Maintenance? Why would a Project Team think about maintenance? It comes down to the project’s definition of success. While some project managers see cost and schedule metrics as their only definition of success, the legacy of their project will ultimately be judged by the combination of those metrics as well as the asset’s ability to ramp up to full production. To do that, the equipment needs to operate reliably, which is the purpose of a maintenance program.

The aim of any equipment reliability program is to manage downtime by understanding the probability of failure and even predicting when the failure may happen. This enables the downtime to become planned as opposed to unplanned. This is particularly challenging during the ramp-up of a production facility since there is little historical data, so having the right tools and resources in place will improve the organization’s ability to reduce unplanned downtime. 

The exact steps required vary depending on the type of equipment involved. A maintenance schedule could be simple and may require nothing more than periodic checks of filters or other removable components, coupled with more comprehensive checks of key components at specific points throughout the year. At other times, the maintenance process may require daily inspections as a means of identifying potential issues before they can have any type of serious impact on productivity. A properly structured maintenance program is tailored to the particulars of that company including scheduling times for equipment checks, trouble-shooting, general housekeeping, etc.

Why Not Run to Failure?

As equipment is broken in and ages over time, asset care and maintenance are required to maximize efficiency and availability. If equipment maintenance is put off in the name of increased short term production, it can prove costly.  Below are the risks associated with taking a reactive approach, aka “Run to Failure”maintenance.

1.    Costs associated with process downtime, materials, maintenance resources, vendor support, etc. for unplanned work can be three to four time higher than planned repairs;

2.    Organizations are legally liable to perform & document regular maintenance on certain equipment and could be held liable if there’s an accident;

3.    Without sound asset management it’s not clear which precautionary measures need to be taken, so that performing the maintenance work creates hazardous situations;

4.    Without insight it’s impossible to request reliable materials and service quotations;

5.    Not knowing what you have and when they require serviced will impact the organization’s ability to set operating budgets (parts, service, overtime, etc.)

6.    Unplanned maintenance impacts employee performance, productivity and morale.

Conclusion

Understanding the behavior of equipment over its full lifecycle helps us understand the importance, and the need, for maintenance.  So, basically, there are two choices:

1.    Do nothing, leave your maintenance strategy to chance and only repair equipment when it breaks. This method is called reactive maintenance and is by far, the most costly, unsafe and inefficient strategy.

2.    Be proactive and develop a maintenance plan that meets the company’s business needs and try to perform repairs or parts replacement based on maintenance schedules and predictive activities.

To be proactive the asset reliability strategy must be decided early in the project lifecycle. This will influence the design to ensure appropriate equipment redundancy, accessibility and isolation. Provisions for maintenance downtime in the production plan and operating cost forecasts must also be made so the organization isn’t starting out the gate with a plan that is setup for failure. 

In addition, this strategy needs to turn into action by building the maintenance workforce, populating the maintenance management system with preventative maintenance routines and parts lists in advance of plant start-up. In addition, equipment commissioning provides an excellent opportunity to take baseline readings for metrics such as vibration and temperature, which serve as the basis of comparison for future equipment behavior.

Having all this in place will increase the likelihood of a successful ramp-up and a strong legacy for the project.