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Manufacturing has always aggressively adopted new production technologies to optimize output, but organizations can gain a competitive edge by implementing modern manufacturing maintenance software. 

What is maintenance in manufacturing? 

To keep industrial assets and equipment online, your maintenance manager focuses on three broad categories of activities. 

Managing on-demand work orders 

You can think of this as the most basic form of work order management. It's how the maintenance department "puts out fires" around the facility.

A common workflow for starts with the team learning about an unexpected repair. For example, a press on the line might be leaking hydraulic fluid. The facility manager creates a work order and assigns it based on a number of considerations, including the severity and relative priority of the required repairs and the technicians' skillsets and availability. Then the technician completes the repairs. 

There are some assets where running to failure is the most economical strategy, but for most of your critical assets and equipment, you want the department to be out ahead of the maintenance curve, where they can see light smoke and deal with it long before there's any fire at all. 

Scheduling preventive maintenance 

On-demand work orders are a fact of life, but maintenance departments generally want to keep them to 20% of total work orders. The remaining 80% should be PMs, which are preventive maintenance inspections and tasks. Here, instead of working reactively, the maintenance team proactively fixes and finds small issues before they have a chance to develop into large problems that shut down the line, costing the organization lost time and lowered productivity. 

By scheduling work in advance, your maintenance manager can cut costs in their own department while boosting uptime, which adds to the organization's overall bottom line. 

Wayne Metro success story

Organizing third-party vendors 

Even the best-stocked maintenance department can't do everything, and there are also many good cost-cutting reasons for bringing in vendors and third-party professionals. All the positives of outsourcing as a general concept and business practice apply. For example, depending on the circumstances, having a licensed electrician on staff might not make good financial sense. They demand higher salaries, which is a poor investment unless you frequently need them. And for systems like elevators and fire suppression, local regulations likely prohibit your maintenance team from working on them.

By bringing in and organizing third-party contractors, the maintenance lead ensures specialized work is completed to a high professional standard and that your organization can avoid expensive, embarrassing OSHA health and safety violations. 

Why is maintenance critical to success in manufacturing? 

The most important fact about your maintenance department is that it's not a cost center. It has a direct positive effect on the bottom line when it's done correctly. But if your maintenance processes are inefficient and ineffective, it can bring down the entire industrial operation. 

How can a few missed maintenance tasks affect an entire production run? Think of your car. A flat tire puts you on the emergency spare, and now you have to drive more slowly. And because time is money, even though you eventually get where you want to go, it's going to cost you more than it should have. 

But in manufacturing, being late to market can be devastating. You can't ship those new TVs two weeks after Black Friday. And no one wants your Christmas ornaments in January. In business, "better late than never" doesn't work.

A bad tire slows you down, but a dead battery stops you dead in your tracks. Even though the wheels and the battery represent a tiny fraction of the total number of parts on the car, when they fail, it doesn't matter that all the other parts are still working. Your car isn't going anywhere. And when you're sitting at the side of the road, the worst part is the knowledge that you could have avoided it with some simple, basic maintenance. All you needed to do was periodically check the battery and tires. 

What are the challenges of maintenance in manufacturing? 

Although your car makes for a nice analogy, it fails to capture just how difficult it can be to keep a manufacturing plant running. It's the same general idea, but the jump in complexity is by orders of magnitude. For all the moving parts in your final product, there are more in the production process. 

The maintenance team has a large number and a wide variety of complex industrial assets and equipment to maintain. But despite all that complexity, many maintenance teams are still using old-fashioned maintenance management processes, paper or spreadsheets.

Both are prone to missing or corrupted data, but for different reasons. With paper, everything moves slowly. Managers have to manually copy the required information, leading to work orders that lack detail but include errors. With spreadsheets, everything moves quickly, but none of it is connected. Changes made to one version of the file are not carried over to other copies. In the end, everyone is working from their own version of the truth.

You can think of traditional workflows for manufacturing maintenance as long assembly lines with gaps between the sections. 

What are the benefits of manufacturing plant software? 

A modern cloud-based manufacturing maintenance management solution makes the maintenance team faster and more reliable because of its two closely connected parts, a central database and the UX that allows the team to interact with it. The CMMS pulls all the different maintenance people and processes together and acts like a well oiled assembly line itself, where workflows are established and predictable, and everything goes where the team needs it to be.

Not every member of the maintenance department interacts with the software in the same ways, so we can examine the benefits by connecting them to specific titles and jobs in manufacturing maintenance. 

Machine operators use the online request portal to make on-demand work orders faster, cutting downtime 

Preventive maintenance programs are an efficient way for the maintenance department to find and fix small issues before they grow into big problems. But it's often the case that operators notice these problems first, which makes sense because of the amount of time they spend working directly with the equipment. After spending so much time with the equipment when it's running properly, they can quickly notice irregularities.

The challenge is setting up a system that fully leverages their valuable experience and insights. With old maintenance management systems, it's up to the operator to track down someone from the maintenance department, usually by trying to find a phone number or email. Because of the expectation of frustration, they're de-incentivized, delaying the discovery of the issue.

The open work order request portal streamlines the process by creating a simple, direct line to maintenance. All the operator needs to do is go to the online portal to submit a maintenance request. And because the form has customizable fields, the maintenance department can ensure it gets exactly the information it needs to properly prioritize and assign the work. 

Senior maintenance technicians develop templates to safeguard and share institutional knowledge 

Many maintenance departments run a lot of key man risk, where a small handful of technicians hold all the hard-won maintenance know-how. When you lose them to transfers or retirement, the department loses irreplaceable expertise.

WorkOrderSoftware2_Laptop_HP-1

A modern CMMS platform helps the department systematically safeguard and share the department's "tribal knowledge." Working together with senior techs, the facility manager develops detailed instructions and comprehensive checklists that they then save as templates inside the software. Whenever they're assigning a related work order, they can add all of that information with a few clicks.   

Junior maintenance technicians (including interns and apprentices) follow site maps and floor plans to boost time on wrench 

Templates help junior staff know what to do when they need to work on an asset. But even before they arrive, the CMMS helps improve their efficiency. 

Many manufacturing plants are mazes of assembly lines, inventory warehouses, front offices, and workshops packed with equipment. In many cases, there are rows of similar or identical pieces of equipment. For example, the AC units on the roof all look the same.

Interactive site maps and floor plans show technicians exactly where they need to go, helping them move in straight, efficient lines instead of wasting time running in circles. 

Warehouse managers control inventory to boost uptime while cutting carrying costs 

Depending on the size of your operation, the maintenance manager might be responsible for controlling the maintenance parts and materials inventory. Or, you might have a dedicated warehouse manager who looks after all the inventory, including everything from feedstock to MRO. In either case, plant inventory management software helps ensure maintenance has the right parts at the right time and for the right price. 

Once the current levels are added to the software, tracking is automatic. When the department generates a new work order or PM, the associated parts and materials are included. Later, when a tech closes out the work order, the software automatically updates the levels in real time. And when the levels hit the customizable min, the software sends an alert to the maintenance manager, who can then use the inventory management software to set up a purchase order. 

Next steps 

The best way to decide is to talk with something from the industry. All you need to do is find the right provider. Hippo has many ways to help. We can answer your questions, help you book a live software demo, or even set you up with a free trial

Executive summary 

Investments in production equipment can streamline industrial manufacturing, but organizations cannot realize their full return on investment without also adopting modern plant manufacturing maintenance software. Through a combination of managing on-demand work orders, scheduling preventive maintenance, and organizing third parties, the maintenance department keeps production lines online, boosting productivity and ensuring profitability. Modern maintenance management solutions increase the department's efficiency with more reliable data capture and faster data sharing. 

About The Author

Jonathan Davis

Jonathan Davis started out writing for textbooks before branching out to video games and marketing collateral. He has a master’s degree in journalism and a certificate in technical writing.
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