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Managing the Main Drivers of Maintenance Overtime

Aug. 26, 2021
Efficient maintenance management demands an organizational shift to preventive/predictive maintenance and an advanced maintenance scheduling platform.

In manufacturing operations, overtime is a double-edged sword. In a pinch, adding extra hours of operation can help your business achieve production goals. But often the risks outweigh the benefits, especially in the long run. In excess, overtime causes adverse health effects on workers.

Overtime also can tax your firm through excess pay, safety, and compliance issues, and the risk of lower productivity and low employee morale. In the grand scheme of things, overtime is too expensive, but in key areas – like maintenance – it is also hard to eliminate.

The main drivers of overtime in maintenance – Overtime often is a necessary evil in industrial maintenance. To an extent, this is inevitable as production has primacy in any plant. The windows of time during which maintenance teams can do their job on the equipment often are hard to find, especially if the plant is a lights-out, 24x7 operation.

But if overtime is the norm rather than an exception, it is a sign of deeper systemic issues within the organization. Here are some of the core reasons for excessive overtime in maintenance in manufacturing firms.

Emphasis on reactive maintenance – Maintenance scheduling is a tough task with no easy or readymade solutions. Finding enough downtime between production shifts is always a challenge, especially when you have a backlog of work orders and repair requests.

Opting for a reactive maintenance strategy is a temptation few firms can resist. It allows plants to focus more on production, leaving it to the maintenance crews to quickly address any problems when they happen.

But this is a myopic approach that can be devastating to the long-term safety and efficiency standards of the facility. And overtime will become common as crews struggle with unplanned repair work orders.

Solution: Reactive maintenance has no place in the modern manufacturing industry; it is far too costly and inefficient. There are better ways to schedule maintenance using modern CMMS software and IoT-based sensors. A switch to “smarter” Preventive/Predictive maintenance strategies can drastically reduce the risk of equipment breakdown and maintenance overtime.

Inefficient scheduling – This is like the mythical many-headed Hydra; When it rears its head, it can affect a firm in many different ways. One common scheduling issue is a lack of coordination between Maintenance and Operations.

These basic manufacturing activities that are critically linked, such that any changes in either production or maintenance strategies will have a significant impact on the effectiveness of the other. When there is no communication or coordination there will be serious repercussions, resulting in frequent modification of schedules and changes in work order prioritization.

Ultimately, little work gets done by the maintenance teams due to constant friction and conflicts with operations staff. As schedules are constantly changed and deadlines moved up, overtime offers an easy (but ultimately costly) way out of the dilemma.

Wrench time is a likely casualty when planning and scheduling managers fail to do a good job. Technicians end up spending less time doing maintenance work with tools as they are forced to waste time waiting for parts, traveling, and other non-essential tasks.

Solution: On the technical side, using a modern CMMS platform will help deliver full, 360-degree visibility over all aspects of plant maintenance, enabling more efficient scheduling. But often, there are structural/organizational issues involved in scheduling conflicts – and those may require deeper assessment.  

Staff shortages – This one is fairly self-explanatory - when you have fewer technicians on your payroll, maintenance tasks take longer, dragging things into overtime territory. In many instances, this is more due to necessity than choice. It could be due to lack of skilled labor, or simple financial reasons.

Apart from frequent overtime shifts, staff shortages can also lead to loss of morale and health issues for workers in the maintenance teams. And it can lead to rushed repairs or improper/unfinished maintenance, creating safety risks and increasing the chance of breakdowns.

Solution: Again, it is fairly straightforward: Recruit more technicians when the budget permits. In the meantime, managers can try to put more focus on making the most of understaffed teams using smart maintenance scheduling on CMMS. You might also consider implementing autonomous maintenance – upskilling machine operators to take over basic maintenance tasks like inspection, cleaning, and lubrication.

Increase in production – This is one of those drivers of overtime that are inevitable, at least a few times each year. It could be due to peak production to keep up with demand in certain quarters, or due to sudden unforeseen spikes.

The manufacturing business is a dynamic arena and frequently firms are forced to increase production/revenue targets on the fly. In those instances, overtime can be considered a legitimate solution, not a problem.

But this only holds when it is a short-term decision. When mandatory overtime turns into the ‘new normal’ it is a sign that urgent corrective measures are needed.

Solution: Steps can be taken to minimize the impact of demand spikes on maintenance schedules. It is possible to plan and complete preventive maintenance before peak seasons. Using a CMMS, maintenance managers can optimize their teams to stay flexible and agile. Such teams are better prepared to handle unanticipated spikes in production.

Frequent breakdowns – Frequent breakdowns can leave maintenance teams swamped, and in constant firefighter mode.

Reactive maintenance, inefficient planning, lax safety, and weak operational standards, improper training of operators, overproduction, rushed repairs – there are plenty of reasons for frequent mechanical failures on the plant floor.

But all of them have the same final effect on maintenance – stretched and overworked teams and the constant need for overtime to get production back online.

Solution – If possible, managers and engineers should perform root-cause analysis to identify the reasons behind common failures. After that, the organization can look to implement proper preventive measures. For example, if machine operator mistakes are the main culprit, there needs to be an investment made into operator training and improvement in the onboarding process.

Know the limits – Overtime is a necessary evil at certain stages of production and maintenance. In strict moderation, it can be mutually beneficial for the firm and its maintenance staff. But keeping it within limits is the tricky part. Efficient maintenance management is essential here.

Often, it requires a shift in organizational culture or mindset, starting from the top. Innovative approaches like preventive/predictive maintenance strategies can make a huge difference. But to make such strategies work, a modern CMMS platform is essential.

Bryan Christiansen is the founder and CEO of Limble CMMS. Limble is a modern, 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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