The Right Schedule Makes a Difference

The Power of the Right Maintenance Schedule

Frank Pereira, Coleman Consulting

The Right Schedule Makes a Difference

Maintenance employees often work in the off hours when production equipment is available. At Monday through Friday plants, we commonly see technicians scheduled to work during the week, but because of limited equipment availability, their weekday hours are less productive and often they return on the weekend and work overtime. Out of necessity, most maintenance managers are experts at making their current schedule work, but we rarely find that the current schedule in place is the right schedule.
In most cases, plant and maintenance schedules are inherited, based upon tradition, or copied from a nearby facility. Often maintenance staffing plans are an afterthought, the shifts plugged in once the production schedule is determined. We know that every schedule needs to be a careful blend of business needs, employee desires, and health & safety considerations at a specific plant or facility. Maintenance technicians are usually the highest paid and some of the most valuable members of an organization. Companies should more effectively schedule their high-cost employees (business needs), should implement solutions where better work/life balance will help retain them (employee desires), and should ensure their maintenance crews are rested and alert when they are doing their job (health & safety).
The word schedule means different things to different people. Some think of their schedule as “the alternative four tens with every Friday off”. True, shift length and day-on day-off patterns can be a part of a schedule, but looking at your workforce more holistically, the definition of a schedule is: 
A schedule starts as a system for deploying your key resources …capital and personnel. But to be effective, that schedule needs to have employee buy-in. Additionally, the system needs to include all of the work, pay, and coverage rules that make a schedule what it really is. We also need to consider the actual schedule, not just the plan. For example, the planned Monday through Friday schedule where no one works on the weekend is much different than the Monday through Friday schedule where production goals are not met and everyone is forced to work every Saturday (*) and half the Sundays (**). On paper, both appear the same. But the actual schedules, the ones that effect employees, are very different. 
The Monday through Friday example is applicable to many maintenance organizations. How many plants have maintenance techs working forty hours during the week, only to come and work every weekend on overtime? It is such a standard practice that many shift workers consider it a way of life. The worst part about it is that many maintenance personnel cannot access the equipment they need to work on during the week because it is being used by operators. When surveying maintenance workers, have often heard “I stand around on straight time during the week and come in to work the weekends on overtime.” That means if the plant typically works six days a week, the maintenance crew is working every Sunday. Round the clock and 24x7 operations have very similar problems. I am here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be that way.
What if operations does need to work Monday through Friday, or 120 hours each week? Wouldn’t it make sense to have maintenance scheduled at some reduced staffing during that period to cover unplanned emergent work, or if needed, to support changeovers and other operation-type work? If that’s the case, maintenance should be scheduled to be fully staffed when operations are shut down, which is typically the weekends. 
This strategy has some issues. First, handing the plant over to maintenance for 48 straight hours might be easy, but it may not be that efficient. As techs can only work about 12 hours before they need to rest, anything longer than a 12-hour period doesn’t help. One option is to set up maintenance on two weekend crews, but you may be scheduling around the people you have on rather than the work that is needed. Also, there are risks to assigning the most difficult, critical, and non-standard work when there are the fewest managers in place. That strategy does not really make sense. Think of your maintenance team like a pitstop crew, working in unison with the operators to maximize productivity and minimize machinery downtime.
Let’s think outside the box a little. We want to use maintenance most effectively and quickly so the plant can focus  on production capacity. Is there any group maximizing wrench turning in the shortest period possible to get operations back to their main business? A good analogy to use is stock cars. Pitstops are necessary for keeping the car on the track, but no laps are completed while the car is in the pit, just like no products are being made during maintenance. At Daytona, highly trained and skilled crews are focused on the problem at hand, have specific times to work intently, and the goal is to turn the car quickly. Isn’t that what plant leadership wants to focus on…scheduling highly efficient crews to maximizing productivity and meet financial goals?
We can take the pitstop concept into the plant by having the skilled maintenance crew very focused so that they can get the job done in the smallest period of time. If the crew has enough resources, they can get in, get out, and move onto the next job. This is the essence of pitstop maintenance.
A few years ago, a Midwest bottling plant client did just that. The plant had five production lines and several support areas that needed approximately 1 day of maintenance each week. Together with plant leadership, we developed a schedule that had a pitstop maintenance team focus on each area one day a week, from Monday through Saturday. We found that ten weekly hours would cover most maintenance issues. Sundays and special down periods could be used to deal with larger, more difficult events.
The pitstops were scheduled to happen during the day. For example, if Line #2 was down for maintenance on Tuesday, the night shift would shut it down early in the morning. Maintenance was ready to go to work as soon as the line was ready. Work packages were pre-prepared while tools and parts had already been staged to the area. As this was the most non-standard and difficult process in the plant, management and supervision were available to ensure things went smoothly. And if there were any problems, OEM’s were reachable by phone and the controller was there to approve additional time. And to make sure production did not miss a beat, key leaders stayed on until the line was back at 100% operation.
Where did the crew come from? We pulled them off the shift where many had been “standing around waiting to work the weekend on overtime.” Overall, the facility had 36 maintenance technicians across mechanical, electrical, and instrumentation classifications. We calculated that eighteen techs spread across three shifts could conservatively provide the production coverage needed to support operations. That allowed six techs to support each shift Monday through Friday. This strategy allowed the other eighteen techs to form a pitstop crew. 
It is interesting to note that all managers and supervisors felt that maintenance techs focusing on shutdown equipment were much more effective than those trying to do maintenance while the equipment was operating. When asked how much more productive, their answers varied from 25% up to 75% more effective. Assuming 18 of the 36 shifted to the pitstop crew, and the fully loaded wage was $46.96, then this increased effectiveness would be worth $400,000 to $1,000,000 annually. The savings could be achieved in better maintenance, or in reduction in maintenance headcount requirements. Either way, the savings for this bottling plant were significant.
And what did this mean for employees? Involving the employees in a thorough scheduling survey process allowed them to design their own schedule. The decision was made to rotate employees through the pitstop crew on a rotating basis. This allowed everyone to share in more days off and longer weekends. Conducting pitstops during the day allowed all employees to work at least 50% of the shifts on days. The rotation also allowed everyone to cross train on their basic skills, while providing well-trained employees for coverage on the backshifts.
For the lines with capacity constraints, the process became even more focused. Different aspects of the bottling process were shutdown sequentially. For example, bottles were still being packaged after the filler had shutdown. The opposite was true for the startup…the pre-filler equipment came online while packaging maintenance was still wrapping up. The main goal of running a pitstop is to get more operation time out of each critical line, and this client was able to achieve this with strategic scheduling of maintenance.
You may ask whether longer shifts are more efficient or less. On paper, the answer is that longer shifts are more efficient. And that comes down to the fact that each day, some time is always lost on the starts and stops of processes. That would include shift changes, tool issues, lunches, cleanup and more. In fact, often managers quickly admit that they are happy to get 50% effective time out of their workforce. That means if you have the same amount of starts and stop times each shift, but you have longer shifts, you can increase labor efficiency.
Efficiency increases of 15-20% are typical when moving to longer shifts. However, it is important to make sure that some measure of productivity is in place prior to making the change. Failure to have such a measure invariably leads to the same amount of work each day for fewer days.
Another consideration in shift design is the stop and start of shifts, or scheduling longer runs. Most often machines break when we start and stop them, not when equipment is just humming along. In designing operations and maintenance, it is critical to take this into account, both in measurement and in practice. It is also important not to be caught scheduling maintenance around the day, week, month or year. For example, if equipment maintenance is required every ten days, doing it weekly so it can happen on the same day every year can be very expensive. An item being maintained weekly had fifty-two maintenance events per year. This is fifteen more maintenance cycles than if it was done every ten days. Hence, the added cost would be fifteen times the total cost of labor and parts for each cycle. For expensive items, both in time and materials it may be worth a little more analysis. The good news is the math behind this kind of analysis has already been done. If one has the data, a Weibull Curve can be used to compute where maintenance should be completed. For example, we helped a southwestern mine work through this analysis, and by conservatively shifting their maintenance pattern of liner replacements, they saved over $600,000 annually. 
Most schedules are really a “ball of band aids” that has been built up over time. Imagine a few years ago there was a problem with overtime, so management made a rule on how to deal with it. Today, the reasons behind that rule may or may not be valid, but the rule remains, as do the rules for weekends, shift rotations, sick days, absenteeism, and more. These rules which often relate to work, pay, and coverage policies can have dramatic effects on the workforce and the ability of an organization to match the required workload. In the end, good managers should be questioning the schedules in place to ensure they are achieving the goal of matching workload to workforce.
In this article, we addressed the strategy of pitstop maintenance, wrench time, and scheduling maintenance items correctly, regardless of how they match up with hours, days, weeks, months or years. Scheduling maintenance is a whole lot more complicated, and the issues take much longer than one hour to discuss. The right schedule must be a careful, deliberate blending of three key elements: Business Needs, Employee Desires, and Health & Safety. 
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