7 Questions to Ask to Improve Asset Maintenance

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By Monroe Blanton, Life Cycle Engineering

Asset maintenance in manufacturing is more than just a company’s program to maintain its assets. It is a vital link to organizational success because it can reduce unplanned losses and improve overall efficiency. All too often large and small companies buy into the myth that a canned maintenance program is the solution to their problems. They purchase the latest software package to manage their maintenance program, fill it with PM tasks, and still have trouble with the goal of preventing lost-time production and improving equipment reliability.

Maintenance programs in asset management are the central hub that affects equipment efficiency. When something goes wrong with equipment there are usually only two questions asked: “What broke?” and “Who is going to fix it?” This happens even with the best software management programs. Replace this reactive methodology with an effective maintenance work plan strategy that addresses the root causes and will implement preventive or predictive solutions. Then you will move forward to preventing unplanned downtime losses by improving the reliability of equipment.

There are various reasons for reliability problems so they need to be addressed according to each asset’s needs. With the focus on preventing unplanned equipment downtime, we need to use the seven standard questions we learned in school: Who, What, Why, When, Where, How, and How Much. These are the elements that need to be included in the maintenance work plans. Each question is asked in the context of “Will this prevent a failure from happening or reoccurring?”

What – This is the maintenance strategy that is to be performed. It can be a standard task such as lubrication, inspection, adjustment, replacement, or cleaning. It could also be a condition-based task or require using a specialized predictive technology. Will this task prevent unplanned downtime?

Who – Is the maintenance task best performed by mechanical, electrical, or operations technicians? It is important to assign performing the maintenance task to the correct trade. Don’t forget that operations technicians are often overlooked as a valuable resource in maintenance programs. Many inspections and adjustments are best performed by people operating the same equipment. Is this task being performed by the best tradesman to prevent unplanned downtime?

Why – Be sure there is a real failure mode or regulation that is being addressed by the maintenance task. Is there a history of failure or other reasons that this work needs to be performed? Beware of the “we have always done it this way” syndrome. Has the failure mode for this preventive task caused unplanned downtime?

When – Can the task be performed during operation running time? If not, apply a schedule to perform the task during a planned downtime or outage. Scheduling work is important because it provides a plan. The unplanned work is what is to be avoided and causes losses. A commitment to the plan is equally important. Is the planned schedule best for performing this task?

Where – A task needs to clearly specify where it is to be performed. Labels and tags are important on all assets to provide the clarity to ensure the work is done on the correct asset. Equally important, is the root cause being addressed on the equipment? Is the maintenance task addressing the correct component that is causing the unplanned downtime?

How – Information on performing a task is important to ensure repeatability on the execution of the work. Senior vs. junior technicians will not always perform maintenance the same way. Failures resulting from the inconsistency of work performed are extremely difficult to diagnose. The statement to “inspect a bearing” has a different meaning for every mechanic. Instruction to make an ultrasonic inspection of a bearing, compare to existing standards and document the results is a more specific example. Is the task information and criteria correct to prevent unplanned downtime?

How Much – Or better to ask “How Often” does this task need to be performed? Too often and not enough can cause problems. Use a combination of available OEM data and your own maintenance history data to determine the best frequency for performing a preventive task. Is the frequency of performing this task enough to mitigate unplanned downtime?

The goal is to develop a holistic approach to thinking about preventive maintenance and implement the means to prevent failures from happening or reoccurring. It is much more than what happened and who is going to fix it. If you apply these seven questions with respect to the failure mode and maintenance task, you will soon be moving toward improved uptime and efficiency for the equipment.

Monroe Blanton is a Reliability Technician with Life Cycle Engineering (LCE). Monroe has more than 34 years of experience in engineering installations, maintenance and repair. His expertise is in automated manufacturing control systems, robotics, laser welding, pneumatics, hydraulics, measurement test systems, fluid dynamics and power generation. You can reach Monroe at [email protected].