Why the ‘make do and mend’ approach for managing assets needs to be replaced with a strategic maintenance policy

 
For many organisations it’s no exaggeration to say that maintenance engineers keep them in business. Faults in business-critical machinery can bring an entire operation to a standstill. As such, it’s no surprise to find that in recent research by RS and the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply, 49% of procurement professionals listed ‘maintaining ageing assets’ as the biggest day-to-day challenge facing those involved in MRO.
 
Major brick manufacturer Ibstock is considering investment to solve their issues with ageing assets. “In a lot of our manufacturing units the equipment is up to 30 years old because the policy has been to keep on fixing it,” says Kevin Cheetham, Category Manager at Ibstock Brick. “However, a couple of times last year aging assets did cause problems because they stopped working and replacement parts weren’t readily available.
 
“We know we need to increase machine uptime,” he adds, “so we’re in the process of investing heavily in getting the majority of our major manufacturing equipment inspected and reported on, then we’ll look at what’s needed to bring it all up to the required standard.”
“We’re starting to look at predictive maintenance, rather than relying on an engineer saying, ‘I can hear something but I’m not sure what it is’"Kevin Cheetham, Category Manager, Ibstock Brick
Maintenance strategy
There are various maintenance strategies that organisations can adopt to deal with their assets but the crucial thing – according to Richard Jeffers, Technical Director for Northern Europe at RS – is to have a strategy. “You might have old, end-of-life assets that aren’t worth spending money on,” he explains. “In which case, you might adopt a run-to-fail strategy and prepare to replace the asset once it stops working.
 
“For mid-life assets, you might want to think about the products you use to repair them,” he says. “You may want to regenerate those assets to bring them up to a new standard. So, you don’t replace with a like-for-like bearing, but with a more expensive ‘sealed for life’ bearing as part of an integrated asset management strategy, which recognises that an asset has 10 years left in it and you don’t want to repair it again in two years’ time.”
 
For Ibstock Brick, another consideration is whether their business could benefit from new technology. “We’re starting to look at predictive maintenance, when a sensor will tell us that something is going to fail,” says Cheetham. “So rather than relying on Fred, who’s been on the shop floor for 20 years, saying, ‘I can hear something but I’m not sure what it is,’ the engineers get an early-warning alert that a specific part will fail.”
“Suppliers can provide a broader view of the smart maintenance options available and share their expertise"Nick Hickman, Managing Director, NIRAS Process Industry Ltd
Managing investment
For some organisations the thought of investing in technology can be daunting but RS Managing Director for Northern Europe Mike England believes this doesn’t need to be the case. “Costs for smart maintenance technology are on the way down but it’s also important to understand that you don’t need to implement everything at once,” he says. “Instead, let’s look at some of the key applications within facilities where this technology would help. That could be critical assets or areas of difference that have a higher cost implication if something fails, but let’s start there to test and prove the technology’s value.”
 
Nick Hickman, Head of UK Operations of consultant engineering firm NIRAS Process Industry Ltd believes that this sort of approach is crucial given the restraints on capital expenditure at most organisations. “Sometimes, clients are offered inappropriate solutions,” he says. “You might not go ahead with some investments because you think, ‘there’s no way we can afford £3 million,’ but actually there’s a solution that costs £1 million and which will deliver the benefit that you want, move you on and enable you to make further investments at a later date.
 
“It’s about what is appropriate, so you need to take a balanced view,” he adds. “That’s a service that suppliers can provide by giving customers a broader view of the options and sharing their expertise.”