Planned maintenance in a turbulent world

December 4, 2023
Happy, productive staff—from factory floor to head office—are possible with a planned maintenance program

Life is full of more than the usual amount of variables and challenges these days: continuing supply chain issues caused by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic; manufacturing onshoring/reshoring is ramping up, but the sector is experiencing major labor shortages, with an estimated 2.1 million jobs needing to be filled by 2030; international geopolitical unrest; another global recession and associated inflation; and weekly reports of tech companies letting go of 10-30% of their workforces.

People are having a hard time right now, everywhere in the world and no matter what kind of work they do. We believe a properly developed, digital-first, data-driven planned maintenance program can make life easier for the millions of people in the Americas working in manufacturing and mining; this kind of program can also make both industries more compelling career options. Such infrastructure will increase efficiency, reduce costs and downtime generally, plus make for more predictable production cycles.

Putting people first is a good business decision  

There are many great reasons to set up a planned maintenance program in your factory, plant, or mine.

A recent Forbes article discusses how “Unplanned downtime in manufacturing is one of the largest causes of lost productivity, causing delays, unhappy customers and lost revenue” of “an estimated $50 billion” U.S. per year.

When built with strategically placed sensors connected to a centralized, real-time data analytics platform, planned maintenance can address these concerns and help companies outpace competitors. Reduced costs, increased profit, efficiency, safety, and a reputation for being innovative, fast, and reliable are just some of the advantages.

But what may be the most important benefit of digital, data-driven planned maintenance is both profound and very simple: It will give everyone in your company less to worry about, and more to enjoy, at work. We’re talking reducing human, individual stress and anxiety, and replacing them with greater focus and commitment.

Planned maintenance can radically increase workers’ engagement because it includes tools to help them be both more effective with their own tasks and more connected to company data—and everyone in the company who uses it. All this will increase your
people’s sense that their work matters.

Performance bonuses, raises, seasonal parties, and the like contribute to overall staff satisfaction; but a planned maintenance program will lessen day-to-day workplace stress by reducing variables and interruptions to daily routines, as well as increase workers' safety and their sense of ownership.

People are what all of this is about, always

We manufacture products for people to build with, work with, play with, save lives with, to eat; we mine materials that make people’s modern lives go: cell phone and computer parts, automobiles, construction resources, batteries; electricity for home, work, and commerce. We all rely on smart manufacturing, which means we also rely on manufacturing workers; their happiness and success contributes directly to their families’, their communities’, and the world’s well-being.

Manufacturing is a diverse business sector with deep economic and social roots in North, Central and South America; manufactured goods are part of all our lives whether we're using them, designing and making them, or selling them. Our products and machines are made to serve us, not vice versa. Keeping real people’s real needs at the forefront is humane; it’s also just good business sense.

How can planned maintenance benefit your people?

We’ll begin answering this question by considering day-to-day work life without digital, data-based planned maintenance infrastructure. In plants, factories, and mines, equipment sometimes needs to be shut down, hopefully briefly, for maintenance, scheduled or not.

For planned (or scheduled) maintenance, management teams are often the ones deciding when to pause machines for service or repair. Having any kind of plan in place for planned maintenance is better than nothing, at least theoretically. However, plans that rely on data manually collected and communicated can cause significant issues:

  • It can miss information and perspectives only floor workers can provide.
  • It may be based on old data, old work practices, or out of date and retired machines.
  • Planned maintenance scheduling may be based on “this is how we’ve always done it” practices.

These can lead to choosing the wrong time to perform maintenance, which negatively affects operational throughput. There are several reasons for this:

  • Relying on human observation to decide when your plant or factory won’t be “too busy” for temporary shutdowns puts a lot of pressure on individuals; it’s impossible for anyone to personally monitor a machine the whole time it’s running, especially a large and complex machine.
  • Using paper forms or tools like Excel to gather machine data may provide better insights than doing nothing; but these will be subject to duplication and the updates they produce will be stale and inaccurate before key stakeholders even see them.
  • A central dispatcher giving teams orders will be less effective and efficient than a system in which workers can interact directly with company data. The time lag between identifying a new maintenance task, dispatching it, and its eventual completion will result in less effective results, both for that repair and for other repairs connected to or resulting from it.
  • People have other work to do, need to do regular human things like eat lunch, and they get tired—eyes and brains start to skip the details after 8-12 hours.
  • Non-digitized planned maintenance activities are too often based on convenience or intuition; one study from The Manufacturer documented 26% of decision-makers “having made decisions based on ‘gut-feel’ during their careers,” 21% doing so each month, 16% every week, and “28% of senior decision makers and 27% of managers relying on ‘gut-feel’ all the time”!
  • Supply chain and hiring challenges are heavily impacting manufacturing and mining machine use and monitoring. Compound these variables in one business setting and you’ll seriously compromise day-to-day production. which can lead to substandard and reduced output.
  • But even in ideal supply chain and employees cenarios, it’s difficult to find the right balance between too much and too little maintenance without complete and current data to guide you.

Finding this balance is the crux of the matter—for employees’ well-being, productivity, and interest in their work, which all directly impact company success, productivity, and sustainability.

Properly managed data is good for people and for business

A better approach to tracking plant, factory, or mine performance against expected machine wear and tear is to identify your lowest expected production point; this is the point at which you keep machinery from breaking down completely but don’t service it before it’s required. The only reliable way to find this “sweet spot” is to adopt a digital, sensor-supported program.

There won’t, after all, be one machine or part to keep track of. Depending on the size and complexity of your operations, there may be hundreds or even thousands of points where you need to determine the balance between keeping things running and performing maintenance. That’s a lot of variables that shouldn’t be left up to human error, intuition, or a few people’s convenience.

The best way to identify this equilibrium is to perform analysis and prediction on both your best and worst downtimes for planned maintenance. This requires collecting data over time and having the right tools to gather, store, analyze, access, and share findings in real time with the right people—floor workers who directly interact with machines and decision-makers managing both profitability and employee well-being.  

Adopting planned machine maintenance capabilities

Let’s say we and/or some unanticipated shutdowns have convinced you your company needs to approach maintenance differently. There are many questions to ask about what will work best for your company and your people’s needs, difficulties, and strengths.  

One good example is deciding what to do if a repair is completed partway through your production cycle. Do you stick to your original planned maintenance schedule which, let’s say, is set to tune up Machine 3 every 90 days but needs attention at day 57, or do you restart the clock from day one?

This is just one kind of question to consider when establishing a planned maintenance program; others may include but certainly are not limited to:

  • How will using lower quality parts (because supply chain issues have the best ones on backorder) inform both your production and maintenance cycles?  
  • What if employees meant to oversee instances of planned maintenance quit or call in sick?
  • How do you schedule planned maintenance for multiple machines, especially those set up to manage different parts of the production process?
  • How will you distinguish daily clean-up or minor tune-ups from planned maintenance activities requiring significant shutdowns or pauses?

The best planned maintenance continually draws on all your data points: parts and equipment on site, on order, and unavailable; who’s been working with machines and parts at each production stage, plus during planned and unplanned maintenance; how growing inefficiencies in Machine 1 impact Machine 7, and how these changes affect your full production cycle; and, etc.

The concept of a living document is like an effective, long-term planned maintenance program: The first version is comprehensive, accurate, and detailed but there’s no such thing as a final version. With information being continuously added and rearranged, a living document tells you what to do now, how to plan for later, and continues to course-correct as time passes. It changes, evolves, and improves so that and at the same time your operations do.

Expert planned maintenance programs put people first

All of this is only possible, of course, with a robust, connected, happy workforce; this is a circular process. Taking care of your people will not only improve the effectiveness of digital, data-driven planned maintenance, but will also give you a large enough “sample set” to measure employee effectiveness as a function of improved operational output. No one measures maintenance teams’ ROI; why not? Improving one point on this circle will necessarily bolster and improve the others.

The best platform can be used as a real-time dispatcher and analysis tool for planned maintenance; it can also help with unplanned maintenance and other business activities optimized by having more, better information. In other words, it can ensure your data is always current, accurate, and useful; your employees will feel comfortable with their responsibilities, as well as respected and supported.

We’re always ready to talk data and planned maintenance

We built Manufacturing Insights and Mining Insights knowing profits, efficiency, safety, and everything else related to business success are made by and for people. Fast and simple to adopt, not to mention easy to use, these platforms can modernize your work and systems—so your best employees are fulfilled, challenged, and excited to remain with you long-term.


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