,” says Bates.

Talk to some of the leading exponents of EAM and CMMS systems—companies such as Infor and Epicor, for instance—and it soon becomes clear that the future direction of those systems revolves around not just digesting masses of conditionbased equipment data from HMI, SCADA and OEE systems, but also intelligently interpreting it so as to generate actionable information.

“Computers help to bring intelligence to conditionbased monitoring and predictive performance,” says Rod Ellsworth, vice-president of global asset sustainability at Infor. “Tracking energy consumption, in particular, is not only an indicator of asset performance, but is also a useful way of reducing energy consumption.” Globally, for instance, over 80 companies have added energy consumption indicators into their Infor EAM and CMMS systems in the last eighteen months, says Ellsworth – driven not primarily by the green agenda, but by asset performance.

The logic? As equipment components wear or oil viscosity breaks down, or bearing failure induces vibration, the consequent change in energy consumption can be detected long before any other signs become apparent.

“And the next generation of EAM systems will make it even easier to incorporate real-time energy consumption into the maintenance decision,” promises Ellsworth.

Epicor, too, sees change ahead, driven by a heightened awareness among manufacturers that maintenance matters.

“The recession has really changed companies’ views on asset management, especially in the midmarket,” says James Norwood, senior vice-president of product marketing at Epicor. “They’re running equipment longer and harder—and whereas once they could go out and just replace broken or worn out assets, tighter finance availability means that they now realise they have to maintain their assets better.” What this means in practice is making appropriate time available within busy production schedules for technicians to actually carry out maintenance activities. As both production and maintenance mangers know to their cost, all too often it seems as though maintenance is scheduled for precisely the wrong time, in terms of workload and customer commitments.

Finite scheduling specialists, such as Preactor, have long known that an important rationale for moving to an optimised scheduling tool is precisely this ability to construct schedules that permit both maintenance and manufacturing to co-exist, without adversely impacting customer commitments.

Talk to ERP vendors – or at least, those with credible and sought-after EAM or CMMS offerings – and a similar story emerges. Epicor customer Thermotech, for instance, openly credits the tight integration between Epicor’s EAM solution and its scheduling capabilities as a decisive factor in the selection of the solution.

With eight manufacturing plants around the world, and 270 expensive injection moulding machines to maintain – each costing up to half a million dollars – the ability to integrate the planning of preventative maintenance with the planning of production schedules was undeniably an important capability on its ‘wish list’; says chief operating officer Matt Mahmood.

“We did look at other systems, but the lack of integration wasn’t attractive, as it would have meant managing two different systems, which would have required additional human resource,” he relates.

“Now, we have global visibility into metrics such as uptime, downtime, asset performance and availability – and, what’s more, we can schedule preventative maintenance knowing that it won’t affect customer commitments.” The best of both worlds? Undoubtedly. Yet, such examples of excellence are in the minority. EAM and OEE systems are rather like GPS-based SATNAVs, sums up Siemens’ Holliday: “Before you got one, you didn’t realise just how much you needed it.”