The perfect formula for aligning operations and maintenance

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When operations and maintenance don’t work well together, it can be costly. And messy. Take this story of a food manufacturer as an example.

The facility uses a sheeter, which rolls huge balls of dough. The sheeter needs to be cleaned every day. The production team regularly cleans the machine with water. There’s just one problem with this—water makes the dough clump up and break the machine. As a result, emergency maintenance is the norm.

If this situation feels familiar to you, you’re not alone. It happens thousands of times a day. Operations and maintenance have different goals, motivations, and processes. The result is confusion, frustration, and finger-pointing. This isn’t good for business or employee health.

This article is all about learning how to break that cycle and improve alignment between operations and maintenance, including:

  • Metrics to share
  • How to increase collaboration
  • Tips for building joint processes

Why aligning operations and maintenance should be your top priority

Any manufacturer working to reduce waste is either leading the pack or about to break away from the field. For proof of that, look no further than the fact that manufacturers waste 20% of every dollar they spend.

Waste often appears during production as highlighted by these scary stats (courtesy of automation.com):

  • Large industrial facilities lose over 323 production hours a year to unplanned downtime
  • The average annual cost of downtime is $532,000 per hour or $172 million per plant
  • The cost of downtime for Fortune 500 manufacturers is equal to 8% of annual revenues

Cost of Downtime Automotive FMCG/CPG Heavy Industry Oil & Gas
Unplanned downtime hours per facility each month 29 25 23 32
Cost per hour of downtime $1,343,400 $23,600 $187,500 $220,000

Huge costs are one thing. But work delays, reactive maintenance, and emergency purchases have a mental and physical toll as well.

Improving the relationship between operations and maintenance is critical to cutting downtime at its source.

“When maintenance and operations are aligned, it allows the business to find issues within the operations,” says Jason Afara, Senior Solutions Engineer at Fiix.

“And then business leaders can make informed decisions on how to correct these issues with the appropriate resources. It turns guessing games and blame games into a unified effort.”

Where to align operations and maintenance processes

Planning scheduled downtime

The definition of efficient maintenance is keeping equipment up and running with as little downtime as possible. Of course, this is easier said than done. The production team has quotas to fill. Anything that gets in the way of hitting that target is a threat. That includes maintenance.

“We would fight operations just to get a little bit of maintenance on a machine,” says Jason, remembering his time as a maintenance manager.

This is all too common and unproductive. Luckily, there are two ways maintenance and operations can create a plan for preventive maintenance that benefits both groups:

  1. Use data to compare the impact of maintenance to the impact of failure
  2. Develop shared processes that reduce the amount of scheduled downtime

The first step is for both teams to understand how their activities affect the performance of equipment. Once again, it’s often more complicated than it sounds.

“This is where maintenance departments usually fail,” says Charles Rogers, a Senior Implementation Consultant at Fiix with over 33 years of experience in maintenance.

“They don’t have data to back up their asks. You have to be able to prove your case and show evidence that if you don’t do maintenance on schedule, there will be much worse consequences at some point—probably sooner than later.”

The best way to align your efforts is to determine the acceptable risk and the consequences of failure as one team. Share information on common failure modes, how often they’re expected to happen, as well as repair times and costs for each one. Compare this to the frequency of scheduled maintenance, the time it takes to do these tasks, and the costs involved.

Quantifying the difference makes it clear that scheduling frequent breaks in production for maintenance is a better way for both teams to hit their goals and avoid big, time-consuming breakdowns.

Use this FMEA template to calculate the risk of failure and prioritize maintenance

Creating shared processes between operations and maintenance allows the teams to share and action data. For example, it allows operators to detect small failures and maintenance technicians to respond to them faster. Examples of these processes include:

  • Regular meetings between operations and maintenance leaders to discuss production and preventive maintenance schedules, spec changes on machines, or other updates
  • Quarterly meetings between the two teams to discuss successes, challenges, solutions, and root cause analysis
  • A work request process that enables machine operators to quickly and confidently identify problems and empowers technicians to prioritize and respond to issues with minimal disruption

Creating shared work and clear responsibilities

Any mention of operations and maintenance working together will inevitably lead to talk of total productive maintenance (TPM). You can read a short primer on TPM here, but the idea is that everyone at a company (from technicians to accountants) is responsible and involved in maintenance.

Making operations part of the maintenance process is one of the easiest and most effective ways to begin building a TPM program. Here’s an example of how that might be done:

How operations can be involved chart

12 ways you can use work orders to start your TPM program

The key to making these shared processes successful is to create clear job responsibilities. When people know exactly what they need to do, it helps you:

  • Provide the right training and materials to the right people
  • Create accurate timelines and budgets
  • Test new processes, optimize them, and expand them
  • Pick out bad data and figure out the root cause of it

Start defining clear responsibilities by creating a maintenance type for operators. This allows you to track how much work you’re giving to operations. It also helps you design work order templates for operators so they know what to do and where to go if the scope of work changes.

Building realistic work timelines

When operations and maintenance know how long it takes to get things done, it’s easier to set schedules, budgets, and targets accordingly. It also prevents unseen delays, reduces frustration, and fosters respect between the two teams. But it’s not useful to share maintenance timelines if they aren’t accurate. There are a few strategies to make sure expectations match reality:

  1. Look at equipment maintenance logs. Identify work that frequently takes longer than is expected, and adjust timelines accordingly.
  2. Analyze your work order data to find PMs with a high rate of required follow-up maintenance. Factor that into your brief to the operations team.
  3. Account for parts of a work order that fall outside of actual wrench time. That includes retrieving parts, completing safety procedures, and running tests on machines.

Providing realistic timelines doesn’t always mean your schedules will match up. But it does help operations and maintenance have a conversation about what can be done in the time you have. When determining what maintenance can be sacrificed for production, here are a few questions to ask:

Five questions to help operations and maintenance solve scheduling conflicts

Five ways to build a strong relationship between operations and maintenance

Your operations and maintenance teams might be best friends. Or maybe there’s some tension between them. Whatever the relationship is like, there’s always an opportunity to make it better with a few, simple strategies.

Create multiple ways for the two teams to communicate

Communicating with other teams is often one of the first activities to be abandoned when work gets busy. That’s why there needs to be formal processes in place to maintain the flow of information. Creating dedicated channels for communication might include:

  • Team meetings: Regular meetings create space for everyone’s voice to be heard and to keep challenges, plans, and updates visible
  • Channels to post and see updates: This can be anything from a whiteboard to a WhatsApp group, or a digital work request portal for tracking the status of requests
  • Peer reviews: This is a process where operations and maintenance team members review each other anonymously to identify how they can work better together

There are a few key pieces of information to discuss when you’re working in these channels:

  • Machines updates: Bring up spec changes, potential problems, safety risks, or updates to standard operating procedures
  • Schedules: Talk about upcoming work, risks or conflicts, what’s needed to be successful, and any changes from what was previously discussed
  • Reporting: Review targets, progress, troubling trends, or major successes in your reporting
  • Roadblocks and solutions: Discuss major challenges or questions your team has and collaborate on ways to remove those obstacles
  • Long-term planning: Figure out how both teams can continually improve, including how to better manage budgets, hit long-term goals, and develop new skills

Having a framework for communication between operations and maintenance allows you to turn talk into action. Here are a few ground rules:

  • Focus on solutions, not blame: Finding a solution should be the goal of all your conversations
  • Focus on the collective: Find solutions that work for everyone, instead of trying to win an argument or battle for your team
  • Develop a feedback loop: Create trust by actioning feedback and keeping everyone aware of progress
  • Value consistency, but stay flexible: Commit to communicating, but understand that meetings might need to move around once in a while if an emergency occurs
  • Create an agenda for all meetings: Have a plan for what you’re going to talk about so you can make the most of everyone’s time

Set the same goals

There will be less friction between operations and maintenance when the two teams define success the same way. There might be different ideas on how to get to your goal, but both departments will be moving in the same direction.

“In the worst scenario, these departments are siblings who are constantly fighting,” says Jason.

“But in the best-case scenario, you’re working together to achieve the same goals, celebrating together when you hit those targets, and joining forces to get back on track when you don’t.

There are a few metrics that both operations and maintenance can share responsibility for:

  1. Clean start-ups after maintenance and first-pass yield/first-pass good: Both numbers aim to measure efficiency and waste
  2. Total cost per unit of production: Both operations and maintenance can be accountable for reducing costs while improving quality
  3. Time spent supporting production/maintenance: Tracking the time each team spends supporting the other will help you allocate resources and create effective hiring plans
  4. Unplanned downtime( last 90 days): See the impact of preventive maintenance and the shared processes that make this work efficient
  5. Mean time to detect and repair: Everyone has a part in finding and fixing failure before it leads to breakdowns and doing so with as little disruption to the business as possible

Use this template to create shared goals between operations and maintenance

Integrate production and maintenance systems

It’s easy for operations to have a negative view of maintenance when their only exposure to it is a breakdown or service interruption. Integrating the systems used for production and maintenance provides visibility into each team’s work. This allows you to see the positive impact of each department and help each other accomplish even more.

Ryan Robinson’s maintenance team is a great example of how integrating maintenance software with equipment and production systems can deliver incredible results. Ryan, the shop manager at a wholesale tree grower, connected sensors on several machines with a CMMS. This gave him the data he needed to optimize maintenance intervals and increase production efficiency.

“Because we know how equipment is used on a daily basis, we have some idea of what is going to be expected of maintenance tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day,” says Ryan.

Ryan was also able to use this data to spot vehicles with high idle times. He brought this information to the farm manager, who figured out the reason why and found a solution.

Read Ryan’s story

World-class maintenance teams are aligned with operations

Operations and maintenance are the heartbeat of any company with lots of assets and big production targets. That’s why it’s essential that they develop a healthy relationship and formal processes for working together. The two teams must share everything from the metrics they aim for to the systems they use, and the schedule that guides their work. Joining forces gives them better visibility into the challenges that face the business and the power to overcome them. It’s a win-win for everyone involved.

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