Profiting From Proactive Maintenance

July 12, 2007
In addition to safeguarding production schedules, proactive maintenance adds new efficiencies and revenue potential, too.

As maintenance evolves from "breakdown" fixes to proactive strategies, C-level managers are beginning to rethink maintenance in an enterprise -- even entrepreneurial -- manner. In addition to internally converting to proactive maintenance strategies, manufacturers are leveraging their intellectual property assets to deliver maintenance services to customers.

Both trends are reshaping and enlarging the significance of maintenance to manufacturers, says Ed Miller, president of industry analyst firm CIMdata. Both trends also have dramatic potential. Consider, for example, that at a plant level, maintenance is already considered among the largest controllable costs for many companies, says Miller.

He says the switch to proactive programs will deliver more cost benefits than past journeys from "breakdown" to preventive/predictive strategies. One estimate: Proactive maintenance strategies can yield more than a ten-fold savings over predictive/preventive programs.

What is proactive maintenance? While preventive and predictive maintenance seek to catch and prevent symptoms before they result in breakdowns, proactive programs seek to lessen or eliminate the root causes, explains Bill Horwarth, president of MAG Maintenance Technologies, a maintenance service sister-company to MAG Industrial Automation Systems, a machine tool manufacturer.

To learn how one company applies proactive maintenance thinking at the design stage, see The Next Proactive Step: Gerber Scientific gets results from adding formal maintenance analysis process at the product concept stage.
Horwarth notes the similarity to TPM (Total Productive Maintenance). "With proactive maintenance as with TPM, a machine operator is engaged to do things that avoid the potential of a breakdown," he explains, such as getting the machine tool operator to routinely clear work surfaces of chips.

"In a preventive maintenance program, a maintenance specialist would be assigned on a regular basis," Horwarth notes. "With a proactive strategies (as with TPM), non-maintenance people share responsibility for controlling equipment situations that could lead to operating problems."

Proactive benefits also depend on maintaining a historical perspective of equipment operation, he adds. "The idea is to monitor and correlate machine condition with performance."

Software tools can help facilitate those comparisons. One example is Freedom E-Log from MAG Industrial Automation Systems. "It provides objective data that reveals production patterns and trends, and forms the basis for corrective action" explains product manager James Dallam. The goals include increasing productivity and throughput while lowering manufacturing costs.

Bill Horwarth, president, MAG Maintenance Technologies

The software's Web-based reports are typically used by machinery operators, supervisors and engineers to optimize equipment, programs and schedules. Dallam says all of the reports can be customized to meet specific plant requirements. Also included are automatic reporting and instant e-mailing or cell phone notification of critical events.

At the plants of General Motors Corp., the scope of proactive tools includes laser alignment, vibration analysis, infrared thermography, tribology and ultrasound, says Janet Burke, facilities manager and maintenance process owner for GM's Worldwide Facilities Group. "The strategy is to identify the root causes of failures before they occur."

For example GM combines tribology (oil analysis) with vibration analysis to identify lubricant breakdown points. Both tools used in combination help maintenance to adjust either the frequency of inspection or the type of lubricant used. The trend information gathered from the use of these tools also provides GM with a picture of the equipment design effectiveness, adds Burke.

Horwarth says most proactive maintenance programs begin with a focus on monitoring such things as lubricants, hydraulic fluids and coolants. For example MAG Automation's line of machine tools are available with Oil Sentinel, which continuously monitors temperature, oxidation, water contamination and level. Instead of following an arbitrary oil change schedule, those measurements tell the user when replacement is necessary.

Horwarth says computerized maintenance monitoring systems are changing how machine tool users approach maintenance and productivity. His proactive prediction: "Get ready for a rapidly increasing presence of embedded sensor technology to monitor virtually all aspects of machine tool performance. The smart machine controls of the future will routinely capture that sensor data and present historical performance data on the CNC screen."

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