As processing plants are increasingly moving to automation and advanced manufacturing practices including “lean” and “quick response” systems, there is less and less slack in the system for schedule slippage and downtime. Plants need to be ready to operate whenever production requires. How can process plant maintenance meet the challenge of today’s high-pressure production schedules? Let’s look at some of the top issues for the maintenance of industrial equipment.

Know the real value of maintenance

Some process plants still see maintenance as a routine cost that reduces profitability, but the price of downtime due to malfunction can be much higher than a good maintenance regime.

To combat this, managers should be aware of the different components of the plant, and the associated likelihood and cost of failure. In many cases, preventative maintenance is the smart economic choice. A review of this kind also helps to identify which parts of the plant are critical to the system.

Make use of condition-based monitoring for smart maintenance

Technologies such as vibration analysis and ultrasound have made it easier to measure the condition of equipment, giving an insight into the probability of failure during any given period.

This approach is less time-intensive than a regular inspection regime and can significantly improve efficiency in the use of maintenance resource. As plants become more automated, monitoring technologies will be ever more integrated into the manufacturing process.

Ensure all maintenance engineers are properly trained and keep good records

Over time, workers may lose sight and purpose of a particular routine task, such as changing a filter. Regular refresher training will keep them motivated to carry out the full range of tasks, as well as giving an opportunity to discuss how your system can be improved.

Maintenance workers tend to be hands-on people, so they are not always enthusiastic about completing piles of paperwork. Good record keeping is essential to ensuring your maintenance system is optimal, so ensure you have regular record audits to check on quality.

Secure skilled project leadership

The move away from reactive maintenance to more proactive systems is not without its challenges. Careful consideration needs to be given to scheduling activities strategically and tactically, to ensure maintenance is as effective and efficient as possible.

Preventive maintenance also requires advance planning of the ordering of component parts, to ensure they are in place ready for the scheduled work. Delay can be costly and delivery before work can start can have attendant storage costs – getting the balance right is crucial. An experienced leader is needed to provide realistic and workable plans.

Include maintenance engineers in equipment purchase conditions

Decisions on buying new equipment are often left to the production department alone, with the maintenance team having very little input. This is a mistake, because the maintenance perspective can be informative in determining the best choice.

Maintenance engineers know your plant inside and out – they can tell you which equipment options will be most accessible and easy to look after. It might be that out of two equally viable options, one-component needs an expensive tool set or uses an unfamiliar technology. Finding this out before the component is purchased can save a lot of extra labor in the long run.