COVID-19 has reshaped our world and our markets in a matter of weeks. The impacts to market demand are unprecedented and an economic recovery is more likely to take years than months. Business leaders are working to chart a path into the unknown, where the only certainty is painful cost controls. This will be especially challenging for maintenance managers in the asset-intensive industries. If anything, it is more expensive to maintain equipment that is cycling through shutdown and start-up, or running at reduced rates. There are five key actions maintenance managers should be taking at this time to maximize their departments’ efficiency.
By Peter Munson
1. Reset prioritization and gatekeeping to safely control costs
Prioritization and gatekeeping are all about managing tradeoffs to get the right work done at the right time for the plant. When done properly, prioritization and gatekeeping are the first steps in controlling maintenance costs. Unnecessary repairs are rejected. Valid work is prioritized to enable orderly planning, scheduling, and execution. Even during the best of times, these processes could be reviewed and optimized. In this new environment, every plant would be well served to review their processes, update their definitions, and reconfirm their commitment to them. Ensure you have a prioritization matrix with clear, quantified definitions of the criteria for emergency, urgent, and routine work.
For the duration of this crisis, specifically define risk-informed criteria for work that, while valid, should be deferred until the economic situation improves. This requires careful risk analysis in order to avoid throwing the baby out with the bathwater by deferring work on faults that will degrade into failure – and a costly breakdown repair. Immediate safety, environmental, and production risks are assessed as part of your everyday processes, but financial and longer-term reliability risks are not often quantified. In this, it is important to remember that reliability lags maintenance activities by one to two years. Your short-term cost saving efforts, if not properly considered, could hit equipment availability just as you are ramping back to maximum output.
Renew stakeholders’ commitment to a disciplined prioritization and gatekeeping process that controls risk. This means expediting repairs when warranted, such as in safety, environmental, or production critical equipment, but deferring other work until it can be planned completely and scheduled for the most effective execution.
2. Review and reprioritize your backlog
Based on the criteria you have set for a risk-informed deferral of non-essential maintenance, review and reprioritize your backlog. This will prevent unnecessary work from appearing on the schedule a few weeks down the road. While you are at it, clear your backlog of irrelevant work orders. Involve Operations and Maintenance representatives and empower them to find and consider the following for deletion:
- Work orders over 1-2 years old that are no longer relevant
- Work that has been completed but not closed
- Work that is no longer relevant (e.g., equipment has been removed or upgraded, issue was corrected as part of other work)
These efforts will remove non-value added work – and the associated costs – from the overall planning, scheduling, and execution queue.
3. Avoid costly delays by reviewing the weekly and daily schedule
Due to avoidable delays, our experience working in the industry for over 25 years shows that the average maintenance organization achieves between 30 and 40% productivity. This means that a technician spends only three to four hours “on tools” out of a 10-hour shift. This is money going right down the drain. The most frequent causes of these delays are easily avoidable if stakeholders take a detailed approach to reviewing the weekly and daily schedules before execution. Our time-on-tools study data from hundreds of clients highlight the common pitfalls to avoid:
- Job status is correct
- Job plan and job package are complete and suitable
- Support equipment is identified and available
- Operations has committed to making the equipment available
- Crews have a full day’s work
Put a special focus on more complex jobs with more dependencies; for example, a job that requires a lengthy operations prep, scaffold erection, and crane support. Not only are there more opportunities for error, but also many more resources idled when the error leads to a delay. During this review, any jobs that are not ready will be removed from the schedule. This process should also look at delays from the previous day’s schedule as a feedback loop on what still needs improvement. The review process is not a stand-alone solution, but it can avoid the most egregious delays. It can also identify the underlying problems, enabling targeted improvements that will significantly improve productivity.
4. Act on preventive maintenance opportunities
Most preventative maintenance (PM) programs have some “low-hanging fruit” that can be easily trimmed to realize some savings. In an environment with reduced run rates and idled equipment, the first order of business should be evaluating calendar-based PMs. Instead, use performance-based intervals triggered by equipment use hours, cycles, or some similar measure. Computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS) have the functionality to manage this properly.
Better yet, use condition monitoring methods to direct when equipment needs maintenance. Often, plants are paying for a condition monitoring service, such as oil testing, but doing calendar-based PMs, as well. Do not pay twice! More generally, look for tasks that do not add value, especially in the light of our current economic condition. Some examples:
- Housekeeping or other blanket PMs that take up a lot of time without specifically targeting a failure mode or valid, recurring requirement
- Overly frequent inspections. Follow the “rule of six”: if nothing has been found in the last six PMs, reduce the frequency
- “Emotional PMs” that were added as a knee-jerk response to some oversight in the past
You can also evaluate the hours assigned to PMs, looking for outliers that can be reduced. One way to make PMs more time-efficient is to combine similar tasks, such as analyzer calibrations or rotating equipment lubrication, into routes.
Conducting such a Preventive Maintenance Opportunity Analysis can yield significant savings. One recent T.A. Cook review conducted for a client identified a 60% reduction in required man-hours. When combined with increasing wrench time, better gatekeeping, and backlog review, these efforts can reduce or eliminate the need for outside labor, resulting in hard savings in the near term.
5. Stop the bleeding from bad actors
Finally, it is important to see chronically problematic assets as the financial liability that they are. Your CMMS experts should be able to easily export lists of the top five or ten pieces of equipment causing the most lost production opportunity, the highest maintenance repair costs, and the most unplanned maintenance. Convene cross-functional teams to review these problematic assets. The team should select a few assets from each list that can most easily be impacted in the short term to “stop the bleeding.” While major reliability investments may be off the table, the environment is ripe for agreeing to simpler solutions such as operating envelopes or other achievable methods to improve asset performance.
Looking farther ahead
These five first steps are a jump start on cutting costs now. They will also provide early indications of where your greatest opportunities lie. These insights can direct more deliberate actions going into mid-year and 2021 budgeting processes, which will likely require a different approach than most maintenance organizations have taken in the past.
T.A. Cook has broad experience in implementing these sorts of improvement projects – as well as more extensive ones – and realizing hard savings in the short term. What is more, the analysis and facilitation of these efforts can be done remotely, giving your team additional capacity to make changes quickly. The sooner you can begin to achieve results, the better you will be able to navigate this crisis and the undoubtedly painful budget cuts to come.