If you work in a manufacturing or production environment, you’re well aware of equipment failures. When machinery is central to a business’s mission, it’s understandable that it breaks down occasionally. The key to minimizing these failures is to understand common causes and to mitigate them as much as possible.

Aging and Usage

Just like anything else in this world, manufacturing equipment gets old and simply wears out over time. Every piece of machinery has an expected lifespan, which may be shorter or longer than anticipated depending on how frequently the equipment is used and serviced.

If machines are used properly, cared for regularly, and have components replaced before they cause problems, complete equipment failures may be rare. On the other hand, if preventive maintenance is ignored and machines are abused, problems may be more frequent and the entire lifespan of the equipment can be significantly shortened.

Data Transparency Fuels Better Decisions

Although there’s nothing that can prevent aging and usage, understanding the lifespan and how particular pieces of machinery are used as well as their key components can help you maintain and replace components and equipment before failure occurs. Organizations should also accurately track the frequency of usage to make good decisions.

For example, if a company understands the real cost of labor and parts required for regular maintenance, it will become apparent at some point during the lifespan of the equipment that upgrading to a new machine makes more financial sense than continuing to repair the existing machine.

Improper Operation

When machines are used improperly, it can cause premature damage to the equipment as well as result in malfunctions and failures. Often, this problem is not intentional on the part of technicians, but results from poor training or lack of information at the point of operation.

For instance, if a piece of equipment is constantly run at the wrong speed or a set of tasks is performed in the wrong order, it can stress components and cause premature failure.

Ongoing Training Protects Equipment

The best solution for this problem is to ensure that technicians are properly trained on each piece of equipment and that this education is continuous. This may be accomplished through training at the point of equipment usage, gamification and other incentives, or periodic checks by trained supervisors.

While courses and manuals have their place, the reality is that training must be on-the-job in order to be remembered. Having a mentor system for new employees so questions can be quickly answered and good habits can be instilled from the beginning will go a long way in helping technicians properly operate equipment.

Lack of Preventive Maintenance

Just like a car would end up in the junkyard much more quickly if oil changes, tire rotations, and other regular maintenance tasks were forever ignored, preventive maintenance is key to avoiding equipment failure within a manufacturing or production environment.

Often, the lack of preventive maintenance results from a lack of resources when a maintenance department is always dealing with emergency or reactive maintenance issues. Organizations are often stuck in a catch-22; limited resources must be used to put out the fires of today, leaving no time or energy to prevent the fires of tomorrow.

Automated Reminders Prompt Action

One of the biggest reasons for lack of preventive maintenance is that supervisors or technicians do not know when these tasks were last completed or when they must be done again. Adopting a computerized system that can prompt reminders for regular maintenance or inspections after certain periods of time or hours of usage can help organize work orders in an efficient and effective manner.

Ignoring Warnings

Very few pieces of equipment go from perfect operation to complete failure. Unfortunately, many operators and supervisors are too focused on immediate performance and production requirements to take action based on early warning signs. The attitude is often that the equipment is still doing mostly fine and can complete the tasks and requirements of today’s shift. Short-sighted belief that there’s no time to address unusual sounds, smells, or performance can lead to major breakdowns sometime down the road, which then usually results in emergency maintenance action.

Incentivize Recording of Potential Problems

The bottom line is that employees respond to incentives. If a production team is being evaluated on its ability to meet daily production goals and technicians’ pay or bonuses are tied to these metrics, these will be the areas that garner the most attention. Taking the time to note or flag warning signs of equipment failures are then seen as only jeopardizing production goals of today.

Instead, team members should have a bigger picture of their role within the organization. By incentivizing a focus on overall value and rewarding good decisions such as noting and recording potential equipment problems, it can go a long way in preventing equipment failures.

Poor Culture

Along the same lines, the attitude of the management and technicians about maintenance in general can contribute to equipment failures. Unfortunately, many companies have a poor attitude when it comes to maintenance. The department is often seen negatively because they need to be brought in when problems occur. They seem to never work fast enough to satisfy those on the front lines of production. And the department itself may feel like it doesn’t have the resources to meet the demands of the organization in an effective way.

Making Maintenance Everyone’s Job

Culture change is always a difficult task, but ideally, all employees in an organization need to believe they are part of the solution when it comes to preventing equipment failures. If technicians see their value in not only operating equipment but being the ones most intimately involved with a particular machine and therefore the best individuals to flag warning signs and problems, it’s likely that failures would decrease significantly.

If management works with supervisors and technicians to schedule downtime in response to the advice and counsel of those on the front lines, the atmosphere of the factory floor can change significantly. 

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