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10 Tips for Preventive Maintenance

Here are 10 tips to keep your plant equipment in good working order and your operation running smoothly.

Performing routine maintenance on the manufacturing equipment that companies rely on to produce goods and meet their customers’ tight deadlines may not sound exciting – but it may well make the difference between meeting and missing a delivery date. Regularly scheduled preventive maintenance can uncover potential safety problem; enhance product quality by keeping blades sharp, angles squared, and material uncontaminated; save money by prolonging equipment life and allowing for discounted service; and optimize productivity by keeping machines fully functional and addressing equipment needs before they result in unanticipated downtime.

1. Schedule maintenance according to equipment usage.

Although some machines prompt the operator to perform certain maintenance tasks, waiting until this happens can interfere with production. If tasks are scheduled in advance, they’re less likely to be postponed and then forgotten in the interest of meeting a production deadline. The more you use a machine, the more abuse it takes, so plan machine maintenance frequencies accordingly. If you run a small edgebander eight hours a day, a maintenance schedule of once every six months is probably adequate for that machine. But if you’re running three shifts on the same machine, you might need to perform maintenance tasks on it once every three months or even more frequently if you don’t have a qualified maintenance crew.

2. Make employees accountable for maintenance.

Once you’ve identified what preventive maintenance activities need to be performed and when they should be done, assign follow-through responsibility to a maintenance coordinator, machine operator, or other appropriate personnel. Have these designated employees sign off on maintenance activities on a sheet attached to each machine, through a software program, or through daily, weekly, and monthly cards submitted to supervisors. Whatever method you decide on for tracking, consistently follow the preventive maintenance schedule that you’ve devised.

3. Ensure that the preventive maintenance tasks being performed are beneficial to the equipment.

Greasing the rack and pinion of a beam saw, for instance, can cause grease and saw dust to solidify inside the gears over time, eventually preventing them from moving. If you’re unsure which tasks are beneficial to each piece of equipment, ask your equipment representative.

4. Plan ahead to accommodate seasonality.

Production need not suffer in order to perform preventive maintenance. Schedule tasks that require downtime during slower seasons. Typically, good machine maintenance requires four to eight hours, but this investment can prevent 36 to 48 hours of unexpected “corrective” maintenance when something breaks.

5. Ask your equipment provider for a maintenance arrangement.

Some machinery manufacturers offer preventive maintenance service visits for a flat yearly rate or for discounted parts and labor costs. If you provider doesn’t offer service agreements, propose a plan. Not only do service contracts help ensure that maintenance is performed on your equipment, but they also help you budget for it. Because maintenance programs are especially important for frequently used equipment, consider manufacturer service programs for these machines at least.

6. Buy spare parts before they’re needed.

Ask your equipment provider for a recommended spare parts list. You need not buy everything on the list, but when service technicians are in your plant, ask what they recommend that you keep in your plan. The most needed parts usually can be purchased inexpensively, minimizing downtime when they’re needed.

7. Let employees learn from equipment service personnel.

When a technician is working on a machine, have appropriate personnel watch and ask questions. After a few visits with a service tech, your operator may be able to troubleshoot, fix simply problems, and know when to call for expert help. The technician can tell you which preventive maintenance procedures your operator may be competent to perform.

8. Document service visits.

When you schedule a maintenance visit with an equipment manufacturer, make sure that the service tech will record the inspection. It’s important to document not only the date of service, but also what parts of the machine have been checked and what service was performed. Have the rep provide a copy of the inspection record. This checklist will function as a record to the manufacturer and will help you identify items your employees should be inspecting on their own.

9. Keep service manuals handy.

Manuals are often misplaced, but it’s critical for machine operators to have access to them. The manuals contain valuable information such as electrical prints, parts identification, operational instructions, safety guidelines, and housekeeping recommendations. Most manuals have a maintenance section detailing what should be done an dhow often. This type of information is especially important to operators who were not around for the machinery manufacturer’s original training session.

10. Ensure that management is committed to preventive maintenance.

Failing to schedule preventive maintenance, overriding scheduled maintenance in order to meet production needs, and asking employees to keep maintenance costs down can send the wrong message, and ultimately cost an organization more in terms of machine downtime and repair expenses. If production needs don’t allow for scheduled maintenance tasks to be executed, consider having the equipment maintained during off hours. When considering budgetary needs, realize that failure to perform preventive maintenance may result in much higher costs if equipment breaks down, particularly during a busy production time.