Jonathan Wilkins argues the pros and cons of outsourcing plant maintenance compared with keeping it in-house
Automated systems are becoming commonplace in industrial plants as companies compete on speed of production and cost.
The need for fast turnaround and wider product offerings means that carrying out tasks manually is becoming a disadvantage to companies.
Automation brings the ability to control, process, track and manage production in real time, while reducing labour costs and increasing efficiency and accuracy.
Once a company has invested in automated systems, it needs to protect its technology and equipment from breakdown and early wear.
Because of this, many plant managers are facing a tough decision — should they outsource their maintenance activity or hire an in-house team?
Downtime is an important factor in plant maintenance
Determining the impact of downtime should be one of the highest priorities when considering when to manage maintenance in-house or not.
Downtime directly impacts productivity and customer profits, so having in-house staff available to deal with problems as soon as they occur has a significant advantage on response time.
Despite this, having a maintenance partner with the correct skill set could significantly lower the time taken to repair.
When making the decision between hiring an in-house maintenance team or outsourcing to a contractor, consider whether your team will be specialist enough to deal with every problem, quickly.
Plant management and your workforce
As well as gaining access to specialist skills, companies that choose to outsource maintenance often do so to reduce costs. In-house staff wages and benefits, including pensions and medical bills, are often much more expensive than having a contracted company carry out the work when needed.
Outsourcing also means that personal matters and disciplinary actions become the responsibility of the contractor. Payroll, human resources and benefits all take time, therefore handing this responsibility over gives company management more time to deal with customers.
Plant maintenance and control when outsourcing
Outsourcing maintenance may be cost-effective, but there are still restrictions to working with contractors. Many plant managers struggle with the lack of control that outsourcing brings as they are unable to directly manage, set task priorities and instruct the workforce.
An in-house maintenance team usually has more years of service at a facility than a contractor, and therefore has a higher understanding of the business and its expectations. The knowledge that outsourced members of staff possess of the site's maintenance is more easily lost if they leave the company.
Automated systems and managing risk
Bringing in outside contractors for maintenance can potentially create intellectual property and cyber security risks. When appointing a new contractor, plant managers should establish that the correct checks have been completed on any employees entering their facility. They should also ensure that the appropriate procedures are followed when they enter the facility, such as signing non-disclosure agreements.
It may be prudent to restrict contractors from access to proprietary parts of the manufacturing operations. If a breach occurs, it can be costly for the manufacturing plant.
Every business is unique. When deciding whether to outsource maintenance, or manage it in-house, plant managers should consider the needs of their facility — choosing the same route as competitors might not be best for their operations.
Whether managers choose to outsource plant maintenance or keep it in-house, having a dedicated industrial parts supplier at hand makes the entire process much easier to manage.
EU Automation's multilingual team scours the globe to find quality obsolete, new and reconditioned parts to get industrial machines back up and running quickly, meaning that plant managers have easy access to replacement parts, no matter who is handling the maintenance.
Jonathan Wilkins is marketing director of obsolete industrial parts supplier, EU Automation.