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What Is Industrial Maintenance, and Why Is It Important?

Maintenance Management / CMMS
Engineers repairing machinery

In a manufacturing business, time is money – a lot of money. Plant operators know this better than anyone, which is why going offline for maintenance is such a scrutinized decision. After all, regular upkeep will ensure the continued, reliable operation of your plant assets – but this also requires planned shutdowns that will inevitably eat into profits and affect productivity. 

Streamlining when, how, and why to conduct industrial maintenance is a big deal. Get it right and you’ll save in the long run, with minimal disruption to daily operations. Get it wrong and you could spend far more money than necessary to keep your facility up and running. Luckily, determining an industrial service schedule isn’t black magic. Once you learn the following techniques and terminology, you’ll be well prepared to take your maintenance planning to the next level. 

What is Industrial Maintenance?

Quite simply, industrial maintenance is the planned service and upkeep of machinery and other assets. The term encompasses not only the act of performing physical maintenance but also the theories, strategies, and analysis that guide the creation of a successful maintenance management plan. Companies rely on maintenance management software to streamline planning and management of maintenance activities.

When plant operators work with service specialists to create an industrial maintenance playbook for their facility, their goal is to craft an efficient, comprehensive, cost-effective, and minimally disruptive plan. The first step of this process often begins with a review of proactive and reactive maintenance.

Types of Industrial Maintenance

Nearly all industrial servicing strategies will fall under one of two umbrellas: reactive maintenance or proactive maintenance. Let’s look at each in more detail:

Reactive Maintenance

Reactive maintenance is the knee-jerk approach – you wait until failure or breakdown to perform service. Sound like a foolhardy strategy? It’s not. In fact, it’s a highly viable approach that’s often used for certain component groups. There’s usually no reason to shut down an assembly line to preemptively replace parts like light bulbs and batteries, even though they’re as necessary for effective plant operation as any of the more complex machinery on the shop floor.

If you choose the reactive approach to more complex assets, you’ll save money in the short term by side-stepping any recommended service procedures. Of course, that exposes you to the costs incurred from a major breakdown. This figure includes not only the cost of unexpected repairs but also the cost of sudden downtime in your facility. Oftentimes, this is enough to deter plant operators from implementing this strategy with critical assets.

Plant managers might use two main types of reactive maintenance techniques: breakdown maintenance and run-to-failure maintenance. 

Breakdown Maintenance

Breakdown maintenance is what it sounds like: an unplanned situation in which a piece of equipment breaks down and requires immediate repairs to be safely operable.

When you choose the breakdown maintenance approach, you’re accepting the risk that when the asset inevitably fails, you’re likely facing some kind of downtime or production stoppage. At the very least, it’s likely that some aspect of your production or supply chain will be delayed until the equipment is repaired. For that reason, this strategy is rarely used for large, high-end machinery and is more commonly seen with disposable or easily fixed assets.

Run-to-Failure Maintenance

On first glance, it might seem like breakdown and run-to-failure maintenance could be synonyms. After all, both sound like you sit back and ignore repairs until something breaks, right? Well, yes – but the crucial difference is that with run-to-failure, the breakdown is anticipated. You’re prepared ahead of time to perform service when the asset fails, therefore reducing downtime to a minimum and cutting out any uncertainty from the situation.

A great example is a battery. Are you going to preemptively replace batteries in hand tools or other equipment while they still hold a decent charge? Probably not. But if any begin to weaken, you might buy a new one in anticipation – and then, once a battery fails completely, you swap in the new unit and get back to work. 

Preventative maintenance on machine parts

Preventive Maintenance

Preventive maintenance, also known as planned maintenance, is when you perform all necessary servicing before signs of componentry failure, excessive wear and tear, or general degradation of performance. The idea is that by staying on top of upkeep and following all service recommendations, you’ll reduce the likelihood of a sudden breakdown. Therefore, you’ll save yourself the headache (and cost) of inevitable emergency repairs or replacements. Robust preventive maintenance software aids in keeping on top of the many tasks involved.

Depending on the asset in question, preventive maintenance can also ensure reliable operation for many years, perhaps even in excess of the original estimated useful life. Think of it like a car with high miles – ask the owner how they were able to wring 250,000 reliable miles from their vehicle and they’ll likely say something about timely maintenance and the importance of following the manufacturer’s recommended service intervals. 

We can further categorize preventive maintenance into a few general subsets. Here are two common types of preventive maintenance that you may already be practicing at your facility:

Calendar-Based Maintenance

Oftentimes, equipment requires some kind of servicing that isn’t dependent on usage but on time. Fluids are a great example. Coolant, for instance, is known for losing its effectiveness over time, and most passenger vehicles stipulate the coolant should be changed on a regular basis, regardless of how far the car has been driven. 

Usage-Based Maintenance

Similar to time-based intervals, usage-based maintenance follows a service schedule based on the runtime of a piece of equipment. In a car, the classic example is an oil change, often required every 5,000 miles or so. In industry, the metric might be every 500 or 1,000 hours of use. 

Predictive Maintenance

Predictive maintenance monitors the condition of equipment to predict breakdowns and perform maintenance and repairs before the equipment fails. In some ways, it’s a subset of preventive maintenance, but in others, it’s in a category of its own, taking preventive maintenance a step further. Prective maintenance makes use of monitoring components, such as LDAR tags and steam trap tagsfacility asset management tags, and other asset tags or monitoring tools.

These monitoring components are attached to each piece of equipment and connected to a centralized software system such as an Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) or Computerized Maintenance Management System (CMMS). This enables operators to continuously monitor and measure performance, identifying patterns and detecting anomalies that could indicate that a component or system is on the brink of failure.

How Do I Choose an Industrial Maintenance Strategy?

Choosing the right strategy isn’t easy. Most industrial facilities have hundreds or even thousands of pieces of equipment requiring some upkeep, and there is no catch-all solution. You’ll go bankrupt trying to perform preventive maintenance on every asset in your plant, and you’ll lose your shirt if you decide on breakdown maintenance as your overarching strategy. Finding the most efficient solution requires a more nuanced approach, considering factors like cost, reliability, and operational importance.

To help navigate the decision process, many operators turn to one of two more advanced maintenance-planning techniques: reliability-centered and condition-based maintenance (also called predictive maintenance, described above). The former option uses data to assess equipment for a variety of factors in an effort to match it with the most effective maintenance strategy; the latter uses data to monitor equipment conditions in real time and alert operators of impending service requirements.

Along with these frameworks, there’s also some simple solutions that can help implement and follow through with industrial maintenance. Our favorite of these? The humble equipment tag. With an accurate, durable, weather- and condition-resistant tag, equipment users can know at a glance key metrics like optimal tolerances, run speed, output, and so on. These tags can also divulge information regarding important maintenance requirements. As industrial specialists, we know that no matter what asset maintenance strategy you implement, tags like these can go a long way in ensuring a machine’s service regimen is never forgotten, and always adhered to.

Why Is Industrial Maintenance Important?

Without a planned industrial maintenance schedule for your equipment, parts and machines will be frustratingly unreliable, resulting in excessive downtime and inefficiency. By choosing to create an enforceable and effective maintenance plan, you’ll maximize the amount of time your equipment is in working order, thereby cutting down on production shutdowns, reducing service expenses, and ultimately maximizing profits. It’s like Ben Franklin famously advised: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. This adage couldn’t be more true than when it comes to running and maintaining your facility.

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