Aligning Maintenance and Production with Improved Operations Visibility and Broader Data Sets

Manufacturing plants are complex systems that require multiple machines and workers to work in a rhythm. As one would expect, this doesn’t always go according to plan. One such unexpected situation is unplanned maintenance.

Ask anyone in the manufacturing industry, and they’ll tell you how unplanned maintenance can negatively affect a plant. You’ll hear that often machines break down before their scheduled maintenance or that the maintenance team can’t work on them at the appointed time because of production targets. In the worst case, a broken machine may set off a chain reaction that halts the entire production. All these issues, and more, arise from a poor alignment of maintenance and production.


Maintenance and Production

For example, take a simple lathe machine in a plant. It runs for hours producing parts by removing metal in the form of chips. After a period of time, it needs lubrication and cleaning to remove the metal chips. Neglecting to do so will increase friction, heat and wear of the spindle. Moreover, the extra heat may even cause spindle failure in the long run.

Manufacturing plants have a large number of similar assets which keep production running. They face different amounts of wear and tear based on their working hours and loading conditions. Consequently, the assets lose efficiency and, in some cases, may break down due to failure — this is where the maintenance department comes in.

Maintenance is responsible for reducing the wear of assets and keeping them healthy for production. While achieving these goals, they also need to ensure production isn't affected negatively.


The Importance of Aligning Maintenance and Production

Manufacturers must invest in optimizing their production to reduce waste if they want to gain a competitive advantage in their sector — a sector where 20% of every dollar spent is wasted. Aligning maintenance and production can help reduce this number and improve production quality for workers and products alike. Take a look at these stats that show the damages due to unaligned maintenance and production:

Apart from these losses, poor maintenance scheduling, work delays and emergency solutions take a physical toll on workers and reduces morale. More importantly, delivery delays cause customer dissatisfaction, making them look for other options, which causes more losses. Even for managers, downtime and keeping operations running become the prime concern, making the optimization of operations impossible.

With Industry 4.0 technologies, production systems are becoming smarter and more connected. These systems improve operations visibility and help create the right maintenance schedule, aligning production and maintenance.


Operations Visibility and Broader Data Sets

Operations visibility is the availability of required data about the production system to monitor operations, readiness, availability and performance of different assets. The data required for operations visibility would include all data that helps find the biggest production disruptors in the facility. Once visible, you can prioritize the disruptors and start solving them.

Poor operations visibility is often the reason behind misaligned production and maintenance. To improve operations visibility, you can work on these three system requirements:

  1. Provide your workforce with access to the right data on time and in a format that makes analyzing easy.
  2. The system should collect real-time data and comparisons with available conditions to highlight issues in production as soon as they start developing.
  3. The system should have the capability to use historical and real-time data to forecast potential problems and find patterns, relationships and anomalies affecting production.

Apart from operations visibility, the maintenance system also requires broader data sets to optimize and align maintenance scheduling with production. To create broader data sets, you need to identify important variables not included in the system and use them in the algorithm. The software then provides a more accurate picture of the system using new variables. Widespread data further improves the quality of predictions, comparisons and performance diagnoses.


Aligning Maintenance and Production

Active data utilization is vital in aligning maintenance and production. An Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) software can handle broader data sets to provide greater operations visibility required for the task. With an EAM handling the data, both production and maintenance teams get access to the same facts and information to understand the situation from each other's point of view. Now that you know what you need to align maintenance and production, here are the two key ways to do it:

Planning Downtime with Better Data

With better data available and your EAM providing a way to forecast problems, the maintenance department can implement predictive maintenance (PdM) scheduling. In order to create a PdM plan for the plant, maintenance and production must work together as a team to decide on the acceptable risks and the effects of failure. By comparing the frequency of failure, the costs involved and the time required for maintenance with available failure and maintenance data, your quality of decision-making dramatically improves.

Once the team agrees on priorities, the algorithm can start using the data sets and provide maintenance predictions based on these priorities. PdM considers real-time data and historical data to highlight the maintenance requirements of different assets. With improved operations visibility, maintenance and production teams can schedule downtime without affecting the system’s health or the production targets.

Shared Processes

In shared processes, maintenance and production teams unite to solve problems, understand each other’s importance and improve coordination. Using data analysis, the teams can find the root causes of different problems and create solutions where maintenance and operations are equally involved. Finally, workers should be assigned clear responsibilities and tasks for efficient and quick maintenance.

Production can also share their knowledge of assets with maintenance to help them diagnose and solve problems quicker. Similarly, maintenance can provide information about the basics so workers can solve simple issues without downtime.



To remain competitive in today’s market, plants must align maintenance and production. Operations visibility and broader data sets bring the required information and capabilities, but implementation is vital. Training the workforce and sharing data between departments can create a better understanding of the system and speed up the process.

Author’s bio:Eric Whitley has 30 years of experience in manufacturing, holding positions such as Total Productive Maintenance Champion for Autoliv ASP, an automotive safety system supplier that specializes in airbags and restraint systems. He is also an expert in lean and smart manufacturing practices and technologies. Over the years, Eric has worked with all sectors of industry, including Food, Timber, Construction, Chemical and Automotive, to name a few. Currently, he’s a part of theL2Lteam.