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7 Ideas for Improving Maintenance Management for Pallet Operations
Top 7: These ideas will help improve your approach to equipment maintenance at a pallet or sawmill plant. From top strategies for keeping track of maintenance records to scheduling future procedures using software to empowering the right people to do maintenance functions, these strategies will lead to decreased downtime.
By By Rick LeBlanc
Date Posted: 3/2/2015
Top 7 Ideas to Help Improve Equipment Maintenance
From top strategies for keeping track of maintenance records to scheduling future procedures using software to empowering the right people to do maintenance functions, these strategies help decrease downtime.
Beliefs about how to best maintain equipment and plants continue to evolve. The overall focus has been progressively moving from breakdowns to preventive maintenance and proactive approaches aimed at promoting smoother operations and stopping breakdowns from occurring.
And if there is one constant amidst changing approaches to the challenge, it is that downtime is bad news. The holy grail of maintenance is eliminating downtime, said Vince Marino, president of VMGroupinc, a provider of computerized maintenance management software (CMMS), which services many pallet locations.
With about 70% of an average downtime event revolving around finding the right tools and materials to tackle an unplanned repair job, a successful preventive maintenance (PM) program can take such needless cost and anxiety out of the equation.
Below, we look at a number of key trends being reported by maintenance professionals and observers. Some of them are being embraced by pallet companies, while others already have been best practices for years.
Computerized Maintenance Management Software (CMMS)
The use of CMMS is increasingly popular, but there is still some debate in the pallet industry as to whether it is needed.
According to Marino, there is strong divide between the old school thinking of tracking the plant maintenance program with pen and paper, versus a CMMS approach.
“A new system takes work to introduce,” remarked Marino. In his mind it is an investment well worth making, as users of his system are justifying that investment with overall reduced maintenance cost as a result.
In the case of the Mview360 product, Marino stated it is powerful software with a simple user interface. It is designed to help a single plant operation or is scalable to a large network of operations.
As Marino observed, computerized software has not been embraced by everyone. Eric Conklin, owner of Oregon-based Shadybrook Lumber Products, while not familiar with Mview360, stated that for his plant, he has not yet seen maintenance software that would be less effort to maintain than actually going out and doing the work.
Shadybrook relies on basic desktop software and meticulous organization to keep it on track with its maintenance schedule. Conklin, a civil engineer by training, stresses the importance of organization and having a highly experienced maintenance team.
Matt Watkins, vice president of plant operations for Greatwide Logistics, a third party provider that runs 19 CHEP service locations across the country, commented that interest in such software may be based on the complexity and size of your operations. Where the location has a limited amount of equipment, and mechanics are highly trained and experienced, the case for using CMMS isn’t as strong. For larger, more complex and multi-location operations, he believes these software solutions are very valuable.
“Even for a single site operation,” Watkins added, “I would strongly consider it.” He noted that with the rapid pace of business and multiple distractions, it is far too easy to fall behind on PMs. It is invaluable, he explained, to have automated reminders of what and when PMs need to be performed, as well as detailed instructions, in case the regular mechanic isn’t available to perform the work.
Watkins has used Mview360 software for the last six years. Greatwide facilities, which can have throughput of up to 10 million pallets annually, runs a mix of equipment such as destackers, sorting equipment and repair lines. Bottom line, said Watkins, is that the software has helped his company reduce maintenance costs.
A good CMMS provides a solution addressing the range of functions required by a maintenance manager, such as preventive maintenance scheduling, work order creation, inventory tracking and ordering, technician access to service manuals, instructions and videos, repair and cost history, as well as other benefits such as reminders of when PMs are due.
One example of an easy payback, commented Marino is in simply exercising a warranty. One Mview360 customer was challenged on a sizeable claim for faulty equipment. The equipment vendor declined to honor the warranty on the basis that the customer had not done proper maintenance. With service history recorded in the CMMS, it was easy to refute this challenge. The Mview360 customer quickly produced the history detail to show who performed the required maintenance and when it was completed.
Standardization and Checklists
One way to improve the quality of PM work is through superior organization and ensuring consistency. This can be aided by standardized instructions such as checklists to ensure that the assignment is completed thoroughly, so that none of the required steps have been missed. Shadybrook has such documentation for key tasks, but because of the experience of mechanics, they don’t necessarily rely on the work instructions when performing a job. At Greatwide, Mview360 is used to generate work orders, which can include detailed information such as equipment manual information, checklists, photos or videos.
An example of a detailed checklist for a Smart Products Pallet Prep saw can be seen on page 34. Developed by Ken Hess, this shows the kind of detailed inspections that can be helpful. These inspections are for a saw produced from 2006 to 2012. Note that each saw or piece of equipment may have different steps or setting tolerances. Smart and other suppliers offer maintenance details in their user manuals.
Watkins commented that having detailed checklists can prove very valuable when mechanics assigned to a job are not highly experienced working on a particular piece of equipment.
The Rise of Big Data for Maintenance Management
One of the overall trends in facility and equipment maintenance is in embracing more statistics – tracking data and using it to develop Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). A KPI can be described as a measurable value that helps a company assess how effective it is in achieving its objectives. Common KPIs track such things as maintenance cost, PM completion rate, or outstanding PMs. And as newer generations of equipment provide the capability of recording downtime and production information automatically, it becomes more feasible to collect and analyze data with an eye towards improving productivity and reliability.
For Watkins at Greatwide, some of the statistics used by his company include metrics around repair costs at each facility, as well as PM completion rate and timeliness of completion. The company incorporates these measures onto a dashboard to compare performance among its different operations. The KPIs help measure maintenance productivity, Watkins explained. Tracking breakdown and repair cost history for specific machines helps management better determines root causes of breakdowns. This information also helps management know when capital would be better allocated by replacing a particular piece of equipment.
Lean Isn’t Just for Production, It’s for Maintenance Too
Jeff Shiver, a maintenance and reliability consultant at People and Processes, has commented recently that while companies are increasingly utilizing lean production techniques, they don’t typically take advantage of lean methodologies for their maintenance department as well. He observed that the same basic wastes that impede production can also hamper maintenance efforts. For example, does the mechanic arrive to perform a PM but not have the correct parts or tools on hand, which results in extra travel time?
Lean production originator W. Edwards Deming’s PDCA (Plan, Do, Check, Act) loop, for example, is applicable to maintenance planning. This approach helps ensure that when technicians are sent out on a job, they arrive with the right parts and tools to maximize their wrench time. And it also encourages the job to be done at the best possible time to coordinate with the production operations. At the end of the job, feedback on what could have improved in the process is incorporated into future PM procedures.
For some in the pallet industry, that’s old news. “One thing that our people do is to try to learn from breakdowns and figure out why it happened and to take notes,” Conklin explained, in describing his company’s approach to continuous improvement. In some respects, he noted, Shadybrook was lean even before they had heard of the term.
Enlisting Operators to Perform Basic Maintenance Duties
As part and parcel of the lean initiative, operators in many industries are being integrated into the maintenance function in terms of simple maintenance activities. This is a trend called autonomous maintenance. The thinking is that the operator, by performing simple daily maintenance tasks, can free up technicians for more challenging assignments, and through being better attuned to the equipment, is more likely to identify any issues early.
In the lean philosophy, operator involvement is aided by posted checklists as well as clear instructional markings on equipment to make the maintenance tasks easier.
There is some degree of operator maintenance involvement in the pallet industry. At Greatwide, operators are involved mainly with cleanup, as well
as performing and documenting a start of shift inspection of equipment. Due to the need for Lockout Tagout (LOTO) certification in order to service equipment, the company errs on the side of safety and relies on mechanics for maintenance.
At Shadybrook, operators perform cleanup functions. Only operators who are LOTO certified are permitted to perform light maintenance.
Ensuring Safe Operation as a Form of Preventive Maintenance
Increasingly we see a more holistic or integrated approach to a lot of concerns in manufacturing, ranging from safety to customer service to maintenance. Effective operation helps prevent damage and reduces risk of injury.
One of the leading causes of damage, especially for material handling equipment such as forklifts, is operator abuse. The traditional excuse has been that productivity pressure leads to operators running equipment too hard, resulting in damage. Companies are increasingly looking at how to ensure safe and prudent operation of vehicles through more effective training in conjunction with ongoing supervision and feedback.
Retaining Key Maintenance Staff
Retaining key staff is a critical factor for the industry at large, and not surprisingly, was emphasized as a key to success for Greatwide and Shadybrook. Competitive compensation and benefits go a long way, but retention isn’t always easy.
Increasingly, Watkins observed, the potential talent for maintenance is being pulled towards computer technology jobs, so the labor pool is shrinking. (For ideas around retention, read the related article in this issue on page 46).
In summary, maintenance has shifted from a breakdown emphasis to one of prevention and proactive measures. Issues such as compliance, increasing complexity of equipment, along with larger and more multi-location operations, should all translate into greater interest in data analysis and tracking maintenance functions via software.
Newer generations of equipment will make data capture much easier to achieve. Lean and other approaches that emphasize the close connection between maintenance and production are gaining popularity. These trends are prompting plant managers to consider how to leverage them to deliver the best value and reduce downtime.