Planned maintenance cannot cover every eventuality, but you can develop an agile approach that allows for the delivery of reactive maintenance when unforeseen challenges arise
Some people just love it when things go wrong. There’s an old saying: “Never waste a good crisis”. For those who like to act the hero, rushing in to save the day, that’s just how it is.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Planning ahead instead of reacting to breakdowns saves the day – everyday. Not only does it avoid expensive unplanned outages, but it also ensures there’s enough time to do routine maintenance when it’s due.
"You've got to differentiate your maintenance execution into planned and reactive work – and you've got to emphasise the importance of sticking to the plan."Richard Jeffers, Managing Director for RS Industria, RS Group
A new way of working
For many maintenance engineering teams a shift in mindset is in order, says Richard Jeffers, Managing Director for RS Industria, RS Group. “You've got to differentiate your maintenance execution into planned and reactive work – and you've got to emphasise the importance of sticking to the plan.”
The consequences of not getting this right can be significant, says Jeffers. “If your maintenance organisation is 100% shift-based then it’s designed to react to failure. The result will be very poor compliance with your planned work and from that more failure will follow.”
A maintenance planning programme is only one part of creating a resilient operation. The plan must exist within a wider strategy and both must be updated on a continuing basis, says Jeffers. “Some key questions arise when building and operating a planned maintenance schedule. Does your strategy ensure labour, spare parts and any specialist contractors are available when you need them? When the time comes for a review, ask yourself if the planned maintenance you’re doing is improving asset availability. Interrogate the data to find out if you are reducing the amount of maintenance-induced failure.”
You can’t plan for everything
In complex manufacturing processes it’s impossible to predict every failure. All the planned maintenance in the world is not going to prevent unforeseen breakdowns.
Dr Moray Kidd, Maintenance Engineering Academic, says engineers must remain ready to respond at speed. “Maintenance strategy should have a mix of different approaches. Often people think that reactive maintenance is a practice that is no longer appropriate – but it’s not that simple. For items that are less critical, run-to-failure may still be the most appropriate option.”
Like Richard Jeffers, Kidd believes a well-crafted and executed strategy is key to building resilience by combining planned maintenance with reactive interventions, where appropriate. “There have been a lot of advances in the last 20 years around condition-based or predictive maintenance, with machine learning and more elaborate methods used for those assets that are more critical. Preventative maintenance is by far still the most common practice where assets are maintained, based on operating hours or another more appropriate metric.”
Kidd says it’s important to develop a bespoke approach that meets the needs of each organisation. “A lot of these strategies depend on the type of industry and the type of operation. They’re all relevant provided they are applied appropriately, in the right place, at the right time. When that happens the outcome is resilience within the business, whether that's improving reliability or reducing the downtime through clever planning.”
"Your people are central to a robust maintenance plan. They must be highly engaged and willing to back processes that are intuitive and clearly defined."Ian Bell, Vice President of Engineering and Facilities, RS Group
Play as a team – and play the long game
The process of shifting from reactive to planned maintenance can be unsettling for members of your team. Ian Bell, Vice President of Engineering and Facilities, RS Group says good leadership is the way to overcome doubts and resistance to change.
“Your people are central to a robust maintenance plan. They must be highly engaged and willing to back processes that are intuitive and clearly defined.” Bell advises maintenance engineering managers to ensure their teams don’t just revert to type when an unexpected failure happens, despite the planned maintenance programme.
“Most breakdowns are exceptional, or you've seen them before. What you've got to do is make sure you don't overreact to them. You know, don't over-steer to control the skid. It's so easy to get distracted by what’s happened and you lose sight of the plan you had. Deal with the crisis at hand and then immediately get back to your long-game strategy.”
A well-planned maintenance engineering programme will be a win-win for your organisation. Operations will be more resilient, with fewer failures and less downtime. When the unexpected happens, you’ll have the capacity and the capability to react quickly to fix the problem. It may take a change of attitude for engineers who are used to riding to the rescue in a crisis – but delivering added value and boosting the bottom line will always reflect well with your senior stakeholders, and should give extra leverage in those tricky conversations about funding for future maintenance operations.