Every organization that wants to stay competitive on the market has to strive to increase its profits. When it comes to the process industries, it is not rare that, in the search for higher profits, upper management often turns to reducing operational expenses.
Since most managers still look at maintenance only as a cost center, reducing operational costs in the maintenance department is often the first thing on their list. That puts a lot of strain on maintenance managers that are always under pressure to further optimize their maintenance operations.
While I would love to tell you that we discovered some hidden secrets you can use to reduce your maintenance costs, the reality is that there are no simple ways to permanently cut those costs down.
I mean, you can always try to make some tweaks to your workflow and communication to save a few bucks. However, if you really want to see significant long-term cost savings, there are two sure-fire ways you should explore:
- Changing/adjusting your maintenance strategy
- Taking advantage of an appropriate maintenance software
Both approaches require a dose of clarification so let’s put everything in the right context.
Maintenance strategies designed to reduce operating costs
Basically all maintenance strategies, besides breakdown maintenance (run-to-failure maintenance), are designed to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of your maintenance activities which, in turn, leads to reduced operational expenses.
Despite that, a recent survey shows that there are still around 50 percent of plants that strongly rely on reactive maintenance as a part of their overall maintenance strategy. Now, I won’t say that reactive maintenance doesn’t have its place in your maintenance strategy, but it should only play a supporting role and leave the heavy lifting to more effective strategies which we will discuss here.
If you look at the same research mentioned above, you will notice that preventive maintenance strategy is the most popular approach to maintenance. And that is not a coincidence. Over the years, it has been proven to have a great return on investment when implemented properly and the implementation process itself is more straightforward than any other proactive maintenance strategy.
Any business that operates on a larger scale should consider implementing a preventive maintenance strategy. Making a shift from reactive maintenance to preventive maintenance will take some time, but the benefits are numerous.
Conducting routine maintenance based on a quality preventive maintenance plan will:
- reduce the number of emergency repairs since you will be able to discover and fix problems before a breakdown occur
- reduce overtime labor cost as maintenance technicians will not need to stay late to fix a breakdown of a critical piece of equipment
- increase overall productivity and extend the life of critical equipment
While preventive maintenance can be a great choice for any facility that has a trouble keeping their maintenance costs in check, here are some situations in which it could be your go-to solution:
- you want to move away from reactive maintenance but you don’t have the resources for the large capital investment other maintenance strategies require
- you want a straightforward maintenance strategy that isn’t too complicated to implement
- you are willing to invest a few months to see the implementation go through successfully
Preventive and predictive maintenance (PdM) share the same goals but the execution of each approach is quite different.
PdM aims at predicting equipment failure before it actually occurs. Predictions are not based on the average life cycles of machinery as with a scheduled maintenance strategy.
Some PdM strategies rely on physical inspection of the respective equipment but you can get best results by implementing a software system to monitor and track production facilities. By incorporating readings from different sensors and metering into a maintenance platform, you are able to predict potential failures and get insights into your equipment’s current working status which will help prevent unexpected breakdowns.
Properly implemented predictive maintenance will:
- increase the lifecycle of your assets
- minimize the number of both scheduled and unscheduled downtimes
- increase uptime of your assets
- allow you to more efficiently manage your maintenance team’s work
You should consider implementing predictive maintenance when:
- you are willing to invest a moderate to large sum of money to get the project off the ground
- have a moderate to large amount of time and resources to implement the strategy and properly train your employees
- you have all the necessary data at your disposal or you are willing to wait a few months to gather enough data to actually start a predictive maintenance plan (you can shift to predictive maintenance only once you have enough data to generate actionable insights about your equipment; even if you use software to collect meter readings, it will take a while before the software is able to generate valuable and accurate reports)
- want to have a complete control and insight about your assets
- want to keep your parts inventory low (by predicting when you need to do certain repairs, you can order parts just before those repairs occur)
- already did or have plans to invest in industrial IoT
Reliability-centered maintenance represents a very complex approach to maintenance. The main goal is to identify all possible failure modes of a machine and then draft a custom maintenance strategy for every piece of equipment.
This can be a daunting task for any business since you need to an in-depth analysis of hundreds, or even thousands, of pieces of equipment. Due to being an advanced maintenance strategy, RCM requires a regular collection of data from the machines, preventive and predictive maintenance measures, and regular basic inspection of all the equipment in place.
You can apply an RCM strategy for either small or large system but defining failure modes and differentiating between constituents of different systems may be hard. A business must define its business-critical production assets first, and only then assign priority to failure modes. An RCM strategy does not deal with functionality but reliability, so the proper categorization of assets is crucial.
An RCM might be a good solution when:
- you have enough knowledge and experience to develop an effective RCM strategy
- you are willing to invest a significant amount of time and money to complete the analysis and make the maintenance program
- you want to have a clear strategy for every likely failure mode for the equipment you analyzed
Reducing maintenance costs
Every maintenance strategy has its pros and cons so choosing the one you should focus on can be a challenging task.
How do we know that one of the existing maintenance strategies isn’t superior to other across the board?
Well, the market is the one that ultimately decides which approach to maintenance is the most profitable. Since it is obvious that not all successful processing facilities have the same approach to maintenance, we can conclude that all strategies are still viable to one degree or another for your unique setup.
In an ideal scenario, you would use a mix of these strategies to get the best possible results and minimize your maintenance costs.
However, the more realistic scenario is the one in which you are concentrating on employing one or two strategies. For example, you would put all important assets on your preventive maintenance plan list, while some non-essential equipment (which breakdown won’t have much of an impact on your production line) doesn’t have to be regularly maintained and can be fixed when/if the failure occurs
When all is said and done, choosing the right strategy (or a mix of strategies) is one of the best ways to minimize costs that occur in your maintenance department.
Reducing operational expenses with maintenance software
You probably already noticed that turning to more proactive maintenance strategy is close to impossible without the help of appropriate maintenance software. If you think about it, it is only logical.
An effective maintenance schedule HAS to be based on the accurate and reliable information. With so many moving parts, tracking all of the necessary information is simply impossible without a central hub of information that allows you to make data-driven plans.
Since the main purpose of every computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) is to provide you with invaluable and actionable insights you can use to optimize your entire maintenance process, it cannot be avoided when discussing the reduction of operational costs.
While a CMMS has basically the same key benefits as all of the strategies just discussed, there are some indirect (and often overlooked) cost reductions that come with it.
Efficiently scheduling maintenance work
Ability to easily report problems, quickly schedule maintenance work, add priority levels, track work in progress, assign and reassign technicians with a few clicks, etc., saves a ton of time for maintenance managers and ensures that the most important work is being done on time.
Optimizing your workflow
The faster flow of information between your maintenance team, improved response times, eliminating overtime labor costs, an easier cooperation of multiple maintenance technicians on bigger maintenance tasks, are just some of the ways you indirectly reduce maintenance costs by employing a capable maintenance software.
A plethora of statistical data
A tried and tested way to improve your operations on all levels of your organization is by making adjustments based on accurate statistical data and performance reports.
When it comes to maintenance, CMMS will enable you to look at things such as:
- what maintenance work has been that and how much is that costing you
- what is the overall performance level of your maintenance team
- which assets are costing you the most and why
- which one of your locations/facilities is performing the best an why
Long things short, making data-driven decisions is a solution to most of your problems.
A modern production facility or manufacturing plant encompasses thousands of individual components. Which of them should be subject to preventive maintenance and where you should apply a predictive approach? Do you need to stop your entire production line for scheduled maintenance or you can reduce costs by replacing specific components on a run-to-failure basis without bothering to halt production?
Applying the right maintenance strategy to decrease operating costs requires making informed decisions based on accurate information. This data should be processed to generate actionable insights that enable you to draft long-term strategies that will permanently reduce your operating costs.
A major tool in your maintenance strategy should be a software platform capable of producing insights that let you combine chosen maintenance strategies and deploy the best solution for every particular scenario.
Which maintenance strategy are you using at your facility? You think that one approach is vastly superior to others? Don’t hold it in, let us know in the comments below.