Maintenance is not typically the topic of a C-suite conversation.
Indeed, its impact on manufacturing operations frequently is underappreciated altogether, some would argue. Writes the Aberdeen Group in a recent report: "The impact maintenance, repair and operations can have on corporate performance is regularly misinterpreted and undervalued by manufacturing organizations. Too many companies inaccurately think MRO consists solely of waiting for an asset to go down, and then fixing or replacing it. By taking this approach, companies will miss out on improving production capacity while reducing their inventory investment."
Recently, however, two manufacturing CEOs showed they recognize the roles maintenance and reliability play in manufacturing performance. For example, Noranda Aluminum Holdings, a vertically integrated producer of primary aluminum, has established a corporate goal to eliminate unplanned downtime, and the company is not keeping quiet about it. CEO Kip Smith expressed the bold vision during Noranda Aluminum's fourth-quarter earnings call in February.
"By understanding and eliminating process variability, refining preventive maintenance cycles and enhancing our planned downtime efficiency, our goal is to eliminate unplanned downtime," Smith said. "Just like safety, this is a lofty goal. And like safety, where we improved our performance by 30% in 2012, we believe it can be achieved."
To help make that goal happen, Noranda is looking to reliability-centered maintenance. Smith described RCM as Noranda's key process "to support uninterrupted operations."
Moreover, the company's emphasis on reliability is an integral component of Noranda's CORE (Cost-Out, Reliability and Effectiveness) productivity program. While the "C" and "O" of CORE represent taking costs out of the business, the "R" and "E" give nod to the importance of reliability.
"That focus will only increase in 2013," Smith said.
Portola Packaging, too, has looked to RCM to improve operations. "Our focus on lean manufacturing, reliability-centered maintenance, and product rationalization has allowed us to increase unit throughput per employee by 43% over the past four years," says Kevin Kwilinski, Portola's president and CEO.
The bottom-line goal of reliability-centered maintenance is to develop a preventive and predictive maintenance program, says Rich Overman, a certified maintenance and reliability professional and president of Core Principles. More specifically, he says RCM is development of the predictive and preventive maintenance paths needed to achieve the inherent reliability of the equipment.
Adds Keith Mobley, principal at Life Cycle Engineering: "Reliability centered maintenance is a discipline for figuring out how things work and how things fail." He advises companies considering the introduction of RCM to recognize that it requires a culture change. Therefore a rigorous change-management process is important to its success.
Mobley also offers several additional cautions related to maintenance and reliability: Don't assume all unplanned equipment downtime or less-than-expected production output is related to maintenance issues. Often it is not, he says, and a good RCM process will ferret that out. Other causes behind unplanned downtime may include the need to rewrite poor operating procedures or improve training for the equipment operators.
Also, don't assume all planned downtime is good downtime. Says Mobley, "Make sure you understand why downtime is happening so you go after the right things."