• Fixing even if it’s not broke

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    RONALD S. GOSECO

    I was previously assigned to maintain the corporate facilities of our telecom company. My team had a KPI (key performance indicator) of keeping our mission critical facilities operating above 99 percent. This required significant effort and resources to achieve. The cost benefit ratios were constantly reviewed and every year we had to invest significant amounts to keep up with the requirements, especially in addressing N-1 contingencies.
    As we start the new year, I would like to share the challenges facing modern maintenance. I am certain that your budgets for “fixing what is not broke” have risen from last year and, like all finance managers, have asked the question, “is this really all necessary?”

    The design life of equipment requires periodic maintenance. Our objective is to ensure that our physical assets continue to do what our users want them to do. We want our equipment to be at their best operating condition, at the most economical cost and at the same time, extending the life of the equipment, ideally beyond its design life.

    The types of maintenance programs have evolved over the years and there has been an explosive growth in these maintenance concepts and techniques. More are emerging constantly. The initial concept was to simply fix what was broken. This was termed as breakdown or reactive maintenance. The advantages of this program were the low investment required and low initial staff costs. The disadvantages ranged from inefficient use of staff, including unscheduled overtime, the shortening of the life of the equipment leading to more frequent breakdowns and primary equipment damage that could affect a host of other related equipment or processes.

    The second concept is preventive maintenance, which most of us apply to our cars. This concept appeared after the Second World War, with the onset of mechanization and labor limitations. These are actions performed on a time or machine run-based schedule that detect, preclude or mitigate degradation of a component or a system. It has the same aim of maintaining or extending the life of the equipment by degrading it to an acceptable level. The pros of this method range from extending the life and reliability of the equipment to energy savings. I am sure you must have noticed the difference in the gas consumption of a newly tuned up car. The disadvantages include the fact that catastrophic failure still cannot be prevented. It is also possible that unneeded maintenance is actually performed on the equipment. What’s worse is the potential for incidental damage to components when unneeded maintenance is conducted.

    Measurements that detect the onset of degradations to mechanisms have led to a third concept, which is predictive maintenance. This method allows causal stressors to be eliminated or controlled prior to any significant deterioration in a component’s physical state. Predictive maintenance differs from preventive maintenance in the sense that maintenance is based on the actual condition of the equipment rather than on some preset schedule. This was brought about by developments in condition monitoring. These include design for reliability and maintainability, hazard studies, computing, failure modes and effects analyses and expert or intelligent systems. The advantages include better product quality, extended life, lower energy consumption, improved safety and cost savings over preventive maintenance.

    In any of these methods, a plan should be set at the beginning of the year to determine the specific jobs that need to be done, where these are located and the manner by which these should be done. The efficiency and cost balance should also be determined. Trained personnel should be identified. A data base that identifies the personnel, materials and the facilities where the repairs will be made should be established. It is also important to develop detailed procedures and documentation. Lastly, we need to determine the schedules and the time estimates for each of the different procedures.

    The challenge facing modern maintenance is to select the most appropriate technique to deal with each failure process or potential failure. This will allow you to fulfil expectations (and meet KPIs) in the most cost-effective and enduring manner, with the active participation of all people involved.

    Ronald Goseco is currently executive vice president (EVP) of the Financial Executives (FINEX) Institute and chief operating officer (COO) of IDI Volkswagen.

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