MRO Magazine

Ramping Up From Your COVID-19 Slow-down


July 7, 2021
By James Reyes-Picknell, P.Eng.

Is your reliability program up to the coming challenges? I don’t mean solving problems that have already happened with root cause methods. That’s too late. And it won’t make sure you achieve operational excellence as we emerge from the pandemic.

COVID-19’s uncertainty led to belt-tightening measures. Capital replacements were deferred. Contractors were dismissed and their work either deferred, stopped indefinitely or brought in-house. A lot of PM work got deferred. Shift arrangements were shuffled to allow for distancing and minimize contacts. Training stopped. For more than a year now, it’s as if everything went on hold for many of us. Quietly, we’ve lost some experience too, as many of those last few baby-boomers hit retirement age.

Supply chains were strained and deliveries slowed. Where plant production levels dropped, the stresses on your machinery, equipment and systems were also reduced. You might have noticed that things ran well compared with the hectic pace you had before COVID hit. Did you ever think that maybe you had been doing too much of the wrong maintenance before COVID? If things are running better despite the deferred maintenance and capital replacements, then maybe so. Or maybe not.

What will happen as you ramp back up? If you had reliability problems before COVID and you haven’t changed your reliability program (maintenance), then why wouldn’t those problems return?

We’ve all heard forecasts – we are heading into another “roaring ‘20s”. Demand for products is going to soar. Production will need to ramp up quickly to meet demand, and your plant will need to stay reliable. There’s money to be made – if your plant can sustain production at high levels.

Belt-tightening got you through COVID-19, but it won’t help with the recovery. While it was relatively quiet, did you do anything to ensure that production can ramp up to normal, or higher, levels? If not, then you might be in for a rough time in the “new normal”.

Operational excellence was cited as a top priority by CEOs in the very recent PwC Survey of CEOs. They know it will be needed to survive the recovery. If that’s your boss’ priority, then what are you doing to make sure you achieve it? You know that you cannot achieve operational excellence if your plant is breaking down frequently. It’s time to re-engineer your maintenance programs for higher performance.

That old maintenance program that didn’t work so well before needs to become a reliability program. It’s not too late to learn about reliability, understand how and why things fail and what you can do about them.

Reliability centered maintenance (RCM) is excellent for that. Even if you can’t pull together teams and do full RCM analyses, you can apply what you learn in the training. Don’t wait much longer or you might be setting yourself up to fail as the global economy recovers.