Autonomous Maintenance

Autonomous Maintenance

In today's fiercely competitive global economy, downtime is a costly burden that no manufacturer can afford. The financial repercussions of downtime are significant, with potential expenses soaring as high as $22,000 per minute for auto manufacturers, and even greater in various other industries. Furthermore, overhead costs persist despite the halt in production, as idle operators await machine repairs, leading to potential order cancellations by customers. Even if orders are not cancelled, the subsequent expenses of overtime and expedited deliveries to catch up with production schedules eat away at profit margins.

Unfortunately, many manufacturers face a shortage of engineering resources that hinder their ability to perform preventive maintenance effectively. Skilled technicians, who are already in high demand, are often focused on addressing urgent production issues and may not have the capacity to prioritise routine checks and adjustments, resulting in their postponement.

However, there is an often overlooked resource available: the individuals responsible for operating and overseeing production machinery day in and day out. While they may not possess the qualifications for complex repairs, these operators can be empowered to conduct routine inspections and basic preventive maintenance tasks. To implement autonomous maintenance within their operations, workers need proper guidance on what actions to take, when to execute them, and how to perform them.

What is Autonomous Maintenance?

Autonomous maintenance is a maintenance strategy where machine operators take on the responsibility of continuously monitoring their equipment, making adjustments, and performing minor maintenance tasks. Instead of relying solely on dedicated maintenance technicians for regular upkeep, this approach empowers operators to become proactive in maintaining their machines.

As the foundational pillar of total productive maintenance, autonomous maintenance entails operators possessing comprehensive knowledge of routine tasks such as cleaning, lubricating, and inspecting. It instils a sense of ownership in operators, driving them to ensure their equipment and its surroundings are well-maintained. This begins by restoring the machine to a pristine, ‘like new’ condition and maintaining that standard through ongoing cleanliness. Furthermore, operators receive training on technical skills required for routine inspections, and an autonomous inspection schedule is standardised.

Autonomous maintenance is guided by two fundamental principles:

  • Preventing equipment deterioration through a proper operation.
  • Restoring and maintaining equipment at a "like new" status through proactive restoration and effective management.

A significant aspect of autonomous maintenance is the operators' ability to determine when a machine upgrade is necessary or when a simple fix can swiftly restore its functionality. Operators must develop skills in identifying abnormalities by understanding the machine's components, implementing improvements, identifying potential quality issues, and investigating their root causes.

The primary objective of total productive maintenance is to enhance an organisation's overall equipment effectiveness, and this journey commences with autonomous maintenance. By relieving skilled maintenance staff from mundane tasks, operators acquire a deeper understanding of their equipment, ensure its cleanliness and lubrication, and proactively identify emerging issues before they lead to failures.

How to task Operators with Autonomous Maintenance?

Faced with these challenges and an ever-increasing pressure to maximise machine and line uptime, some manufacturers are adopting a different approach. Instead of burdening the overloaded (and costly) maintenance team with additional tasks, they are empowering operators to perform autonomous maintenance on their equipment and machines.

While many Total Productive Maintenance practitioners have embraced this approach, some maintenance departments may have reservations. However, before dismissing the idea, consider the following arguments:

Most autonomous maintenance tasks do not require high levels of skill or complex tools, and they can be quickly taught and performed.

Operators are often eager to take on new responsibilities, where they can be recognised and considered for future promotions.

Those who work on a production line often possess the most extensive knowledge of the equipment.

Delegating maintenance tasks to operators frees up maintenance technicians to focus on more strategic and urgent matters.

Of course, transitioning to autonomous maintenance necessitates operators acquiring the necessary skills to safely and effectively perform these tasks. Therefore, training and education are fundamental pillars of TPM. Supervisors must track skills coverage on the line, and work needs to be planned and scheduled for each machine. In essence, the right tools and processes are essential.

To achieve these goals, some manufacturers today are using a worker performance support app developed by Stryza. Each workstation is equipped with tablets and phones containing the Stryza app, which enables supervisors and operators to carry out the following tasks:

Supervisors: Supervisors utilise the app to assign autonomous maintenance skills to operators as part of their job responsibilities. A skills matrix provides a clear view of which operators have completed the training and been endorsed, as well as those who have not. Supervisors can also send notifications and reminders to operators via the app's live news feed.

Operators: Operators utilise the app to view a list of all the assigned work skills, including autonomous maintenance. This enables operators to be reminded of proper autonomous maintenance procedures directly at their workstations as part of their daily workflow.

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