Eric Whitley has 30 years of experience in manufacturing, holding positions such as Total Productive Maintenance Champion for Autoliv ASP, an automotive safety system supplier that specializes in airbags and restraint systems. He is also an expert in lean and smart manufacturing practices and technologies. Over the years, Eric has worked with all sectors of industry including Food, Timber, Construction, Chemical and Automotive to name a few. Currently, he’s a part of the L2L team.
Mar 16, 2022

Plant Floor Optimization - 5 Maintenance Managers’ Tips For Production Asset Optimization

How to get the most value out of equipment and machines

Plant Floor Optimization

Companies invest extensive budgets in various equipment and machines that become the backbone of a production or treatment facility. To gain the most value out of these assets, they are required to be in prime working condition throughout their life cycle. It is in the best interest of the management team to achieve the ultimate goal of asset optimization and make the most of the capital resources of a plant. Here are five tips for production asset optimization:

Tip #1 - Embrace Change

Since the pandemic broke out, service providers and consumers quickly realized adaptability is vital in the continual supply of essential utilities. Manufacturers had to embrace changes in observing safety, innovating products, and sustaining the supply chain. Industries had to transform the way they work to continue providing for their customers’ needs. Plant asset management must remain optimal and productive while navigating through changes in operations.

The Water Quality Association, for instance, noted that many members became even busier than usual, given the increase in demand from residential consumers. Aside from minimizing equipment downtime, managing staff schedules has become equally vital in ensuring that plants operate up to capacity.

There is also a virtual component to embracing change. Networking and communication channels are now considered critical pieces of equipment, on top of the more conventional assets of a manufacturing plant. The same practices of managing and optimizing the availability of traditional assets apply to communication devices. Nowadays, disruptions in communication can also be a catalyst for unplanned downtime.

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Tip #2 - Develop a Proactive Maintenance Strategy

Unplanned downtime is estimated to cost industrial manufacturers $50 billion annually. Aside from operational losses, any disruption in the supply of essential utilities can directly impact the real-life experience of consumers. To increase reliability and ensure asset optimization, facilities need to move away from a reactive approach to maintenance. 

At a high level, reactive maintenance refers to performing maintenance tasks on equipment only after a notable event has already occurred. Depending on the extent of the damage observed, a reactive approach can result in a significant repair, or worse, total equipment replacement. On the other hand, a proactive approach aims to service equipment before any notable deterioration. 

In practice, a proactive approach requires focusing on processes to gather and analyze relevant data. For instance, investing in technologies to digitally monitor water quality is becoming increasingly common. Real-time data about water quality and flow conditions allows maintenance teams to respond to patterns instantaneously. Predictive maintenance becomes a viable maintenance strategy by taking historical data patterns that can illustrate future trends.

A proactive maintenance strategy aims to catch the collective instances of deterioration that eventually lead to a breakdown. A proactive approach to maintenance reduces equipment downtime by eliminating the contributors to failure.

Tip #3 - Explore the Available Tools for Asset Optimization

While gathering massive amounts of data is a crucial step to asset optimization, it is by no means the end of the journey. To get the most out of their data, companies have to receive it in an easily digestible and actionable form. The good news is that several available tools aim to make sense of all the available information.

The Internet of Things (IoT) has made communication between devices more seamless than ever. The interconnectedness between physically separated products has opened the doors for advanced software that brings everything together.

For example, Computerized Maintenance Management Systems (CMMS) incorporate all maintenance activities and assets into a central system. A CMMS software allows teams to track upcoming maintenance activities and monitor progress statuses for ongoing tasks.

Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) software is another program that takes a more holistic approach to managing assets. It takes advantage of the devices’ ability to communicate to gather data about the conditions of a machine. By monitoring performance analytics, alongside information about the cost of an asset, companies can track the valuable work an asset provides. In turn, a facility gets valuable insights in identifying ways to optimize its assets.

Tip #4 - Identify the KPIs That Matter

Facilities will typically develop initiatives to optimize the use of their assets. As with any other business project, management teams should have a way of quantifying and describing success. Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are metrics that define the criteria for effectiveness. They also highlight both the strong and weak points of the overall strategy.

An example of an indicator that relates to the effectiveness of plant optimization is the measurement of operational cost savings. This metric can be used together with investment costs for projects that drive plant optimization. The result is a measure of the return on investment. The same idea can apply to measure the returns from the acquisition of new assets that have increased the productive capacity of the facility.

Another relatable KPI in asset optimization is the number of sustainable practices applicable in the end-to-end process. Sustainability usually gets the reputation of incurring additional costs. However, its overall idea is ultimately about using resources efficiently. Setting a target for sustainable practices can improve the bottom line while literally helping to make the world a better place.

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Tip #5 - Promote a Culture of Continuous Improvement

Plant optimization is not a one-time project that would instantly solve all the wasteful practices of a facility. Instead, it is a long-term process of identifying opportunities for improvement. Leadership teams need to apply an expansive view of the process, involving the right people. Getting support from all levels and departments of the company goes a long way in promoting a culture of continuous improvement.

For starters, it helps if employees become aware of any ongoing initiatives about plant asset management. Training modules and knowledge-sharing sessions can kick off the process by getting the word out. With the availability of modern methods, training is no longer limited to in-classroom or instructor-led courses. Computer-based or virtual learning can reach a wider audience more flexibly.

Of course, providing training and picking up learnings are two different things. Depending on the level of detail in a session, certain avenues can be more easily appreciated than others. It then becomes a balance of finding the value in sharing knowledge and spending resources to communicate an initiative.

Conclusion

There will always be room for improving optimization practices in a society that depends on a finite amount of resources. When working with essential goods and services, asset optimization does not only highlight the importance of being cost-effective, but also ensures that providers have the capability to supply the needs of consumers.

About the author

Eric Whitley has 30 years of experience in manufacturing, holding positions such as Total Productive Maintenance Champion for Autoliv ASP, an automotive safety system supplier that specializes in airbags and restraint systems. He is also an expert in lean and smart manufacturing practices and technologies.  Over the years, Eric has worked with all sectors of industry including Food, Timber, Construction, Chemical and Automotive to name a few. Currently, he’s a part of the L2L team.

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