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Asset performance management: improving process productivity

21st February 2013


Plant operators face ever greater challenges due to the increasing level of automation, rising diversification in product structures and the growing trend towards integrated industrial assets.

As plant complexity increases so does the need for better organised and streamlined production and maintenance procedures. Modern strategies that augment productivity and asset efficiency while simultaneously raising availability, reliability and safety are a must. Efficient Asset Performance Management can help to meet these demands, ensuring improved business processes and delivering an important contribution to value enhancement in the process.

Asset Performance Management is an holistic method to optimise technological and in particular organisational processes. The aim is to prevent downtimes and losses, leading to measurable and sustainable productivity gains. As well as achieving the most effective utilisation of assets, the main focus is on a balanced cost/benefit ratio.

Overall equipment efficiency.

The first step in identifying improvement potential is to analyse the current situation. What are the most critical assets or components? What technical links exist? Where do bottle necks occur in the production process, where are the weaknesses in technical and organisational procedures? At what stage do problems repeatedly arise and make the remaining processes more difficult and negatively affect asset performance? All of these questions must be first assessed by a specialist in maintenance optimisation. As well as a detailed analysis of all plant processes, specific key indicators can be deployed to evaluate the current situation.

The most important indicator to assess the profitability of a company is overall equipment effectiveness (OEE). This metric provides information on the actual output of a machine relative to its likely output. Whereas production planners base the planning of the production schedule on the maximum possible number of units, in reality, losses occur again and again that cannot be anticipated at the planning stage. For example, in the case of bottling plants, a particular type of bottle may cause delays on the conveyor belt because one bottle gripper disrupts transport due to a slight variation in the opening of the bottles. At the time of planning it would not have been foreseeable that this particular type of container would cause problems. Now, the staff member responsible has to decide whether the gripper should be replaced or whether a different type of container should be used.

As well as the overall performance of a machine, OEE can be deployed to determine the effectiveness of a product line or of a complete plant. In order to assess a plant, the OEE index consists of metrics on losses through plant downtimes, changeover and set-up procedures (availability), metrics on losses through deviances from the planned schedule, smaller downtimes and idle times (level of performance) as well as metrics on time lost due to defect parts and maintenance (quality rate)

Once the causes of losses have been identified from the technical aspect, the next step is to take a closer look at organisational procedures in order to uncover hidden optimisation potential. In all cases it is helpful at this stage to consult an external specialist, for example, a management consultancy. External specialists have an objective, independent viewpoint and can provide invaluable advice on account of their experience in projects with similar challenges.

Specialised consultants analyse productivity and evaluate both technological and organisational processes as well as the current state of collaboration between contractors and partner firms. On this basis they can develop maintenance and production strategies that can be implemented together with plant operators. They support maintenance optimisation by helping staff to achieve their objectives and ensure that OEE is enhanced, plant productivity increases and that manufacturing costs per unit fall. This makes it possible to react more flexibly to customer demands in the future and profit margins can be increased.

One particularly important aspect of every optimisation project is the acceptance of change by company employees. The international management consultancy T A Cook always incorporates both management and employees in the change process early on and in this way achieves greater acceptance for new solutions. Employees are included already in the analysis phase, the process of finding new solutions and are involved in the subsequent audits. "In our many years of consulting experience, we have discovered that employees only help to support changes when they are part of the change process and their ideas are brought into the reshaping of processes," says Frank-Uwe Hess, Senior Manager and partner at T A Cook Consultants.

Together with its clients the consultancy develops a corporate strategy which is anchored in the organisational structures, business processes, management system and finally in staff behaviour. T A Cook consultants knows how plant operators and staff can work together to improve processes and increase their effectiveness. In every project undertaken by T A Cook, the consultancy's aim is to achieve sustainable productivity enhancement and a Return on Investment (ROI) of between 2:1 and 5:1.

As well as optimising plant processes it is important to improve the whole workflow in order to increase productivity. Ideas for improvement frequently arise from day to day procedures but there is seldom enough time to further develop these ideas. T A Cook therefore ensures that employees are given the chance to take part in the development of new processes, procedures and structures by ensuring that after an initial analysis, recommendations for changes are not just discussed.

"We stay on site as long as needed to implement all new solutions together with all of the participants in the project and do not abandon the company during the implementation phase. On the contrary, we measure precisely how the respective changes affect performance and thereby ensure that our work is transparent and understandable," explains Frank-Uwe Hess.

The most frequent causes of losses:

- Downtimes: stoppages caused by machine failures/malfunctions; set-up times when changing between product types, time needed to change tools and reset parameters of machines;

- Speed losses: idle times and small stops because of technical problems; reduced work speeds (identify differences between planned and actual speeds)

- Process errors: initial difficulties between start-up and process stabilisation; loss in quality through faulty plant operations.l

T A Cook is a management consulting firm focusing on Asset Performance Management with offices in Berlin, Birmingham, London, Munich and Raleigh, NC, USA. www.tacook.co.uk







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