The metallurgy manufacturing sector has experienced several changes over time, especially as companies shift to sustainable and innovative operational practices. It is a resource-intensive sector that depends on several types and grades of production assets. Companies must prioritize the maintenance of these assets since they are pivotal for business continuity.
Maintenance involves all the corrective and preventive measures performed on assets to enhance their performance, reliability, and effectiveness. Asset failures and sustained breakdowns affect the cost and quality of production. Companies should establish reliable maintenance strategies complementing their business and productivity needs.
Metallurgy manufacturers can measure the success of established maintenance strategies by evaluating metrics like:
- Mean time between failures (MTBF)
- Mean time to repair (MTTR)
- Planned maintenance percentage
- Maintenance costs
Maintenance practices have transformed as technology advanced. Companies can monitor production assets and the associated maintenance costs. Most companies leverage digital technology to streamline maintenance activities. So, what are the predominant maintenance problems in modern metallurgy manufacturing facilities?
1. Pressure to enhance maintenance efficiency
Maintenance teams in metallurgy manufacturing facilities struggle with immense workloads. There is constant pressure to keep equipment operational and minimize downtime. The metallurgy sector operates in a volatile market that experiences rapid changes due to geopolitics and socio-economic factors. Companies should balance production and asset utilization.
Enhancing maintenance efficiency requires the implementation of best practices. It involves proper utilization of maintenance, repair, and operations (MRO), as well as inventory management, continuous improvement of maintenance activities, utilization of skilled labor, and the elimination of maintenance-related waste.
Asset maintenance in metallurgy manufacturing is labor-intensive and involves several repetitive tasks. Reliance on manual work management tools complicates team coordination and impacts the quality of the performed maintenance work and average maintenance time. Technicians must constantly prepare for emergency breakdowns and bottlenecks that may cripple routine operations.
Companies can manage the pressure to enhance maintenance efficiency by leveraging digital technologies. They can improve factory maintenance by implementing computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS) to manage complex work schedules, staff collaboration, and data management.
2. Failing to implement standard operating procedures
Maintenance teams deal with various production assets. Each asset requires specific maintenance interventions, tools and spares, and corrective measures. Companies with effective maintenance practices use standard operating procedures (SOPs) to perfect scheduled and emergency maintenance activities.
SOPs define appropriate work practices, safety measures, and documentation standards that technicians must follow when conducting corrective and preventive maintenance. Some metallurgy manufacturers rely on outdated SOPs, while others have not established these procedures. These standards should be updated as technology changes, and as the asset base increases.
In some instances, the company develops SOPs but fails to enforce them. Failure to establish and implement SOPs impacts the quality of maintenance work: technicians overlook some safety procedures and the scope of maintenance work; it increases the transfer of errors and extends the mean time between repairs. Finally, companies spend more money performing repeat maintenance.
Metallurgy manufacturers should establish and enforce SOPs for maintenance teams. They must appoint relevant personnel to inspect adherence to industry-approved SOPs. Are employees using the right set of tools and protective equipment during maintenance? Are all maintenance tasks documented as required?
Companies should frequently audit facilities to identify new opportunities for enhancing the quality of maintenance SOPs, and update them to match the prevailing technological solutions used in metallurgy manufacturing facilities.
3. Insufficient staff training
Companies usually hire skilled personnel to handle asset maintenance. These individuals understand how to troubleshoot various equipment defects. Their combined years of experience ensure they restore faulty production assets faster. Metallurgy manufacturers must frequently train technicians to enhance the adopted maintenance strategies.
Manufacturers sometimes disregard staff training if assets are in good working conditions. What happens when the company introduces digitally-backed work tools? How do technicians adapt to increasing backloads following the acquisition of newer assets? How do manufacturers handle asset maintenance with an aging workforce?
A lack of training limits the technical capabilities of maintenance technicians. These individuals require all-around skills to help them manage any maintenance task in the facility. They should understand how to implement SOPs, record maintenance work, and use digital maintenance tools.
Companies should develop robust training programs for both experienced technicians and new hires. The training should focus on best maintenance practices, safety measures, digital technologies, and the benefits of targeted asset maintenance.
4. Tight maintenance budgets
Maintenance is vital for improving the company’s profitability. However, asset maintenance is resource-intensive. The company retains a lean MRO inventory and pays salaries to technicians who keep equipment running. Metallurgy manufacturers must manage asset maintenance using tight budgets.
Some companies do not prioritize maintenance and allocate a small budget to the maintenance department. Such instances force companies to defer critical maintenance tasks. It leads to delays, which affect workflows across the facility. It also leads to a pile-up of maintenance activities, further straining the technicians.
Companies should allocate sufficient financial resources to maintenance departments. Each facility should conduct a comprehensive audit to understand the scope of maintenance work and resource requirements for each piece of equipment. It helps them plan maintenance work and enlists reliable vendors to supply MRO inventories. The budget should cover the training needs of technicians.
5. Personnel management issues
Asset maintenance in metallurgy manufacturing requires coordination between different departments. All teams should work collaboratively to reach the defined business goals. Every team should deliver their mandate for the company to enjoy success in all facets.
Challenges in cross-departmental collaboration can impede maintenance activities. For instance, the procurement department may delay the purchase of spare parts because a small quantity is still available in the workshop. While this may be a cost-saving measure, it affects the maintenance schedule.
Metallurgy manufacturing facilities operate in a wide geographical zone. It means the maintenance department is dispersed over a wide area. The company may face hurdles if personnel management is decentralized. How do they manage work attendance? How do managers monitor the progress and quality of maintenance work?
Companies should adopt relevant technological solutions to manage cross-departmental collaboration, track field employees, and centralize maintenance data management. Employees should update maintenance reports remotely, without the need to travel long distances to the office. They can also request and track the status of spare parts while in the field or on the shop floor.
The predominant maintenance problems in modern-day metallurgy revolve around personnel and workflow management. Companies should streamline operations in all departments and managerial levels to enhance collaboration and work quality.
Manufacturers can revolutionize metallurgy manufacturing by investing in advanced process techniques and digital solutions. These solutions reduce maintenance-related pressure and enable companies to manage heavy maintenance work using fewer financial and technical resources.
Bryan Christiansen is the founder and CEO of Limble CMMS. Limble is a modern, easy-to-use mobile CMMS software that takes the stress and chaos out of maintenance by helping managers organize, automate, and streamline their maintenance operations.