3 Ways In Which Machine Operators Can Help The Maintenance Team
It is known—and obvious—that the people who spend the longest time around the equipment are the machines’ operators. With that in mind, it makes sense to train some of them to track equipment performance and behavior, instead of just reporting when the asset stops working altogether.
In spite of that, it is almost always the case that those operators have no involvement whatsoever with the maintenance process itself, although they can be leveraged to improve the overall maintenance process.
In this article, we will discuss a few different ways in which machine operators can be employed to support existing maintenance efforts.
#1) Skilled operators = less maintenance work
Operator error is repeatedly stated as one of the common causes of machinery failure in industrial plants. Human errors are impossible to completely eradicate and they happen for many reasons like:
- insufficient formal training
- overworked/fatigued operators are more prone to making an error
- unintentional accidents that can happen even to competent operators
- carelessness or laziness to follow proper safety procedures (like LOTO guidelines )
All of these issues can be addressed to reduce this source of failure by ensuring sufficient staffing and proper training and onboarding process. Management should look into ways to reward and promote proactiveness and attention to detail among machine operators, towards the equipment they handle.
This can be achieved through a better understanding of the machinery, its behavior, how to control it, what to expect from it - and all the surrounding safety procedures. Well-trained and informed operators will make fewer errors. This will not only reduce the load on the maintenance people but will remove much of their frustration. Just ask a maintenance tech how fun it is to fix the same problem for the n-th time because operators keep making the same mistakes.
#2) Implementing autonomous maintenance
Autonomous maintenance is one of the pillars of Total Productive Maintenance (TPM). In principle, it refers to involving machine operators in equipment maintenance.
The idea is fairly simple. Some routine tasks like cleaning, lubricating, adjustments, and certain inspections can be fairly easily taught to people with little to no formal maintenance training. If machine operators can execute those minor maintenance tasks, the maintenance team can focus on more complex and critical tasks.
By doing so, the quality of communication between them and maintenance people is enhanced, and also, the small and recurring tasks are taken off the maintenance team's responsibility for them to focus on more critical things.
Over the years, as people tried out different approaches, autonomous maintenance has evolved. The most popular interpretation is known as operator asset care . It is based on the same principles with a few additional twists.
#3) Providing clear problem descriptions
Unexpected machinery failure is bound to happen, and when it does, the people at the site should be prepared to carry out the necessary procedures. When on-site staff is able to provide all the necessary information about the problem, the maintenance team is able to plan the appropriate actions, like assigning enough staff and provisioning the right tools and parts for the job.
It is very important that machine operators learn how to provide useful problem descriptions. What is the problem, what they were doing before the failure occurred, has the machine shown any worrying signs before the breakdown, etc. If they are submitting a work request via CMMS or similar software that supports this, it might be a good idea to include an image taken with their mobile device. This way, whoever is scheduling maintenance work and reviewing work requests will have a better idea of resources that will be needed to complete the repair.
Maintenance technicians or supervisors should have a talk with machine operators and teach them what kind of information is and is not useful to provide when submitting work requests.
Many plants are currently experiencing labor shortages, and maintenance departments are not an exception. By following the advice we outlined above, the overall maintenance workload can be reduced. Involving machine operators in equipment maintenance is a simple principle, but it should not be used as a quick fix. To really make a difference, it should be used as a general philosophy upon which your plant operations are built and executed.
Bryan Christiansen is the founder and CEO of Limble CMMS . Limble is a modern, easy-to-use mobile CMMS software that takes the stress and chaos out of maintenance by helping managers organize, automate, and streamline their maintenance operations.
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