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How Machine Health Makes Life Better for Maintenance Teams

March 16, 2020
"With the advent of digital machine health technology, maintenance may worry that their years of accumulated experience no longer matters. In fact, the opposite is true."

Over decades of work for companies like Procter and Gamble, Scott Paper Co. (now Kimberly Clark), and PepsiCo, I’ve often seen maintenance technicians save the day using ingenious methods inspired by a deep knowledge of the equipment they work with.

Yet maintenance doesn’t always get the credit it deserves. Whether it’s in the beverage industry, consumer packaged goods or heavy manufacturing, the maintenance team is essential to keeping a plant running smoothly and productively. Their work directly contributes to producing quality goods while ensuring worker safety.

On the other hand, the maintenance team always catches the blame when things go wrong, so maintenance technicians feel a constant, heavy responsibility for every real or potential problem on the shop floor. And with the advent of digital machine health technology, maintenance may worry that their years of accumulated experience no longer matters. In fact, the opposite is true.

No More 2 am Crisis Calls

When one of my most troublesome water lines went down, we needed a crucial part to fix it. Rumor had it that the part was kicking around somewhere. In fact, a crisis-minded technician had stored it in a locked toolkit, knowing that when it was needed, he’d have the chance to save the day.

He did save the day, but if we’d had predictive maintenance back then, he wouldn’t have had to haul that part around, keeping it maintained to be deployed when needed. With machine health technology, an alert would have told him well in advance when to order that part. The technician would have saved the day by preventing the break down from happening in the first place and he wouldn’t have gotten a call at 2 am asking if it was true that he had the part squirreled away!

Machine health technology gives technicians a heads up at the earliest sign of machine malfunctions so they can plan repairs during scheduled downtime. This significantly reduces the need for “just in case” inventory or expensive overnight freight deliveries.

Maintenance teams can save the day in a different way by becoming machine health technology experts and understanding their machines so well that they can keep them running—crisis-free. It’s hard to overestimate how much these new machine health programs can reduce the stress on maintenance teams. Not to mention the production team which, with the right machine health program, can worry less about lost production due to unplanned downtime.

More Recognition

Condition-based monitoring also documents success by providing cold hard data showing the results of the maintenance team’s efforts. As Reliable Plant magazine points out, “Good data is an enabler in improving reliability, asset management, and the culture that goes along with it all.”

With digital machine health, the maintenance team becomes more—not less—valuable to their enterprise. Freed up from mundane scheduled maintenance tasks, maintenance technicians can become more involved in root cause analysis to eliminate failures, perhaps even redesigning parts to increase their duty cycle.

Machine health data can also be used to more effectively centerline or optimize processes and outputs. Maintenance technicians that embrace this technology may find themselves working with Process Engineers to interpret digital information in a way that solves long-standing production issues. No longer machine fixers—they have become the tip of the spear for process improvement!

More Collaboration

Maintenance technicians generally take their cues from the production team, who call the shots for machine and line downtime. But a maintenance team using predictive maintenance and machine health solutions is no longer only useful to put out the latest fire.

Digital machine health provides a common set of data that maintenance and production leaders can use to collaboratively schedule planned downtime for predictive maintenance and preventative maintenance activities, enhancing worker safety and maintaining overall equipment effectiveness. It is common for production to actually gain line uptime from a digital machine health initiative since it eliminates many unnecessary, or even detrimental, preventative maintenance tasks.

The Bottom Line

Redeploying resources from hundreds of weekly preventive maintenance tasks means maintenance technicians get to increase their knowledge and contribute at a higher level. The lines between maintenance, engineering, and process improvement start to blur as maintenance personnel, armed with instantaneous data about machine health, begin to work with process improvement engineers to develop correlations between their digital machine health data and process performance. And there’s a direct impact on the maintenance budget as unnecessary replacement parts and expensive emergency shipment costs are eliminated.

Maintenance can still save the day because embracing digital machine health helps them to become even bigger heroes.