Predicting Maintenance to Optimize Production Efficiency

In 1927, Thomas Parnell set up the pitch-drop experiment, which examines the viscosity of a tar-like substance by the speed at which it flows from a funnel into a jar. The test has seen just eight drops fall in as many decades, and despite the experiment being displayed in the physics department at the University of Queensland, no one has ever seen a drop fall.

Just like this test, the need for factory maintenance often goes unnoticed. This article will explain how plant managers can budget for maintenance and ensure optimum efficiency for all processes.

Paper to Glass

In terms of research and development, food and beverage is a leading industry because of its use of new, innovative technology. However, when it comes to maintenance, many companies find themselves keeping paper records. While regulation and compliance requirements historically drove these companies to work with paper, advances in digital tools mean this is no longer the case.

Unfortunately, once paper-based systems are in place, they can be difficult to eradicate. Companies become stuck in their old ways, which leads them to ignore the significant cost savings, efficiencies and competitive advantages electronic systems can provide.

The most important driving force for a company's success is its employees. Today’s maintenance engineers have the computing knowledge to make the switch to digital. Providing them with a familiar interface that quickly connects employees across the organization can allow staff to work faster and smarter, increasing productivity. Electronic records also eliminate time-consuming and error-prone data entries that are necessary with paper-based systems.

While staff are the most important factor of any company’s success, the biggest cost of manual maintenance comes from people. Human errors that occur during manual record-keeping can result in redundant actions, rework and audits. Electronic records also eliminate the costs associated with printing, reviewing and retrieving paper documents.

Giving maintenance staff access to electronic devices on the factory floor allows them to input data faster and gives them more time to spend completing maintenance tasks. Having a digital record of the machinery that regularly needs work also means that engineers have easy access to the data when it is time for the next round of maintenance.

Preventive Maintenance

Unplanned outages seem to occur at the worst possible moment, whether it be during the high season or large batch production. These outages frequently lead to waste, as the product being manufactured at the time of the outage often must be disposed of. If an outage doesn’t result in wasted product, it most certainly will cause varying degrees of downtime, which not only will lead to lost production but can result in orders being cancelled and contracts being lost if deliveries are not made on time.

By considering potential problems on the production line, plant managers can reduce disruptions and help secure long-term competitiveness. All food and beverage manufacturers have periods where they are producing much less than during the high season. This is the ideal time to perform maintenance. If a plant manager knows a motor is likely to need repairing every year, this work can be completed during slower periods, minimizing the amount of downtime and lost production.

Overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) is a versatile measurement for production efficiency. It takes into consideration three factors: availability, performance and quality. Availability is reduced by equipment failure, setup and adjustment. Performance is reduced by idling, minor stops and reduced speed. Quality is reduced by process defects and start-up losses. Improving these factors will significantly impact efficiency. Preventive maintenance helps improve all three factors by reducing equipment failures, stoppages and defects.

Just like plant maintenance, the pitch-drop experiment recently has gone digital. Anyone can log into an online platform to watch the apparatus and hopefully catch the next drop, which might not happen for another eight years. Unlike this test, factory maintenance can be predicted to save plant managers time and money while keeping production on course.

About the Author

Gernut van Laak is the group automation solutions leader of the food and beverage program for ABB, a technology leader in electrification products, robotics and motion, industrial automation and power grids.

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