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Goodbye Silos: Getting Maintenance and Operations to Work Together

Aug. 15, 2018
Changing a culture where these areas are at odds is critical to success.

In recent years, manufacturers have faced increased pressures, from rising operational costs to an ever-changing regulatory landscape. They’ve had to learn to function with greater efficiency and flexibility, to quickly respond to changing market dynamics and compete. Operational excellence is key to that. It requires an ongoing transformation and not just the digital transformation that has so much buzz.

Most transformations start with an organization-wide project analysis that shows how to utilize technology to boost performance. Fewer manufacturing companies tackle a transformation with the goal of changing their culture.

Let me elaborate on the culture piece: Manufacturers are at their most competitive when all operational assets are running as close as possible to their limits, without compromising reliability or degrading the asset. However, historically, maintenance and operations teams (the manpower behind the assets) have not worked together to achieve that—they’ve been siloed and sometimes even oppose one another. Changing that is key to operational excellence via reliability and asset optimization.

Transformation without cultural change is impossible.

Shortcomings of a Siloed Approach

Across industries, maintenance is typically considered a service department rather than an integrated part of production and operations. This is a mistake. To improve uptime and, therefore, production, manufacturers must instead set up their maintenance teams to function in a proactive vs. reactive way.

From a data analytics perspective, consider that current data suggests that over 80% of downtime can be traced back to operational events, or the way in which manufacturers operate the assets. The technology challenge is to bring maintenance and operations data together to find the operating behaviors that degrade asset integrity and reliability.

For example, we worked with one large global chemicals company that had been seeking better notification of fouling in a quench oil tower. Using fouling data from the previous year, prescriptive maintenance software provided an alert with a 125-day lead time. The customer took no action and had to shut down the quench oil tower due to fouling.

Another example of the costs of reaction time: in a European refinery, vacuum bottom pumps had been affected by repeated seal and bearing failures. Prescriptive maintenance software learned the failure history (over a dozen different failure signatures; data that went back to a known event in 2014) and provided lead times of 28 and 31 days for future seal failures on the pumps, and lead times of 10 and 28 days for future bearing failures. The refinery ignored the warnings and was forced to replace seals/bearings after failures occurred.

These clearly demonstrate that improving uptime takes more than consolidating and analyzing data. There’s a cultural challenge, which requires change management to get people to trust data and work together to act upon data. Success will only be achieved when capability and culture come together.

Look at lean manufacturing, which has been utilized by countless companies and generated billions of dollars in benefits for production operations. It’s not a set of technologies but a philosophy that drives culture, with technology as part of the overall method. By adopting lean techniques, maintenance and operations has an opportunity to change from a reactive cost center to a proactive partner in driving increased asset performance and efficiency. This collaborative approach will drive uptime, productivity and ROI on a manufacturer’s capital expenditure.

Making Culture Change Stick

To create a culture change, ultimately every aspect of a manufacturing operation—from scheduled maintenance shutdowns, work requests, daily workflows and even department mission statements—requires reconsideration. Change only occurs if organizations redefine the backbone of their cultures and push employees to be agents of change through altering how they think. Manufacturing leaders must nurture a problem-solving mentality in their employees by introducing new processes into the workflow that facilitate collaboration and require workers to jointly question processes and brainstorm improvements. Company leaders must also show how this culture shift may reshape employees working relationships with their colleagues, other departments within their company and their own, personal responsibilities.

On a tactical level, for manufacturing leaders to be able to unite operations and maintenance groups in a successful manner, they should first designate a project team to monitor and support the cultural collaboration across plant groups. The project team should have regular meetings and produce reports on a weekly and monthly basis that track progress—this will ensure a rapid response to potential roadblocks.

Here are some additional approaches, inspired by lean principles, to improve operations and maintenance collaboration:

Challenge the Status Quo – Changing the "if it's not broken, don't fix it" mentality and longstanding practices like scheduled maintenance help achieve true asset performance management. There needs to be a proactive attitude that asks, every day, whether corporate-level reliability goals are truly being met. This requires a mind shift to systems-level thinking, which makes decisions based on the impact across every facet of the organization, rather than single departments. To achieve this, there must be a continuous shared information flow between planners, schedulers, reliability engineers, operating engineers and process engineers.

Get Up, Get Out and Go and See – In a lean framework, stakeholders jointly go to and assess processes to find the root of the problem. No one leaves until there’s an action plan for every production barrier. Asset reliability requires the same level of collaboration. Maintenance and operations need to both “go and see” to jointly come up with solutions that meet organization-wide objectives.

Continuous Improvement (kaizen) – Improving the way maintenance and operations work together doesn’t have to incur a high bill. Data can help identify areas of risk and need, and during a cultural shift nothing works to reinforce the right behaviors like repeated peer recognition. Even something as simple as an internal recognition program, such as “I Made a Difference,” where contributors are hailed as heroes, can help institutionalize a behavior. 

Respect – Operations and maintenance teams play an equally important role in asset reliability, and they must build off of each other’s work based on a relationship of trust and open communication. Removing emotion from the equation by focusing on facts and data is critical to maintaining a collaborative and open culture.

Teamwork – Business leaders need to train teams on how to identify opportunities to work together. A good starting place is to look for areas that have caused high costs and lost production and define how each group’s actions have an impact on that process, as well as the other group’s efforts. Working through this process can unlock barriers that have historically existed. And, where there’s been success, manufacturing leaders should widely communicate joint progress and ROI throughout the organization to build pride in the achievements and encourage additional collaboration between departments. 

Change management at a cultural level is a massive undertaking for manufacturers that requires active participation and communication from leadership, commitment to questioning existing processes and beliefs, and education to build buy-in and accountability across the organization. Organizations who have followed this path have successfully transformed their cultures from reactive to proactive, and in achieving reliability have also dramatically improved their bottom-line business performance.

 Robert Golightly is senior manager, product marketing for asset performance management, at AspenTech.

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