MRO Magazine

Optimizing Maintenance Work

To accommodate increased production volume during COVID-19 pandemic.


Photo credit: gorodenkoff / Getty Images

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has severely limited production in many sectors, some industries have had to significantly ramp up their production volume. These industries include those that produce safety equipment, medical gear, food, and protective wear, among others.

However, despite the fact that the pandemic is compelling manufacturers to work under unfamiliar conditions and undue stress, these current conditions are not an excuse to jettison long-established procedures and regulatory controls. On the contrary, manufacturers need to be more vigilant than ever, especially in the areas of workers’ safety and equipment maintenance.

Here’s a look at how this particular set of manufacturers can plan, schedule, and optimize maintenance work, and workers, to deliver increased production in a time of dire safety concerns.

Staff training on COVID-19 awareness
Keeping busy plants safe during this period starts by exposing all staff to the facts about COVID-19.

What staff needs to know
COVID-19 belongs to a family of viruses that are generally believed to be transmitted through droplets when a carrier coughs or sneezes. Uninfected persons can also contract it by touching contaminated surfaces.

To prevent its spread, staff should be taught to avoid placing their bare hands on high-contact surfaces, and avoid physical contact with one another (touching, handshakes, and hugs) till further notice. Taking these precautionary steps is important to prevent problems like those at Smithfield Foods in South Dakota, where over 700 workers tested positive for COVID-19, which inevitably led to the plant being closed.

Cleaning and disinfection protocols
To help limit the spread of this virus, some states in the U.S., such as Pennsylvania, and agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have published recommendations for specific cleaning routines in larger buildings that measure up to 50,000 square feet.

It’s important to understand these cleaning processes, follow them strictly to avoid cleaning liability issues, and provide all plant workers with adequate PPE.

Photo credit: gorodenkoff / Getty Images

Increased automation
Production may be higher, but one of the key priorities for manufacturers will be how to employ measures to protect their staff from infection while remaining operational for as long as possible. Unfortunately, these measures include strict physical distancing guidelines (six feet or two metres apart) that are impossible to maintain on typical plant floors, where hundreds of workers work shoulder-to-shoulder on hectic schedules.

There are several options for managing this situation. Manufacturers can choose to reduce the concentration of personnel in the facility and run their production with minimalstaff strength. They may also choose to adjust workers’ shifts or try to work out multitasking arrangements.

An example of multitasking would be getting technicians or operators to handle quick administrative tasks like answering the phone instead of having both admin and technical staff on-site. They could also experiment with other flexible work arrangements to find out what works best.

The above arrangements can quickly fail and cause missed production deadlines once there’s a maintenance hiccup. To reduce the chance of that happening, busy manufacturers can still perform adequate maintenance activities during this period by automating their maintenance.

Popular options include:
Remote monitoring: Several aspects of the factory’s maintenance operations can be monitored remotely from a central station, located outside the premises.

Remote monitoring is commonly used to manage CCTV and access control systems, and is especially useful during this period when there is less staff on-site.

Another way to monitor locations remotely is to use drones for routine inspections and safety checks. Ford Motor Company is doing this at its Dagenham Engine Plant in London, U.K.

Mobile CMMS: With mobile CMMS, the maintenance unit can communicate quickly, share information, and receive support from other more experienced team members who may not be on duty at the plant when their expertise is required. If, for example, a team member needs to perform a maintenance procedure on a machine, they can request support and be guided through videos, text, or images, all from a mobile device without compromising their safety or the quality of the repair or servicing done.

CMMS-managed workflow: It’s expected that before this time, the plant already had a planned preventive maintenance program in place. In that case, it can use the CMMS to plot workflow and assign work orders across different shifts smoothly. The maintenance schedule is already set so everybody knows what to do and when. The maintenance manager can simply track and monitor their progress with each task remotely without being on the premises.

Photo credit: gorodenkoff / Getty Images

Upgrade maintenance strategy
Critical production assets have to be protected from failure and shutdowns. For manufacturers that already have proactive maintenance strategies like predictive maintenance and condition-based maintenance in place before this pandemic, they have a major advantage, as this helps with early failure detection. Manufacturers that don’t yet have these technologies can use general condition monitoring equipment like handheld sensors to improve potential failure detection.

Regardless of the maintenance strategy a plant is using, the vital element for optimizing maintenance work will be focusing strictly on the maintenance schedules for its production equipment, especially in the case of machines that need to be shut down for preventive work. Maintaining this category of machines can be a delicate task, since planned shutdowns have to be carefully managed to avoid major production disruptions.

It is important to keep in mind the need to adjust your preventive maintenance (PM) work to accommodate the increased production volume. Certain PM tasks are performed after the machine runs for X hours or after it goes through X cycles. While that usually means a certain task needs to be performed twice a month, it’s logical to assume that routine task now needs to be scheduled more often.

Adopt lean strategies for inventory management
Global supply chains are stretched thin now, and manufacturers will need to be creative in managing the raw materials and inventory they have in stock.

While other plants may be placing a hold on shipments of parts due to suspended production, busy factories will actually need to follow up closely with their vendors to confirm the status of expected deliveries, especially for production raw materials and maintenance spare parts inventory.

Knowing how your vendors are being affected will give you time to quickly pivot and make alternative arrangements if need be. If the stock you require is still available, it’s advisable to find ways to order in bulk, if possible. If not, look for local alternatives. Whatever the case, there has never been a better time to employ lean zero-waste strategies during the production process.

In times of stress, like this current pandemic, busy manufacturers need to be flexible and willing to try new things. Thinking outside of the box will place them in a better position to adapt to unfolding events with a two-pronged focus: optimizing maintenance while keeping their people safe. MRO
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Bryan Christiansen is the Founder and CEO at Limble CMMS, a mobile CMMS software. He can be reached at bryan@limblecmms.com.