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Getting Machine Shop Operators Involved in Preventative Maintenance

July 20, 2014 / , , , , , , , , ,


Most machine shops understand the benefits of implementing a preventative maintenance (PM) program. They can improve efficiency, enhance safety, reduce costs, and save time. In fact, a recent benchmark study confirmed that preventative maintenance is a best practice among many of today’s leading industrial metal-cutting companies.

The problem is that maintenance departments are typically busy putting out fires, which pushes anything “preventative” to the side. Why take the time to stop a potential problem when there are enough real problems happening right now? So while a machine shop may have a PM program in place, it isn’t always followed, which completely eliminates most of the benefits preventative maintenance can offer.

This is where a team-centered approach can help. In today’s lean manufacturing world, most continuous improvement initiatives need to be a team effort if they are going to be sustainable, and PM programs are no exception. One way to do this is to get operators involved in the day-to-day maintenance of your equipment. This tactic not only empowers shop-floor employees and encourages communication, for many companies, it is the only way they can feasibly adhere to their PM schedule.

TPM: A Lean Team PM Tool
To create a more team-centric PM program, a growing number of companies are using a lean tool called Total Productive Maintenance (TPM). According to leanproduction.com, TPM “blurs the distinction between the roles of production and maintenance by placing a strong emphasis on empowering operators to help maintain their equipment.” The goal of a TPM program is to create a shared responsibility for equipment maintenance to maximize the operational efficiency of equipment. Many companies have found this approach to be very effective in increasing up time, reducing cycle times, and eliminating defects.

What does this look like on the shop floor? TPM uses a set of eight techniques or “pillars” for improving equipment reliability. The first pillar, for example, gives operators the responsibility of routine maintenance (i.e., cleaning, lubricating, and inspection). This not only keeps a machine running better on a daily basis, it helps operators have a better understanding of their operation. With a simple checklist, operators can enhance their knowledge base and positively affect performance on the shop floor. (You can read about the other seven pillars of TPM here.)

Put it in Writing: Daily Operator PM Checklist
Even if you don’t decide to implement a complete TPM program, daily operator checks are still a great option. These will vary based on your equipment needs, but the goal is to create a checklist that is simple and straight forward. Daily PM checks should take an operator less than 10 minutes and should be performed regularly (i.e., the start of each shift). Programs can be as detailed as a company feels is necessary, but the following are some key checkpoints outlined in a white paper from the LENOX Institute of Technology:

Again, this is just a starting point. Managers should work closely with their blade and equipment manufacturers to create their daily PM programs. No one knows your equipment needs better than the ones who made it. In addition, many suppliers also provide complimentary annual or bi-annual PM check-ups, which can provide more in-depth equipment diagnostics and take some responsibility of your stressed maintenance department.

Operator Input Pays
If you still aren’t sold on making PM a team effort, a recent article from IndustryWeek does a good job of reinforcing why it is worth the effort to involve all employees in continuous improvement activities. Using an all-to-familiar scenario, the article points out that the root cause of one shop’s productivity issues is a lack of equipment maintenance—something that could be solved with a strong PM program. The real nugget, however, is when the article points to an even deeper issue at far too many companies and that is management’s total disregard for operator input.

In the end, the benefits of getting operators involved in preventative maintenance are pretty hard to argue. Managers get the typical benefits of a solid PM program (i.e., reduced costs, increased blade and tooling life, and improved productivity), as well as the additional benefits of fewer errors, better cross communication, a more knowledgeable team, and valuable, shop floor insight.