Downtime costs the UK’s manufacturing businesses more than £180 billion every year. And around 42% of unplanned downtime is caused by equipment failures.

The damage done by unexpected downtime is amplified when contending with just-in-time manufacturing and delivery schedules. In these circumstances, there’s no latent capacity waiting to pick up the slack, no spare stock ready to ship. That’s why ensuring machines are always operating efficiently is a priority.

But, while it’s easy enough to acknowledge the challenges of maintenance, not having an adequately defined predictive and preventative maintenance strategy in place could leave a business exposed. Unscheduled outages, costly repairs, and a shortening of asset lifespans are all potential risks. While getting started on a strategy can seem overwhelming, the approach favoured by the Maintenance Solutions team at RS is to focus on three core areas to take the complexity out of the process:

Condition monitoring
A condition monitoring strategy offers a lot of potential benefits, such as reductions in machine failures, less downtime and an extended asset lifetime. All machines produce heat, noise and vibration when in use. Outside of normal and expected limits, any one of those things could be an indication of impending trouble.

A functional predictive maintenance programme can yield a 10-fold increase in ROI, 25%-30% reduction in maintenance costs, 70%-75% decrease of breakdowns and increased uptime of between 35% and 45%.

Rotating machinery, such as gearboxes, fans, motors, pumps or almost any type of active equipment, can benefit from vibration analysis , for example. But analysis alone is not enough. It needs to be the precursor to action, according to maintenance engineering academic Dr Moray Kidd.

“A lot of companies will say they do condition monitoring,’” he says. “But when you scratch the surface and ask what interventions they’ve made as a result of that analysis, they’ll often say they haven’t got the resources to make any.

“They’ll say: ‘We tried that – it didn’t work for us. It was expensive, so we didn’t carry on.’”

Resources, and often that means personnel, can be the biggest challenge. Many businesses are aware of the benefits of condition monitoring, but struggle to take that forward and develop proactive maintenance models of their own. This is one area where adopting a specialist service provider, such as RS Monition, can turn those potential benefits into reality and help to identify the most efficient and cost-effective maintenance strategies.

Laboratory testing
Engineering and manufacturing sit at the crossroads of high-tech and low-tech activities. Methods and models are constantly being refined and improved, but ultimately there is still machinery cutting, shaping and hammering. Oil, grease and noise are never far away.

The simple act of conducting an analysis of oil taken from a machine, for example, can be revealing. Is there soot, or debris from machine wear? Has the oil itself started to degrade? The machine might not provide direct clues as to its state of health, but the evidence is available – sometimes it’s a question of knowing how and where to look for it. Or finding someone who can perform that service.

“The reality is that some of the biggest gains can be achieved by doing the basics well – establishing good housekeeping processes,” Dr Kidd advises.

As with an overall condition monitoring strategy, oil analysis feeds into a condition-based maintenance model – if the oil reveals the presence of problems, prompt action can prevent costly, unplanned downtime.

Of course, it might be the case that some equipment is less of a priority. “Reactive maintenance is alive and kicking,” Dr Kidd says. “It’s OK to fix something when it breaks providing it’s not critical, and there’s redundancy.”

"Some of the biggest gains can be achieved by doing the basics well."Dr Moray Kidd, Maintenance Engineering Academic

Clean, inspect, lubricate, tighten
This simple mantra can take an engineering business a long way towards preserving the life and performance of its machinery.

“Lubrication is a common point of failure that we see routinely,” says Stuart Millar, Technical and Value Added Solutions Director for Northern Europe at RS Components.

In the Indirect Procurement Report 2020: The Evolution of MRO – RS Components’ white paper produced in partnership with the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply (CIPS) – 42% of UK businesses said ‘ageing assets’ was their biggest cause of downtime.

A simple, reliable maintenance regimen is vital, particularly with older equipment.

Defining the optimal running condition for a machine is the first step. Regular cleaning is also important – not only does it make sense, but regular cleaning provides another opportunity to inspect the machine.

"This is absolutely a living and breathing, continuous process."Dr Moray Kidd, Maintenance Engineering Academic

Identifying the right lubricants is key, too. Lubrication failure isn’t always due to insufficient amounts – too much or the wrong kind can also cause damage.

The RS Maintenance Solutions team breaks this process into four steps:
1. Measure-up/develop
2. Trace and analyse
3. Appraise/implement
4. Control and optimise

“This is absolutely a living and breathing, continuous process,” Dr Kidd says. “And the great thing is that the real value is in the journey, not the destination. It gets people thinking about what ‘critical’ means within their business. What can cause things to fail, and what the right response should be. And that can make the biggest difference in any business following a formalised approach to maintenance engineering. That’s the real value.”

Always keep in mind that change is a gradual process. Prioritise making upgrades to those assets with the highest criticality to safeguard their ongoing performance.

Whether at the cutting-edge of engineering technology or trying to juggle a mixed estate, the sooner a business takes a more strategic and scientific approach to maintenance engineering, the better. There are complexities in getting the right strategy in place, but there’s no need to overcomplicate things. Make an assessment of what can be changed, and what needs to be improved. Then take action, step-by-step.

To find out more about how Maintenance Solutions from RS can help your business make the most of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), or to learn more about our other services, please visit our website.