Increasing pressure to show a return on capital investments, coupled with the need to do more with less, is forcing companies of all sizes to look at their maintenance strategy as an area of profit-enhancing opportunities. By adopting a strategic approach to maintenance and effectively using key performance indicators, organizations can better maximize resources, reduce capital and operating costs, and increase their return on investment.

At the core of a strategic maintenance approach is viewing maintenance operations as a long-term investment that focuses on aligning available resources to maximize production output. Simply stated, it is the ability to optimally apply the right equipment, people and processes to maximize the return on the automation investment.

Strategic Assessment: Identify Opportunities for Improvement
Deciding the best way to maximize available resources begins with an evaluation of an organization’s maintenance strategy and determining the optimum balance of predictive, preventive and reactive activities. This starts with understanding the criticality of the equipment and the resources needed to support the activity. Maintenance departments can then plan out activities and programs and shape them to the right maintenance balance.

The best approach for many plants will be to implement maintenance initiatives in phases, starting with the most critical equipment and systems and then expanding. This is particularly true in smaller companies where limited investment resources require acting with restraint – starting small and adding new technology when the time is right. The reality is that good maintenance techniques will always reduce a plant’s total cost to operate.


By leveraging external resources to
support non-core functions, such as
vibration monitoring, companies can
more effectively maximize their
production assets and are better
positioned to adapt to changing
regulatory and market conditions.

It is also important to examine how various resources impact the overall business strategy. Companies should identify “pain points” within their maintenance processes, determining whether such areas should be managed by their own organization or if they could be handled more effectively by an outside service provider. For example, organizations interested in improving their maintenance strategy must decide whether it’s better to keep tasks in-house or to collaborate with an outside consultant or service provider.

Some organizations, for example, might have staff experts manage specific maintenance activities, while an external partner handles general-purpose maintenance activities. Conversely, an organization might ask key maintenance employees to serve as generalists, relying on an external provider to perform activities that require specialized skills or expertise. By leveraging external resources to support non-core functions, companies can more effectively maximize their production assets and are better positioned to adapt quickly to changing regulatory and market conditions.

Deciding to augment internal capabilities with outside service providers is a long-term, strategic decision. How an organization approaches external sourcing will generally depend on its market strategy and the goals the company wants to achieve. No matter what resources are used to implement the strategy, it is important that organizations develop a set of metrics that can measure improvements in employee performance — both as individuals and as a group — and track long-term success. This is especially true when initiating major change, such as moving from a reactive operation to a proactive one.

Rely on Employees as a Key Resource
Although implementing a strategic mix of maintenance technologies and processes is critical to a company’s success, having a highly skilled, educated and motivated workforce is equally important. To maximize production equipment performance and uptime, organizations should place the same emphasis on human assets that they do on production assets. Training should be viewed as an ongoing investment to keep engineering and maintenance personnel current with new or changing technology. By making more informed, careful decisions in the field, well-trained employees help maximize an operation’s equipment and processes.

As a case in point, Eastman Kodak’s health imaging division in Denver implemented a customized training program after implementing a new control system. To meet its goals, Eastman Kodak relied on the Integrated Performance Assessment (IPA), an innovative assessment service and methodology designed to identify performance inhibitors and lay the groundwork for measurable performance improvement.


Although implementing a strategic
mix of maintenance technologies
and processes is critical to a
company’s success, having a highly
skilled, educated and motivated
workforce is equally important.

The service’s developer created two tiers of training classes for Kodak staff: an engineering-level and a mechanic-level class. The divisions were designed to help experienced Kodak employees adapt more quickly to new control technology, with more complete training for less-experienced workers. Upon completion of the training program, Kodak reported an increase in production and a reduction in downtime of nearly 1.5 hours per shift across all four lines. Each line runs 12 hours per day through 13 shifts each week.

To empower employees, companies must continuously adopt new practices designed to help employees focus on core competencies and key goals. For example, a company might train or certify its employees in their area of expertise, making sure the particular courses align with professional goals.

Conclusion
It is clear that companies today struggle to increase production output with less resources. Therefore, companies should take a comprehensive look at existing available resources and determine how to best leverage them for maximum efficiency. With an effective strategy that includes empowering employees and collaborating with external sources, organizations can leverage their resources and engage in lean management while delivering a measurable return on investment.

Kevin Ives is the business manager for training services at Rockwell Automation. He can be reached at kpives@ra.rockwell.com or 414-382-0093. To learn more about the IPA assessment service, or other Rockwell Automation services and products, visit www.ra.rockwell.com.