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Introducing Precision Maintenance to the Shop Floor

July 21, 2020
This PM concept — starting from vibration monitoring — is simple, but it can be effective against complex issues like product-quality consistency and the manufacturing skills gap.

Manufacturing managers today face many problems. Some of these seem to be ever-present – increasing production efficiency, and scheduling to customer demand come to mind. However, other problems have become more even prevalent in modern manufacturing, problems that concern changing workforce demographics and the increasingly complex philosophies that direct manufacturing activity.

One method for overcoming these newer challenges is to implement Precision Maintenance principles at your operation. 

Today’s shop floor — Currently, the manufacturing environment is burdened with some cold truths about the modern work force. Mainly, it is much more difficult to develop and retain good workers than it was 20 or 30 years ago, when most operations could draw from a wide pool of competent, experienced workers on the floor. In such a workplace, many problems were handled through shop floor knowledge that was developed over years of on-the-job practice.

Of course, this is no longer the case for most manufacturers. Today, the shop floor not only deals with the standard production problems but also must contend with worker shortages and high rates of transfers and/or turnover. This manpower churn leads to many other problems: a lack of consistent skill among personnel on the job, poor understanding of and adherence to procedures, and errors in work practices. It also underscores the importance of training and developing new employees.

Many plants will implement preventive maintenance programs — which certainly is helpful — but preventive maintenance is not enough.

Enter Precision Maintenance to help address these issues.

Precision Maintenance — The roots of Precision Maintenance were developed by Wernher von Braun, the German-born American aerospace engineer who led NASA's rocket research and development program in the 1950s and 60s. Von Braun and his team found that reducing vibration on a bearing by only 20% would double its life. They realized that this concept could be applied not only to all bearings, but to all equipment in service.

The term “Precision Maintenance” was coined later by Ralph Buscarello, another pioneer of vibration study. Buscarello spent decades spreading his vision of maintenance practices, and he espoused some core principles for PM:
  Maintenance employees are knowledgeable and capable.
  They perform their work according to thoroughly understood industry standards.
  The work instructions are clear, detailed, and easily accessed.
  Records of all maintenance activities are meticulously kept up to date.
  A culture of constant improvement is established.
  Managers take ownership of Precision Maintenance and act as enablers of the PM philosophy.

These are simple concepts, yet they can be hard to implement or maintain. So, how can you start to implement Precision Maintenance at your operation?

Implementing Precision Maintenance — Precision Maintenance is not always easy to establish. It takes consistent effort throughout multiple levels of the organization to set up an efficient maintenance department.

The first step is to gain sponsorship from the organization's senior leadership. Though they do not need to be involved in the execution of PM, the leaders' support will go a long way to securing success for the program. Managers can enable success by resourcing and clearing barriers.

Once the leadership buys into the vision, take stock of your current situation. Where is the level of expertise? What are the development needs? Which procedures are in good shape? A comprehensive assessment of the existing maintenance program will help you find the holes in your operation.

The next step is to train the maintenance team in order to convey the concepts of Precision Maintenance, as well as to address any gaps found in the previous assessment. Because knowledgeable employees are a key component to Precision Maintenance, this step is crucial.

Next is the somewhat arduous task of improving procedures. Precision Maintenance requires clear, detailed procedures that are followed similarly by all personnel. This is time-consuming but necessary, as a standard should be established for all to follow.

After the Precision Maintenance program has been implements, you can start to measure its effectiveness. Consider maintenance metrics that would show some detail on performance – like mean time to repair, hours on repeat jobs, etc. Do not simply track spending; Adjust the program as necessary so that you can show actual improvement.

Improvement does not end there, however. An important element of the Precision Maintenance philosophy is the desire for continuous improvement. Keep finding the problems, learning where more precision is needed, and take the steps to address them.

Case studies — As Buscarello stated, the benefits of Precision Maintenance are enormous. Once maintenance is focused in proper directions, the operation can see massive gains. In one case, a manufacturer was experiencing multiple repeat failures with its pumps. Inspectors focused on the problem using Precision Maintenance principles and techniques. Time and money were put into their maintenance department – through training and documentation. The maintenance staff soon understood that they were not following OEM specifications and their pumps were out of tolerance. By adhering to the proper tolerances, they dramatically reduced the failures, and thereby increased the uptime of the pumps.

In another case, a mill wanted to focus on its motors.  The maintenance team knew that the average life of a motor onsite was roughly 20 years — not bad, but with hundreds of motor failures per year they were looking for improvement.

After a Precision Maintenance focus on vibration levels, they reduced the threshold for acceptable vibration, resulting in an increase in average service life from 20 years to more than 46 years.

If that is not impressive enough, consider this case. A company wanted to increase its team's intelligence for pump performance. They implemented a Precision Maintenance program with detailed procedures outlining shaft and belt alignment, vibration, oil analysis, and more. Through education they became aware of laser-alignment technology. This technology was deployed and technicians were trained on the new tools. With laser-shaft alignment and the Precision Maintenance program, the plant realized a 40% overall decrease in maintenance spending.

Properly executed, Precision Maintenance can be a huge benefit to a manufacturing operation. Precision Maintenance techniques can increase the life of production equipment, boosting uptime and saving maintenance costs along the way. It takes some effort to implement a PM program, but the results are well worth the effort.

Bryan Christiansen is the founder and CEO at Limble CMMS — an easy-to-use mobile CMMS software that takes the stress and chaos out of maintenance by helping managers organize, automate, and streamline their maintenance operations.

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