This Summer will be Different
This summer will be different for most of us, and for maintenance people too. COVID-19 has brought havoc to industry, markets and societies around the world. There are winners as well as losers. We remember well the last global economic downturn in 2008. We remember manufacturers cutting their maintenance budgets, and we remember how these manufacturers struggled to cope with demand after production volumes got back to normal levels, or even higher after that economic episode.
Lessons learned? Cutting the maintenance budget is just borrowing money from the future. It works fine for now, next month or even a few years, but after some time, underinvested assets will take their tax: bad OEE, increasing failure rates, more serious failures and even accidents. Business continuity is a continuous and never-ending process with several stages: In this pandemic year, the industrial producers had to go through the phase of reaction at the beginning of the crisis. To react means to take immediate actions and measures to avoid harm. It was very important to realize that the thing has really come, and we must fight – react. Look back and think: when exactly did you realize that COVID-19 is here? And impacts your business? Was it early or late? This delay may result in overreacting with panic and hysteria - as we observed.
The immediate response was followed by the fight to survive. For many, this was solely about cash-flow. Producers were, or still are, struck by quarantine measures resulting in limited (human) resources and loss of production capacity. The suppliers were not able to deliver materials for production. And the demand from end customers for certain products plummeted. This was a deadly cocktail for many companies.
To survive we must adapt. By this I mean specifically taking advantage of the situation. The production slowdown, or stoppage, was a unique opportunity to do what was never done properly: shutdowns and turnarounds in full scope, neglected preventive maintenance, deferred investments, cleaning, optimizing preventive and predictive maintenance etc. Obviously, for these you need some money, reserves to spend in hard times. Companies that have not created enough reserves during the good times are now losing on this opportunity. There will be no “back to normal” in this game. Too many things have changed. Therefore, in the recovery stage, we will have to rethink and reengineer our former processes and strategies, including business objectives and resulting maintenance strategies.
But the essential phase of the business continuity cycle is the phase of preparation when we prepare for the next downturn, crisis or disaster. And we can be sure that bad things will happen again. The preparation stage is the time for risk management: identification of risks, evaluation of their impacts and probabilities and mitigating. And creating financial reserves to spend in the next period of hard times. Take advantage of the opportunity and use the reserves you made previously to do all shutdown maintenance, revamps, preventive maintenance, asset register clean-up, process and technologies optimizations as well as optimizations of predictive maintenance techniques that were heavily implemented in recent years but their efficiency was never really evaluated. Cutting your maintenance budgets means introducing new risks into your operations.
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