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The road from unexpected downtime to preventive maintenance

Downtime on machines and production lines. There’s not a company in the world that looks forward to that. The solution lies in the changeover from “firefighting” to a system of preventive maintenance. That calls for a different way of thinking and working, but it’s possible. 

Once a start has been made on the road to preventive maintenance, good prospects lie ahead. More specifically, in terms of optimum Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE), reduced maintenance costs, a manageable production process, higher output, improved quality and more satisfied customers. Companies in the chemical industry and the energy sector, for example, have learned about this already. There, due to concerns such as safety and supply guarantees, preventive maintenance is usually embedded in the production methodology. But opportunities aplenty lie in wait in other segments of the process industry too.


There are, of course, pitfalls in the course of developing and implementing a preventive maintenance system. In terms of finance, for example. When a choice is made for stepwise investment, the transition from reactive intervention to the proactive planning and carrying out of maintenance work will take the form of a slow process. The risk then is that when visible improvements are lacking, people will give up and fall back on the old system of “firefighting”. In order to make good on the necessary changes, a big enough budget and good financial planning are a must. 

Shutdowns are sacred 

One of the most visible and tangible elements in preventive maintenance is the planned shutdown day, on which preventive maintenance is performed. At the start, day-long shutdowns may feel a bit strange, what the organization is looking for, after all, is an end to “downtime” and “production stops”. But shutdown days are sacred and must never – not even in the case of unexpectedly high demand – be canceled. During the initial phase in particular, you will even have to plan for extra shutdown days, in order to make up for maintenance arrears in the past, and to carefully plan out and arrange the new maintenance management system. Shutdown days, in other words, demand time in the short term, but in the long term they result in structural reductions in downtime, fewer unexpected surprises and therefore more revenue.

Structured prevention

Another area requiring attention is the shift in focus on the part of maintenance mechanics. The challenge, after all, is no longer to find the fastest and most adequate solution for acute breakdowns, but in fact the careful performance of maintenance activities in accordance with a fixed plan. And that involves a significant amount of administrative work too. The real heroic role of the maintenance mechanic is therefore no longer the solving of problems on the spot, but the prevention of problems in an organized fashion.

Stay on the right path

The turnaround in the thinking and actions of all those involved at all layers of the organization, the implementation of a new system, the work in accordance with new processes and the careful planning of shutdown days: all these are equally essential and require sufficient time, money and attention. Be sure to reserve six months to a year to make it happen, and do it all with due care and complete conviction. Stay on the path you’ve mapped out. If you do, you’ll see that the real improvements and the pleasure your people experience in their work will increase quickly enough. Preventive maintenance will then become a part of the total plant process and you will truly be on the road to success. From that moment on, staying on that right path will feel comfortable and self-evident.

Ted Abrahamsen
Senior Consultant @ARV Group

Frank Spoelstra
Associate @ARV Group

Publish date 4 October 2018
More information? Ted Abrahamsen +31 (0)6-53 41 63 28