The manufacturing sector is under immense pressure owing to stiff competition and surging demand. To keep operational costs within manageable levels, companies focus on the optimal utilization of production assets. Every opportunity to increase the overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) translates to remarkable cost savings.
Improving asset utilization is a continuous process that begins at the design stage, but bleeds into operations and maintenance. Driving improvements in asset utilization helps any manufacturing facility to eliminate quality issues, enhance the quantity of output and extend the lives of critical production assets. So let's discuss some strategies manufacturers should embrace to increase asset utilization across the production floor?
Establish and Track KPIs
The production floor is a bee-hive of interdependent activities, each contributing to the quality of the final products. As such, manufacturers must monitor the performance of each component, reliability of processes and the cost of operation. While some of these metrics are difficult to track, companies should at least identify the frequency and duration of breakdowns to know when and where to focus improvement efforts.
Key performance indicators (KPIs) will vary from one facility to the other depending on the size of the asset base. Regardless, each company uses availability, asset performance rates, product quality and demand factors to estimate the utilization rates. The availability of production assets should be optimal when demand is high.
To enjoy predictable operations, companies should continuously evaluate plant effectiveness and the reliability of maintenance interventions. Lower equipment availability signals high breakdown rates, sloppy maintenance or longer mean time to repair (MTTR). The first step towards operational excellence is establishing suitable KPIs and policies for evaluation, and upgrades to reflect technological and facility expansion changes. It should also provide guidelines for controlling maintenance costs to improve profitability.
Implementing the Right Maintenance Program
Asset maintenance is an integral part of manufacturing processes. Maintenance ensures that production equipment and procedures are reliable, safe and durable. Unfortunately, not all companies adhere to maintenance schedules. Some adopt robust maintenance strategies but do not provide sufficient tools and spares for the job. Companies end up deferring maintenance and exposing production assets to recurrent failures and damage. As a result, the equipment cannot reach the desired performance levels, running at low speed or churning out more defective products.
Organizations can achieve better asset utilization levels by shifting towards proactive maintenance. Instead of waiting for production equipment to fail, they explore avenues for prior identification and elimination of defects.
One of the strategies gaining traction is the installation of condition monitoring sensors for predictive maintenance. They can improve scheduling and tracking of maintenance work using computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS) that keep logs of all maintenance activities. They help maintenance teams to perform timely and accurate maintenance. With less asset downtime, companies can optimize production schedules, optimizing equipment utilization without worrying about reliability.
Optimize Plant Layouts
Production plant layouts significantly impact the way assets operate. They affect the mobility of assets and operators, operational safety and energy consumption. The type of production equipment dictates the layout that a company will use for its production processes. Technicians and operators need adequate spacing between machinery for safely loading and unloading, as well as inspections and repairs.
Additionally, as part of plant floor layouts, companies have to pay attention to ergonomic designs of machinery to limit workplace injuries.
Proper plant floor organization significantly boosts asset utilization. Clustering of similar processes reduces interferences that could otherwise lower asset performance. Keeping walkways and pathways clear ensures quick movement of commodities between points, reducing equipment idle time. Demarcation and marking of all zones on the production floor boost the safety of the plant floor. It also reduces instances of human errors that may cause stoppages to production, and optimal plant layouts are critical for managing energy consumption costs by eliminating redundant activities.
Use Data to Drive Continuous Improvement
Production in modern facilities places a focus on limiting wastes, keeping processes lean, and controlling maintenance, repair and operations (MRO) costs. Companies need plenty of data to improve plant floor processes at every stage.
With advances in technology, it is becoming easier for companies to collect, analyze, summarize, store and distribute production and equipment maintenance data. Companies have access to high-tech sensors and data processing platforms for real-time communications.
For companies to effectively monitor asset utilization, they rely on operator logs and maintenance work orders. Operator logs, for instance, contain information on daily production, the number of defective parts, type and duration of downtime and functional failures occurring during production. On the other hand, digital work orders will keep a database of recurrent failures, mean time between failures (MTBF), frequently used consumables, and an array of data needed to perform failure mode and cause analysis.
With all this data, organizations can more easily identify process bottlenecks and explore ways to mitigate risks, reduce production losses and establish a continuous improvement culture.
Reaping the fruits of the fourth industrial revolution demands maximum utilization of production assets. Steady operational improvements and the embracement of digital technologies will help companies automate and speed up data collection and analysis.
Bryan Christiansen is the founder and CEO of Limble CMMS. Limble is a modern mobile CMMS that takes the stress and chaos out of maintenance by helping managers organize, automate, and streamline their maintenance operations.