Empower your Maintenance with a System
How maintenance is misunderstood. This area is often underestimated in a huge number of companies. Sure, the main point is to produce effectively and to reduce unnecessary costs, but is maintenance really part of the costs that are unnecessary?
This topic can be viewed from many different points; I would like to see this from the perspective of a person that is keeping a company working, and in the end, those are the qualified hands of a maintenance person.
Our specialist is working in an automotive company, and his area of responsibility is to watch over the mechanical part of multiple production lines. An effective system has become indispensable over the past few decades in the maintenance area. Since our example company is trying to keep up to date with the evolution not only in production, but also using relevant computer systems, the implementation of an ERP system became a priority already almost 20 years ago.
Life was simpler in the past
Since then, there have been a huge number of process changes, implementations in additional areas. And one of them was the plant maintenance. In the past, life was simple. The technician came to work, had his desk, and every day had a simple task. Check the production line, parts that were supposed to be maintained had in fact been maintained, that maintenance was documented directly in the line to a paper sheet, so that everyone could easily see when the maintenance was performed, and what were the performed activities. You only had to get to the line, and check sheet by sheet, if and what problems have been solved.
Of course, Ralph was used to describing the solved problems in his own way, then Michael and Karl could misunderstand the description completely, but the system was working. When parts needed to be changed, the technician went to his storehouse, and he got the parts from the shelf. He knew exactly what he was searching for, small parts in the drawers, bigger parts in the cabinets.
Once you got used to the system, it was a matter of minutes to find the required part. It almost never happened that the parts were not purchased in time or ran out, because there was a simple rule. Every time, you took the last part, you had to inform the purchasing department and they would order a new part. A system that no one could miss. So there have been almost no downtimes in production due to a part being missing, and maintenance didn’t take so long to carry out.
One technician was responsible for one line, and life was easy. But then it was decided that the system is not up to date, and maintenance would be supported using the existing ERP system. It seems that this was one of the decisions in the beginning that was not so easy, because there was resistance from maintenance personnel in the company, they didn’t like the idea. Demos of maintenance-oriented systems were found, that would be perfect for maintenance planning and tracking of performed work. Once the personal got used to it, it would significantly reduce the administrative workload. There would be a separate system to run the purchasing and storing of spare parts, that would be run by a second team. The system would be almost the same as it was before.
The working personal would just need to learn to work with a different system and everything would be solved. But the reason this was not chosen was simple. There was already an ERP system implemented, and why not use the maintenance part of that current system to cover the relevant processes in plant maintenance. The already implemented purchasing and warehouse system can be used to track the movement of spare parts in the company and the system can already be operated by the personnel in that company. The second point was that from time to time, it was required to perform maintenance activities for external partners that needed to be billed, and the ERP system was already also set up to allow this functionality. And the last, but not least point, is that all other systems were designed to support maintenance, but they could not precisely track the cost part of the planned and performed maintenance activities. And this is one of the main benefits of a well set up ERP system – a process cost evaluation with minimal effort. So, the decision was to use the existing ERP system.
Change is life and life is change
After some struggle to get the relevant process information of the performed maintenances from the past, the system implementation started. The struggle I mentioned was caused by the decision not only to implement a system, but to also have a look at the maintenance process effectivity. This was not only from the maintenance point of view, but also to to try to decrease the duration of the performed maintenance activities directly in production, and to reduce production downtimes.
A simple implementation of a system would not be such an improvement. At the start of the project it was necessary to decide on a relevant implementation partner that had knowledge on how to implement maintenance processes in the ERP system, and what are the current technical possibilities supporting the maintenance personnel. A few companies were evaluated, and the decision was made on a partner that already had experience in this area, not just from previous projects, but also from the user point of view. In the first project phase, it was required to collect a lot data about the currently-performed maintenance activities. A lot of interesting issues have already been found there. But the most important thing that the maintenance people realized was that life really could get easier, if they started to use a system that supported their work.
Everyone would have the same information and sharing would become simple, because the data is tracked down, and can be viewed historically in seconds, no need to search in the old records.
The implementation itself was expected to be the main part, but the chosen consulting company already had a lot of experience from previous implementations. The recommendation was to support the process also using mobile devices, so the technicians could have use of the ERP system directly during the performed maintenance activity, no need to write down any relevant information and have them typed up later on a PC. The company was also offering its own solution. The implemented solution was of a simple design, so the only operator is able to see relevant data for the performed activity. Using a simple user interface also enabled people who are not used to operating complicated programs on a PC, to start using the program more quickly. A second benefit was that the system was designed in the same way, as already implemented solutions directly in production. The production was already using an MES system, to track the production process. So, this was slightly extended to also track down downtimes, evaluate them and trigger maintenance actions directly.
In the end, the work of the maintenance person has not changed in the relevant areas. The person is still performing maintenance actions where required. What has changed significantly is the way the maintenance is planned and evaluated. And this has also influenced a significant reduction of downtime caused by maintenance in the production. Due to the collected data, it was found that multiple parts of the production line do not require daily maintenance, because no maintenance activities were performed at all.
Additionally, because the maintenance is performed in the used ERP system, the produced quantities are also known directly in the maintenance par; the main part of maintenance is triggered based on the produced quantity and not just by looking at the calendar. Using one system there was no additional effort at all to achieve this, because the production quantities have been already collected.
Benefits of an integrated ERP system process
What has gone through a significant change is the administration of the maintenance and the in-time reporting of the performed maintenance activity directly in the line. The entire maintenance department is using one system together with the rest of the company. Using this, the maintenance of the relevant master data is kept in one place, so no additional effort is required to maintain the master data for other departments. The purchase of relevant spare parts is triggered based on the planned maintenance activities, for more frequently needed parts additional evaluations are offered, to optimize the spare parts stock.
Procurement of new production resources is first evaluated, based on defined KPI indicators in the systems, so it is also evaluated if it is more effective from the cost and productivity point of view, to modernize parts in the production line. The focus here also became to replace only those parts where the effectivity can be significantly improved. This became possible since the maintenance personnel is tracking each performed activity in the system. The tracked activities are evaluated and categorized. The spent downtime is measured and gives an immediate input to the OEE calculation of the production line. Such improvements were unthinkable without using an easy-to-handle system.
An additional topic is that the process improvement also results in relevant spare parts being delivered directly to the place, where they are needed. By using the mobile solution that is directly connected with the warehouse, the technician just orders the relevant spare part; if he is not sure, he can also view the specification, the drawing and pictures of the part, to order the correct part. While the technician is disassembling the tool, the spare part is already on the way to the correct production site.
There is no need to search for the correct parts because the spare parts are also managed in an automated warehouse system, which is also connected to the ERP system. In case a bigger problem is found during the maintenance, the system also offers the possibility to store media for later evaluation of the problems found. By simply taking a picture and storing this during the maintenance process, it was found that spare parts from one supplier often do not fit correctly and wear our sooner. Collecting data directly during the process of maintenance has in the end improved the efficiency of the entire process, in most areas using the already existing principles.
As a final point, the relevant cost of maintenance can be now also planned, because during the past years, the required maintenance time for each activity based on the evaluations of the collected data was collected. So, in the end, the maintenance effectivity is also evaluated from the cost point of view, and all data is transparent in one system.
Josef Hasl, Jakub Klíma, Aimtec a.s., Pilsen, Czech Republic
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