Machine breakdowns can have a lethal impact on the smooth running of operations in the organization. It will cost a fortune and hamper the chain of the production process. In the worst-case scenario, it impacts the customers as well. Machine breakdowns likely happen due to mishandling or lack of operating knowledge. One strategy to reduce machine breakdowns is practicing autonomous maintenance.
What is autonomous maintenance?
There are two kinds of people involved in handling factory equipment — machine operators and maintenance technicians. Machine technicians are familiar with the nuts and bolts of the equipment; the machine operator, on the other hand, is only equipped with exterior handling. Hence, whenever a machine malfunctions, the need for a technician arises, which calls for a hefty overhead cost. Autonomous maintenance is a practice of upskilling such machine operators to perform basic maintenance tasks like lubricating the machine, dismantling and cleaning the parts along with routine inspections. Autonomous maintenance is the first pillar of TPM(Total Productive Maintenance) which ensures that the machine functions as good as new even after years of purchase.
Steps of autonomous maintenance:
1. Increase Operator Knowledge
Operators might be highly skilled at running a machine, but it empowers them when they are also enlightened about the ins and outs of the equipment. Technicians can be collaborated with operators to teach them about the specifics of the machine. This way, operators can prevent the malfunction even before it happens, saving cost and time for the organization. Increasing operator knowledge can be compressed into these four skills:
- Identifying defects
- Rectifying and restoring the abnormalities
- Setting optimal machine conditions
- Maintaining the equipment performance
Further, the machine operators should have easy access to machine manuals without mindlessly surfing for information. One such way to implement this is attaching QR codes to the machine parts that redirect to the e-manual of that specific part. Another way is to instruct the SOP(Standard Operating Procedure) via mobile apps.
2. Initial Machine Cleaning and Inspection
After learning the ropes of equipment technicalities, we move on to the next step of autonomous maintenance. This step involves cleaning and hosing down the equipment and its surroundings. The operator team should look for leaks, loose bolts, dust accumulation, and other wear and tear that needs fixing. To make the most of this procedure, the team can create a digital checklist that they can tick off after completing each task. This makes it an easy-to-follow approach and renders the inspection less overwhelming.
3. Remove the cause of contamination
After initial cleaning and equipment restoration, you must ensure that the malfunction does not happen again. Every premise for contamination should be eliminated, and new cleaning standards should be set. You can start with quality sealing and machine covers. Before initiating the cleaning process, one thing to keep in mind is to shut down the machine completely. An active device can be hazardous to the cleaning personnel. Hence it is recommended to carry out a lockout-tagout procedure to ensure that the machine is shut off completely.
4. Develop standards for lubrication and inspection
This process involves establishing the standards for equipment cleaning and lubrication. It can be customized depending on the nature of the equipment and manufacturer’s specifications. New standards should be set to ensure the healthy life of equipment. These standards should include everything from cleansing and lubricating to holistic maintenance of machines. In the case of non-critical machinery, operators can set their own routines in compliance with established standards. However, in critical machinery, you might need a team of maintenance engineers to develop the standards. SOPs(Standard Operating Procedures) should be created after thoroughly inspecting equipment and conducting a detailed analysis of the same.
5. Inspection and Monitoring
Autonomous maintenance does not end at setting protocols. It should be followed by inspection to ensure that the machine operators comply with the established standards. Oftentimes, few tasks are overlooked by the operators. Hence, this step can be streamlined to compare the operator’s tasks with the maintenance department’s schedule. By this inspection, duplication of tasks can also be avoided.
6. Standardize visual maintenance
Visual maintenance should be adapted to guarantee that the machine is working correctly. The visual cues can be streamlined by making the equipment more intelligible for operators to understand. For example, the opaque pipes can be made transparent to monitor the fluid that passes through them. Another example is labeling valves’ opening or closing direction, putting sticky notes by naming equipment parts, etc. This saves the operator’s time and helps him make quick inspections.
7. Continuous Improvement
There is always room for improvement. Autonomous maintenance should be ceaselessly upgraded and improved as time passes. The maintenance team should take note of errors and drawbacks in the incumbent procedure and brainstorm ways to improve it. Since the operator handles the machines, he should be allowed to report issues. After taking comprehensive feedback, procedures can be audited and enhanced. To sum it up, autonomous maintenance can be an endless cycle of examination and progress.
Benefits of autonomous maintenance:
1. Empowers the operator:
While the operator is delegated more responsibility, it inculcates a feeling of empowerment in the operating personnel. This spikes up job satisfaction and hence, the work productivity of operators.
2. Reduces labor costs:
Operators oversee the smooth functioning of the equipment. Hence, overhead costs like repairing reduce to a decent extent. It saves a lot of money that was earlier being spent on technicians.
3. Detects issues before the damage
Autonomous maintenance is exceptionally transparent. The operator leaves no stone unturned to avoid equipment breakdowns and malfunctioning.
4. Reduces work of technical staff
Since the technical staff is freed from repairing obligations, they can focus on more complex tasks that involve mechanical expertise.
5. Establishes a culture of safety and quality
A Brazilian project in the welding sector implemented autonomous maintenance in the process. The results saw a whopping 75% reduction in equipment downtime, increasing availability from 94.9% to 98.7%. Autonomous maintenance not only affirms safety but also establishes quality standards.
According to Aberdeen research, 82% of companies experienced a machinery downtime in the past 3 years. This unplanned downtime could cost as much as $260,000 an hour. This is why the adage — Prevention is better than cure, should be taken seriously, especially in companies depending heavily on technology.