Growing demand has driven changes to a traditional activity at U.S. automotive manufacturing plants: the summer shutdown. Ford Motor Co. (IW 500/8) announced in May that 20 of its plants would take reduced downtime schedules, with six assembly plants scaling back to a one-week shutdown instead of the traditional two weeks. Likewise, Chrysler Group reported that three of its Midwest assembly plants and most of its engine, transmission and stamping plants would observe no summer shutdown.

The reduced idling schedule will allow Ford to produce an extra 40,000 units, the automaker said, and contribute to its plan to boost third-quarter production 10% beyond the 673,000 vehicles produced in the third quarter of 2012. 

See Also: Operations Management Strategy & Best Practices

While the increased production means good news for the auto manufacturers, it also seemingly means a reduction in another tradition of the summer shutdown: maintenance. 

That's true, says Joseph Lee, Ford's global maintenance director. As a result, he says, "It has been crucial for the maintenance teams to have a regimented process to maintain production equipment and facilities."

The key at Ford has been the development of a Global Maintenance Operating System, with processes and standards that provide "an increased focus on identifying our key assets," Lee says. 

The automaker began its efforts to develop and implement the maintenance operating system about two years ago. Lee said in a Ford article that one significant change introduced by the operating system is to base maintenance decision-making on actual production and failure data rather than the previous tendency to base it on the company's experience. 

In addition to employing the maintenance operating system to meet the twin challenges, Lee says maintenance teams are performing in-depth reviews of Ford's production equipment, both to identify its current health and condition and to find opportunities for improvement. The automaker also is boosting its use of predictive technologies.

Chrysler Group, on the other hand, had already adjusted its asset management strategy in response to alternative work patterns, including the shift schedule known as 3/2/120 (three crews work two shifts for 120 hours per week) and extended weekend work. As a result, shutdowns typically are predicated on whether structural work is required in the assembly process, a company spokesperson said.

In addition, the company notes that maintenance -- both autonomous and preventive -- is critical to World Class Manufacturing, the automaker's continuous improvement system. Chrysler has moved to dynamic maintenance -- that is, maintenance performed while production equipment is in motion -- rather than downtime maintenance. 

"This has been key for some time. We couldn't preserve asset life nor make our throughput requirements without this," the company says.

Read more about asset management and reliability at www.iw.com/operations/maintenance.