How Equipment Design Impacts Maintenance Requirements
Many businesses rely on a range of equipment in order to function. The breakdown of equipment can be costly for any business. It has been estimated that downtime can cost a facility anything from 5 to 20 percent of lost productivity. Even more worrying is the fact that as many as 80 percent of industrial facilities cannot accurately estimate how much their downtimes actually cost them.
Equipment failures are a leading cause of downtime and, in turn, maintenance headaches in many industries. For the purpose of this article, it is assumed that failures can occur to any equipment that falls into three broad categories , namely (1) powered equipment, also known as heavy equipment, that rely on fuel or electric motors to run, such as bulldozers; (2) mechanical equipment that operate with moving components, such as air compressors or elevators; and (3) non-mechanical equipment, such as hand-held tools.
Unsurprisingly, the design of any of these categories of equipment can have profound impacts on maintenance schedules and maintenance management generally. This article will delve into why equipment failures occur, and the ways in which poor and good equipment design can impact maintenance.
Why Does Equipment Fail?
Simply put, equipment failure refers to any equipment that cannot be used for its intended purpose or task. That can include sub-par performance, malfunctions, or total breakdown of said equipment. Defective equipment can be defined as equipment that is not fit for its intended, manufactured purpose.
There are multiple reasons why equipment may fail, with the most common ones being abrasion, corrosion, fatigue, adhesion, erosion, and electrical discharge. Deposition (the build-up of sediments, such as dust or sludge, in equipment) and cavitation (the formation of vapor-filled cavities in liquid) can also cause equipment failures. The table below illustrates these types of ‘failure mechanisms,’ the types of equipment they typically afflict, and their contributing factors:
Courtesy: Machine Lubrication
Of course, regular wear and tear is also a leading contributor to equipment failure. Equipment may be used repetitively on a regular basis, even 24/7, which can eventually lead to equipment failures such as metal fatigue or worn or dislodged components.
There are also systemic reasons as to why equipment failures occur:
1. A lack of routine and preventive maintenance: many businesses still resort to what is known as ‘breakdown maintenance,’ either due to a lack of adequate budget for maintenance or a lax or reactive attitude thereto.
2. Improper use and operator errors: this may be due to a lack of proper training for operators using equipment, a lack of proper oversight/supervision or a ‘cutting corners’ mentality due to overconfidence or long-term familiarity with equipment.
3. Poor reliability culture: an organization’s perception of what it considers ‘reliable’ may be distorted or there is a generally poor culture regarding maintenance issues and asset protection.
Poor Equipment Design and Maintenance
Poor equipment design can be found in any type of equipment. Examples include: powered or heavy equipment, such as electric forklifts with overly-complicated electrical circuits, mechanical equipment such as elevators with obscure or defunct components, or shoddy, cheaply-made hand tools that break or distort easily due to poor ergonomic grip.
There are multiple reasons for poor equipment design , which can either be the fault of the original manufacturer of the equipment or an organization’s use thereof:
- Lack of maintenance forethought: it’s a common gripe among maintenance professionals - too often, the equipment has been designed with little or no thought given to maintenance considerations;
- Penny wise, pound foolish: unfortunately, all too often cheaper equipment is made of sub-standard materials and poorly made, resulting in poor design; and
- Substitutions: often maintenance departments (or even workers themselves) will replace original equipment manufacturer (OEM) parts with generic, cheaper parts that are sometimes sub-standard and poorly-designed.
The impacts of poor design on maintenance are multiple, and can include:
- loss of asset functionality
- lost time and productivity
- higher maintenance costs due to more frequent or serious malfunctions
- need for more frequent, productivity-sapping maintenance
- greater difficulties to conduct needed maintenance
- deviations from standard operating procedures (SOPs)
- impaired quality
- heightened safety and health risks
Intelligent Equipment Design and Maintenance
The epitome of intelligent equipment design that is fit for purpose is what is termed design for maintenance . This refers to equipment that has clearly been designed with maintenance requirements in mind, as well as equipment that is more durable and with spare parts that are readily available. Design for maintenance also means equipment that is relatively easy to maintain. This can refer to how easily the equipment can be disassembled, for example.
There are other factors that can indicate that equipment was designed for maintenance, including:
- Standardization of parts or components
- Interchangeability of parts or components
- Ease of identification of all parts that comprise the piece of equipment
- Functional packaging
- Ease of accessibility to parts that may require maintenance
- Malfunction warnings, whether digital or mechanically-triggered
- Fault isolation, which means that the possibility of failure within the equipment is isolated or narrowed
There are many positive impacts due to intelligent equipment design:
- Improved asset functionality
- Greater asset longevity
- Less risk of breakdowns
- Improved productivity
- Less need for maintenance, particularly ‘crisis’ maintenance
- Lowered overall maintenance costs
- Adherence to company standards
- Greater quality control
- Minimised safety and health risks
- Better employee morale
‘Fit for purpose’ are three magical words for any maintenance professional regarding the equipment they need to maintain. Every effort should be made, where possible, to ensure that new or replacement equipment has been designed for maintenance. The benefits of equipment designed in that way are undoubtedly multiple and long-term.
Author: Bryan Christiansen, founder and CEO of Limble CMMS .
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