If there is an area that inevitably crosses all the facilities of a company, either materially or procedurally, it is maintenance. In this area, an essential part of the scientific knowledge of engineering itself lies: the part of the improvement and management of new procedures in the industry, after going through the stages of invention, design, application of techniques, etc.
Next, we are going to delve into the Maintenance area. What it is, what its main functions are, its greatest challenges, etc.
What is the maintenance area?
Within the division of tasks carried out by a moderately organized company, the maintenance area is responsible for effectively using the existing facilities (physical or abstract) of an organization, systematically establishing a technical service that is efficient, effective, safe, and economical for all industrial assets.
The maintenance area launches activities that must be developed in a logical order to keep the production equipment, tools, and other active components of the different facilities of a company in safe, effective, and economical operating conditions.
From this point of view, it is presumed that the success of the company is not only reduced to investment in new production lines and the transfer of modern technologies but that it is essential to use them in a way that optimizes the performance and useful life of the equipment since it can degrade, being inevitably exposed to wear and tear due to use, the passage of time and occupational accidents. Therefore, we are talking about the ultimate goal being the maintenance of the service in general.
Specifically, one of the general goals of the area would be to reduce unproductive stoppages due to unforeseen failures in the production chain, which arise as technological development advances, given that the facilities become increasingly complex and automated. Increasing the investment regarding the maintenance of the productive equipment would help to a great extent to minimize the total cost of production, avoiding great economic losses.
The importance of maintenance derives, therefore, from the need to have a structure that allows the ideal operating conditions to be quickly restored to minimize production losses and, in turn, increase the safety of the workers.
History and evolution of the area
Maintenance can be considered as old as the existence of humanity. From ancient stories, we know that humans practiced maintenance from the production of their own most primitive utensils, although not in a logical and orderly way, but forced by the basic needs for their survival. As the knowledge resulting from trial and error was accumulated, and transmitted from generation to generation, more effective means were used every day to achieve their goals.
The activity gained greater relevance in the production process, from the end of the 19th century with the industrial revolution that gave rise to the creation of the first workshops. At the beginning of this time, the operators themselves were in charge of repairing the equipment. When the machines began to become more complex and the dedication to repairing tasks increased, the first maintenance departments began to be created, with an activity differentiated from production operators. The tasks in these two periods were basically corrective (reactive or repair), devoting all their efforts to solving the failures that occurred in the equipment. It should be considered (or contextualized) that at that time, the production volumes were low, the activities required little skill, and little importance was given to the prevention of failures that could produce equipment stoppage.
The Second World War was marked by the maintenance of combat equipment that suffered breakdowns, but in the midst of the socioeconomic context, emphasis was also placed on reducing the costs of the necessary repair. Faced with this panorama of economic emergency, techniques began to be disseminated and implemented not only to solve failures but also to prevent them, for which the availability and duration (useful life) of machinery and systems became important. This meant creating a new figure in the maintenance departments: personnel whose function was to study what maintenance tasks should be carried out to avoid failures, that is, to act beforehand so that they do not occur. But under this system, it also sought to make production more reliable, the indirect staff that was not directly involved in carrying out the tasks increased, and with it again the maintenance costs.
In the 70s, new methodologies emerged, and innovative techniques were developed for the prevention of equipment failures and the reduction of sustained repair costs based on the postulates of maximum Quality, Safety (protection of people), and protection of the environment. This tells us that there was a greater degree of mechanization and automation.
Emergence of Terotechnology
Toward the beginning of the new millennium, the new industrial and technological revolution emerges, marked by competitiveness as a survival factor for organizations, given the demands of the current market, which have forced organizations to tend to achieve greater efficiency in their production processes, seeking to lower economic costs in the life cycle.
Thus, to improve and maintain the technical and economic effectiveness of a process or equipment throughout its life cycle, integrating (intangible) experiences and knowledge, the need arises to handle a large amount of information from maintenance, acquiring a broader technical-economic vision: integrating managerial, financial, engineering, logistics and production practices to physical assets. This information, which is anticipatory in nature, is managed thanks to the information technology service, thus giving rise to the term “Terotechnology”.
Main functions of the Maintenance area
From all of the above, it can be said that the general goal of the maintenance area is:
"Keep the components of the production system in desired operating conditions, with the best possible performance, and with compatible costs."
Summarizing what has been explained so far, this area provides:
1. A productivity guarantee
It keeps facilities and equipment in good operating condition.
2. Investment protection and conservation
It keeps production costs as low as possible.
3. The security of a service
It keeps productive equipment operating safely for an optimal percentage of the time.
Types of maintenance
Maintenance involves monitoring and reviewing the current state of equipment, facilities, and other non-productive assets, to always ensure their proper functioning. Now, given the existence of a great variety of industries, different conditions, machinery, etc., the need to plan has been determined over time, taking into account different conditions, priorities, and techniques for the application of maintenance.
Differentiation by tasks that need the Maintenance area
So based on its main objective and depending on the work to be done, three types of maintenance can be distinguished: corrective, preventive, and predictive.
The main activity carried out by Corrective Maintenance, also called Reactive, is the unplanned repair that results due to unforeseen failure. It consists of repairing the fault once it has occurred. Therefore, the tasks that must be carried out are aimed at the immediate recovery of the quality of the service.
All Corrective Maintenance work requires immediate attention, which is why it cannot be properly scheduled, and sometimes it is only processed and controlled through reports (eg Machine out of service), and, in these cases, the staff must only carry out the work absolutely essential to continue providing the service, thus, minimizing downtime and the lost production. Corrective Maintenance is the most used type of maintenance since it is the one that requires less knowledge, organization, and, in theory, less effort, although this is not really the case, since it demands abnormal work and generally outside business hours.
Repair time and production downtime entail an economic cost for the company, which is why it is recommended that the company prepares and implements a maintenance plan in advance to avoid this type of corrective action.
These are maintenance tasks that aim to reduce risks. Thanks to these tasks, failures, errors, or breakdowns in the equipment and tools are prevented, as dictated by the maintenance plan for each case.
It is the maintenance whose mission is to maintain a certain level of service in the equipment, programming the interventions of its vulnerable points at the most appropriate moment. It usually has a systematic character, that is, it intervenes even if the team has not shown any symptoms of having a problem.
This type is the one that schedules the replacement of the elements of the machines on a regular basis. The regularity of maintenance operations is based on theoretical calculations or estimates of the duration of the elements that fail, according to patterns based on operating time.
Activities that allow revealing failures to be detected before they happen, using diagnostic devices and non-destructive tests. It is the permanent maintenance system that is carried out during the functioning of the equipment.
This type of maintenance is more technical and advanced maintenance. It requires specific training, analytical knowledge, and needs specialized equipment. Like preventive maintenance, predictive maintenance seeks to preempt failure. The difference is that it is based on the application of tools or techniques to detect different variables that are an indication of the state of a piece of equipment to anticipate future failure.
The collection and interpretation of statistical data allow many companies to apply a predictive maintenance strategy to their facilities and equipment. If the maintenance department detects anomalous values, it proceeds to review or replace a component before a breakdown occurs.
To facilitate the management of preventive maintenance, there are technological tools with which preventive maintenance can be scheduled, such as generating work orders, managing human resources, materials, and everything related to maintenance work.
Differentiation by the location of the maintenance area
1. Internal maintenance
Many industries have their own maintenance area that follows a review plan for all assets, even though it involves extra time and effort for the company; or it may be that active workers usually carry out some maintenance tasks daily.
2. External maintenance
But some other times, companies cannot assume the maintenance work of their assets on their own, because they do not have the precise knowledge to carry out the necessary operations or because they are usually sporadic, so they end up outsourcing the service. This decision is also made for other reasons:
Legal outsourcing: sometimes the law requires companies to outsource and certify that the maintenance of some assets has been carried out according to the specifications of the current regulations, so they must order it from a professional company, especially if they later have to be inspected by an authorized body (such as the Organismo de Control Autorizado, OCA, in Argentina).
Outsourcing due to lack of time: there are tasks that may require greater complexity, which is why the maintenance area of many industrial companies prefer to outsource them. For these to be assumed by their employees, they would have to spend financial resources on training, a time that they do not have due to the workload.
Outsourcing due to lack of means: Until a few years ago, companies invested in assets that allowed them to carry out maintenance tasks, but which they had to end up renewing from time to time. Currently, maintenance areas choose not to invest in materials and outsource tasks that require the use of specific tools.
Main problems in the Maintenance area
1. Lack of communication with other areas
They can cause failures in communication between teams that deal with other tasks that affect the proper functioning of the maintenance area. Reconciling between different areas, and understanding that they all contribute significantly to the same end goal will make it possible to banish the typical territorial attitude of the division of areas that take care of their business.
2. Inadequate or undefined task instructions
Developing maintenance guidelines and best practices take time and effort. Many times, however, organizations fail to document all that hard-earned knowledge and turn it into clear, detailed instructions. Instead, they draw on the knowledge of “the maintenance person” (operational technician), which is then lost as soon as that person leaves the equipment. Over time, lack of process standardization and incomplete instructions can lead to poorly executed “patch-style” tasks that get worse over the months. Also, if completed tasks are not regularly reviewed to gather feedback on instructions, tools needed, spare parts needed, and frequency, the maintenance process never improves.
3. Operational approach
Operations may be reluctant to take equipment out of service for maintenance, thus delaying or even canceling appropriate scheduled maintenance. Sometimes this decision is based on the belief that the repair activity is the same in a planned or reactive manner. But experience tells us that without maintenance, the risk of downtime is even higher and repairs can become more expensive.
4. Lack of training and measurement tools
Sometimes, the teams that make up the maintenance area decide what tasks to perform based on their current skill sets, instead of attending to the requirements that are emerging from the analysis of corrective maintenance. These technical competency gaps can be addressed with a training plan and/or by hiring new people. It's also usual that organizations lack measurement tools to monitor failures on time.
Main challenges in the Maintenance area
To sustain certain excellence in the area of maintenance, it is advisable to have a long-term vision and adopt planning that integrates all types of maintenance, but above all, leaning toward the perspective of Predictive Maintenance, including the notions of Terotechnology. In this way, Maintenance goes from being an expense to an investment and therefore generating wealth, which is the purpose of any company.
The percentage of companies that dedicate all their efforts to corrective maintenance and that do not consider whether this is the way in which maximum business benefit is obtained is very high. There are many maintenance managers, both in big and small companies, who believe that these techniques are very good in the theoretical field, but that they are not applicable in their company: they start from the idea that the urgency of repairs (corrective maintenance ) is what sets and will always set the guidelines to be followed in the maintenance area.
What is the Maintenance area made up of?
The hierarchical structure of the maintenance area and its consequent organization chart will depend on many factors, such as the amount of machinery, operators, and the specificity of the industry in question. The hierarchical tree that is formed will be different in each case to be able to adapt to the specific installations. However, there are a series of general guidelines that could help us when designing the organization chart.
In medium-sized companies, we can have a maintenance manager who is responsible for three subareas: quality, safety, and environment. Each of them should have a chief officer and at least one assistant each until they cover the shifts of the day.
From a practical point of view, the ideal thing would be for the area to be fragmented based on the tasks that they need according to the type of maintenance (corrective, preventive, or predictive), which, is reflected in terms of the personnel in the structure, would be presented in the following way:
Maintenance engineering subarea
The group of people that make it up is not responsible for daily activities, but for activities with a strong intellectual component and deep technical knowledge. Its responsibilities are related to the writing of specifications, the elaboration of an inspection plan, the planning of maintenance activities, the investigation of faults, and the implementation of the maintenance management software implemented in the company.
In charge of carrying out all online or offline inspection activities, and with the capacity to both collect data and analyze it. They are dedicated more to the tasks of preventive and predictive maintenance.
Subarea of execution
Responsible for carrying out all the tasks determined by the diagnostic subarea and planned by the planning area. They would focus on tasks of a more operational nature and are not responsible for the inspections that are carried out. They are personnel with great technical-applied knowledge and with a great capacity to respond to emergency interventions, planned interventions (with or without shutdown of systems or areas), management and recovery of spare parts, and maintenance and management of the tools.
Importance of the Maintenance area
Isn't it easier and cheaper to repair a piece of equipment when it breaks down and forget about maintenance plans, fault studies, and organization systems, which notably increase indirect labor? Let’s see why it is necessary to have a maintenance area:
- Because competition forces you to lower costs. Therefore, it is necessary to optimize the consumption of materials and the use of labor. For this, it is essential to study the organization model that best adapts to the characteristics of each company; it is also necessary to analyze the influence that each of the teams has on the company's results, study the consumption and stock of materials used in maintenance; and if it is necessary to increase the availability of the equipment, not to the maximum possible, but to the point where the unavailability does not interfere with the Production Plan.
- The current development of modern maintenance methodologies has exceeded the most daring forecasts, the great diversity of strategies, ideologies, techniques, and tools, particularly in the areas of management, international regulations, and systematized technologies for proactive diagnosis, which shows that the total manufacturing cost has been considerably reduced.
- Poor planning and, consequently, poor implementation even lead to health hazards for employees.
When the maintenance of an industry is planned with enough time and in an appropriate way, it is possible to have multiple advantages, such as:
- Lower consumption of so-called “man-hours”.
- Decrease in the time in which a computer remains stopped for repair.
- Reduced repair costs that can be avoided.
- A better work environment for the personnel in charge of maintenance.
- Improved efficiency and effectiveness; in other words, productivity.
Management indicators of the Maintenance area
A correct evaluation is a very important measure to turn the maintenance area into a center that generates profits. Although there are "world-class maintenance indexes" that are based on mathematical calculations that provide information accurately, we can take into account that, in general terms, the information that is required to be collected in a limited period, deals with the following aspects :
- The proportion of lost time, or equipment downtime due to unforeseen failures, compared to other companies.
- The effectiveness of pre-established standards for maintenance.
- The percentage of corrective maintenance (emergency work).
- The percentage of consumption of elements of the stock warehouse (inputs), of equipment and materials for maintenance.
To determine the cost reductions that are achieved with good planning, it is necessary to know the costs of:
- The materials, holding value, and the annual cost of moving inventory (inputs, outputs, disposal, and return of items) from the warehouse.
- The specialized workforce, as regards trades, processes, areas of performance, or expected types of service.
- Time lost due to work interruptions.
- Total costs of the area, including administrative expenses.
The comparative analysis of this information measures the global trend of maintenance costs concerning time and its evolution regarding the optimal economic level previously determined.
The maintenance area has been progressively gaining prominence in the different industries, not only because of its auxiliary essence in total production but also in terms of its preventive development, which accompanies the strategic movements that every company should outline to overcome or at least keep up with your competitors.
This area continues to advance toward computerization, fed by the emergence of new technologies that facilitate the flow of the production process in an agile and practical manner, trying to avoid and minimize the economic and human risks that the routine presents.
But no matter how much maintenance planning is automated, it will always require operators, technicians, and engineers who collaborate to efficiently manage resources, and monitor and regulate both quality and quantity (task times), toward the achievement of goals that transform the company day by day.