4 paths to engineering, maintenance integration
While the outlook for manufacturing appears relatively bright, challenges loom. Investment in new technologies and new facilities is increasingly expensive, and the rapid rise of international competitors is forcing U.S. manufacturers to leverage processes to the fullest extent. In the pursuit of ever-increasing efficiencies, manufacturers may be overlooking existing opportunities within their ...
While the outlook for manufacturing appears relatively bright, challenges loom. Investment in new technologies and new facilities is increasingly expensive, and the rapid rise of international competitors is forcing U.S. manufacturers to leverage processes to the fullest extent. In the pursuit of ever-increasing efficiencies, manufacturers may be overlooking existing opportunities within their organizations to effectively strengthen processes, performance, and overall productivity. How?
1. Creating efficiencies in maintenance and engineering functions, for example, is a solid first step toward improvement. Going one step farther—by more closely aligning the maintenance and engineering activities within your production operation—you can take efficiency and machinery performance to an even higher level.
In my experience, most manufacturers encourage collaboration between engineering and maintenance functions. However, companies have traditionally managed each separately. As a result, opportunities to improve asset performance may have been missed, or not capitalized on, due to poor coordination and lack of communication.
2. One of the first and easiest ways you can overcome long-standing inefficiencies is to involve engineering and maintenance-support engineers during the install and operate phases of any project. Active participation from both groups is essential in uncovering the most effective methods of designing and optimally maintaining production equipment.
3. Conversely, maintenance personnel must become better informed about the production specifications and operating parameters of plant-floor equipment. Very rarely does plant equipment operate at 100% capacity. When a problem occurs, maintenance teams often repair the equipment to its most recent production levels, not to the machine's optimal design capacity. Therefore, maintenance teams should compare their equipment's actual productivity with the project engineer's original design specifications to maximize its operating potential.
4. To help maintenance and engineering staffs collaborate more effectively, many manufacturers use third-party suppliers who work to provide the insight into opportunities for process improvements and synergies. Understanding your organization's unique challenges, engineering service providers help integrate engineering and maintenance to maximize uptime and optimize ROI.
Unfortunately, many manufacturers fear the initial investment of time and money required to implement key engineering and manufacturing improvements. Short-term expenditures of personnel and other resources are the biggest obstacles you will face when integrating or aligning maintenance and engineering. While these up-front costs generally last for only the first 12 to 18 months of implementation, they deter many from following through on the strategy. This is unfortunate, since many manufacturers have reported substantial returns after 18 to 36 months of functional integration.
I've witnessed many advantages of more closely integrating engineering and maintenance functions: lower costs; improved process efficiency; better machine operation and output—to name only a few. With your equipment operating at optimal design capacity, production costs are drastically reduced. The total cost of equipment ownership drops, and your organization can increase overall manufacturing capacity without adding a square inch to the plant floor.
Although integration requires an up-front investment, bridging the gap between engineering and maintenance can reap substantial, long-term rewards for all types of manufacturers in facilities around the world.
Mike Laszkiewicz is vice president, customer support and maintenance, Rockwell Automation