Maintaining uptime

Jon Lawson

James Davey explains why preventative maintenance is so vital for these industries

As John F Kennedy said in his state of the union address in January 1962, “The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining”.

High volume, low margin manufacturing is a challenging business model, typically applying to fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) or food and beverage manufacturers, particularly the makers of private label or generic products.

These sectors make their businesses work by maximising production volumes and minimising overheads.

If volumes are below forecast or overheads are above, the manufacturer risks slipping margins or even running at a loss.

Worse still, some retailers may impose fines on suppliers who fail to deliver on time.

The tightrope

For manufacturers, there are tough decisions to make about how much effort is required to maintain a plant at a level where breakdowns will be rare enough to ensure volume targets are met.

In the low margin high volume world, money spent on preventative maintenance may be seen, by some, as wasted as there is no immediate benefit from the outlay and even long-term benefits are difficult to attribute to some earlier spend, since the benefit is typically no breakdowns, or something not happening.

On the other hand, plant operators might opt for reactive maintenance, which means waiting for something to fail, then trying to fix it as quickly as possible.

The downside here is that the maintenance team might be faced with a difficult and time-consuming task and extreme pressure to get production going again.

With thousands of possible failure scenarios, there is a risk that the information, spare parts, tools or knowledge may not be on hand to enable the problem to be fixed in a timely fashion.

In most cases manufacturers operate a combination of preventative and reactive maintenance, although since reactive maintenance is the priority, preventative maintenance may not happen when a plant becomes less reliable, meaning the situation becomes even worse.

A safety net

The third way to tackle maintenance issues is to seek a flexible and tailored solution that meets specific requirements.

In many cases this starts with a risk based approach to installed equipment, surveying what is installed and reconnecting actions to mitigate any risk detected.

This might include the testing of spares and purchase of more and archiving information through software dumps in a secure, accessible location, identifying high risk systems.

In many cases there may be systems providing vital services, to a whole plant, perhaps locked away in a separate building and largely ignored.

These systems, if they fail, would take the whole factory down in a matter of minutes and worse still, they might be more difficult to get working again than more familiar equipment next to production lines.

The whole story

The Boulting service team offer a 24/7 support service using dedicated engineers and UK wide coverage. This is the safety net that clients quite rightly want.

Boulting’s holistic approach means that we work with clients and their maintenance teams to ensure that calls are a rarity and if they do happen, the augmented maintenance team, which includes both Boulting and the client, can be up and running as soon as possible.

By taking this approach described clients may at last have time to think about fixing that roof.

James Davey is service manager at Boulting Technology.

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