How maintenance can make the most of a manufacturing slowdown

How maintenance teams can make the most of a manufacturing slowdown

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It can be unsettling if production at your facility is slower than usual. You might even find yourself missing things you never thought you’d miss. The noise. The hustle and bustle. The routine.

But you can also find opportunity. With more time in your schedule, there’s no shortage of projects to start. The question is, where to begin? The tips below can offer some inspiration and guidance.

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Tips for reducing maintenance backlog

A bit of maintenance backlog is a healthy thing (most of the time). Regardless, you might be looking forward to whittling down your list of deferred work. Building a plan for tackling backlog will help you dismantle your to-do list with surgical precision while staying safe.

1. Prioritize your maintenance backlog

If you have a long list of maintenance backlog, it’s tempting to choose a task and dive right in. But prioritizing tasks will help you make a bigger impact, and it can be done in just three steps:

  • Identify outstanding work on critical assets. Think about the equipment that’s most likely to be needed first when production starts to increase again.
  • Pick work orders you haven’t done in a while. If a PM was missed two weeks in a row, it’s more likely to need attention than one missed just once.
  • Compare the length of each job and if tasks can be done while the machine is running. Take advantage of extra time to do longer jobs or ones that require a break in production.

2. Assess your resources

Your prioritized list is a great start, but it’s what you’d be doing in an ideal world, which is rarely the reality.

Stuart Fergusson, Fiix’s solutions engineering lead, suggests evaluating your team as the next step, which includes asking yourself a few questions:

  • Do you still have your full team? Having fewer technicians might change the work you can do.
  • What kind of training does the staff have? The capabilities of your technicians will change what you do, the order you do it in, and how long it’ll take.
  • Are there any new health and safety measures that could keep technicians from operating like normal?

After you figure out your staff’s capabilities, it’s on to your parts and supplies, says Stuart. Make sure you have all the spares you need, as well as other resources like checklists and PPE.

3. Identify high-risk work orders

Stuart mentions three kinds of high-risk jobs that might be in your maintenance backlog: major rebuilds, time-consuming projects, and work your team hasn’t done in a while (or at all).

Highlight these tasks and make a plan to reduce the risk around them. That can include extra training, putting more technicians and labour hours towards the work, and making sure the right PPE is available.

4. Schedule frequent touchpoints with your team

Jason Afara, a solutions engineer at Fiix and a former maintenance manager, suggests asking a few standard questions in team meetings to bring any problems (and solutions) to the surface:

  • Is your team comfortable with the jobs they’ve been given?
  • Do they have everything they need to get the work done?
  • What’s working and what isn’t?
  • How can new processes be improved?

5. Plan for what happens after you tackle the backlog

What happens when you have enough time to wipe out your entire to-do list? Create a new one. Here are a few suggestions for building out that new list, courtesy of Stuart:

  • Do your annual planned shutdowns of critical assets now. Thoroughly inspect, clean, service, repair, rebuild, and stress-test the equipment.
  • Check and calibrate condition-based sensors, PLCs, SCADA, and other data systems.
  • Review all safety equipment and make sure it’s accessible and working.
Five steps for tackling your maintenance backlog

Updating and upgrading your maintenance operation

When you’re able to step outside the daily grind, it’s easier to see what needs to be updated, where you can upgrade, and what you’re doing really well so you can keep doing it.

1. Add sensors, barcodes, and/or QR codes to your assets

If you’ve been planning on taking steps toward condition-based maintenance and better data collection, now is the time. Test condition-based sensors on equipment to see what can be measured and how to use the information. If you use a CMMS, spend some time putting barcodes or QR codes on assets, and organize them in your software.

2. Audit your maintenance storeroom

Jason recommends focusing on a few key areas that can help improve inventory management:

  • Make sure your cycle counts are accurate
  • Check the condition of tools and spare parts
  • Streamline your inventory purchasing processes
  • Clean and reorganize your storeroom, and put extra security measures in place
  • Organize emergency parts kits
  • Identify parts you don’t need so you can put a hold on purchases
  • Check that your maintenance records match the records of your finance department

3. Check reports for accuracy

To borrow a quote from Jason from our recent article on building a predictive maintenance program, “If you have bad data…it’s like the weatherperson telling you it’s sunny out when it’s actually raining.” Double-checking your reports allows you to make sure the numbers are telling the truth and that your decision-making is right on target.

4. Fine-tune your preventive maintenance work orders and checklists

Put the frequency of your PMs under the microscope. Look at the mean time between fail rates for equipment to see which assets need more or less attention. You can even take this opportunity to transition from time-based PMs to throughput-based PMs or condition-based maintenance.

If you’re reworking preventive maintenance checklists, talk to technicians to see what they need to be safer, more efficient, and more effective, says Jason. Do checklists need to be more detailed? Are they missing information, like diagrams or a bill of materials? Are they too long?

5. Review and update your documentation

Talk to your team and find out what can be changed or updated to make policies more effective. The documents that Stuart suggests reviewing (and updating where necessary) include:

  • Equipment SOPs
  • Health and safety procedures (like lockout-tagout and PPE guidelines)
  • Emergency operating procedures.
Five ways to update your maintenance operation

Making a contingency plan for a shutdown

While it’s not something that anyone wants to think about, it’s important to have a plan for turning off equipment. This helps you complete a shutdown safely and quickly. A solid plan will also prepare you for a quality restart when production begins again.

We covered some best practices for shutting down and restarting equipment in a recent two-part webinar series. Check out part one on hot stops and part two on cold starts. Some tips covered in the webinars include:

  • Designating someone as a shutdown coordinator who is responsible for managing a shutdown.
  • Creating in-depth shutdown checklists to make sure you’re completing crucial tasks and doing so safely. Track these work orders by tagging them with a special code.
  • Making a note on incomplete PMs and SMs so you know what was missed and why. Use this information to identify assets with a higher risk of failure and prioritize work before a potential restart.
  • Create a list of the changes so tasks and schedules can be adjusted once you’re back in the plant. This also helps you calculate the costs associated with the shutdown.

Focus on yourself

We’ve talked a lot about improving your facility, but it’s also important to take some time to take care of yourself.

“Everyone deals with change and tough times differently,” says Jason. “The most important thing to remember is to step back and take care of yourself first.”

Stress, burnout, and anxiety all increase during times of uncertainty and change. Making sure you are physically and mentally healthy reduces the impact of some of those feelings and keeps you at your best when you’re at work.

Another way to focus on your well-being is to invest in personal development. There are a lot of ways to do that, but here are some of our favourites:

  • Read up on news, trends, and best practices for maintenance professionals
  • Take courses, watch webinars, and pursue certifications that help you develop and brush up on your skills
  • Join or create an online group to discuss issues, solutions, and ideas for improvement
Best practices for managing a facility shutdown

The most important takeaway: You got this

Facility slowdowns can be a big change and not always a good one. If you’re reading this, you’ve probably gone through a big, unexpected shift in your daily routine and that’s difficult. But armed with the right information, processes, and team, you have the tools to help you manage this change and come out on the other side with new skills and experiences.

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