A resource for safe and effective troubleshooting from the leaders in simulation training.

Thanks for joining us again, Troubleshooters! We hope you enjoyed our series of posts on troubleshooting your hiring and HR processes, and that they will help you find, train, and keep the right staff for troubleshooting electrical problems on your production line.  Today on Troubleshooting Thursdays, we’re beginning a new short series on troubleshooting your plant reliability. Today, in Part 1, we’re looking at what Industry 4.0 means to plant reliability, what plant reliability means to plant managers, and how managers can improve this aspect of their overall responsibilities.

Industry 4.0 and Plant Reliability

Industry 4.0 (and now 5.0), the recent manufacturing revolution in which production equipment and processes are digitized and interconnected via the internet, is having a profound effect on plant reliability.

If you think of plant reliability as the maximization of output with current resources by reducing waste in equipment reliability and process (or manufacturing) reliability, you’ll see the potential for improvement right away.

The latest industrial revolution is in fact already benefitting plant reliability by introducing automated processes to manage inventory, by interconnecting supply chains and factories, and by revolutionizing just-in-time delivery and food shipment, to give just a few examples. The outcome is vastly improved efficiencies and minimized waste, which in turn boost plant (or production) reliability.

The other side of the coin, however, is that there is a vulnerability that comes with plant reliability being controlled by networked processes and machines: what happens when the network goes down? The Industry 5.0 production line is a chain of highly complex, interconnected machines. When one link breaks, the entire chain goes down, taking your plant reliability metrics with it.

Plant Managers: The Reliability Buck Stops with You

The goal of every manufacturing plant is to increase plant (or production) reliability. Plant managers, as part of their quality management function, are responsible for making this happen. You may work with or even be your company’s native ISO-9001 representative, if your organization is seeking certification.

The new ISO-9001:2015 standard focuses in part on customer satisfaction, which includes on-time delivery of scheduled product. Whether or not your company is looking for ISO certification, though, your success is still measured by the smooth day-to-day operations of the plant, including getting product out to customers on time.

Plant reliability can be broken down into 1) equipment reliability and 2) process/manufacturing reliability. Equipment reliability is the primary responsibility of maintenance management.

Premature Equipment Failure Hurts Reliability

Premature or unexpected equipment failure can result in lost production, diversion of planned maintenance resources, and penalties for late delivery, and can even jeopardize job orders—all of which impact a manager’s job performance.

Since the reliability of a machine or system is only as good as its weakest link, it’s critical for plant managers to identify the weak links and manage or eliminate them. Regular maintenance and efficient troubleshooting are part of a strategy to minimize downtime due to unexpected equipment failure.

Predictive maintenance helps determine the condition of in-service equipment in order to prevent failure before it happens, but only when necessary (as opposed to routine maintenance which happens whether it’s needed or not). Reliability-centered maintenance is a cost-effective approach to maintenance that focuses scarce resources on preventing the dominant causes of equipment failure, i.e., those that would cause the most disruption. Ensuring necessary machine maintenance before a breakdown can lengthen the mean time between failures, another metric that affects plant reliability.

Even a stellar predictive maintenance system, though, has to be reinforced with a solid troubleshooting strategy to get machines back up and running when they do malfunction (because inevitably, they will).

Continuous Improvement through Troubleshooting Training

If continuous improvement is part of your job description, one avenue you should explore is electrical troubleshooting training for your team members. Because equipment failure downtime can be catastrophic for plant reliability, not to mention profitability, it’s important to minimize it in every way possible. That means increasing the speed and efficiency of repairs to malfunctioning equipment.

Finding skilled troubleshooters who can diagnose and repair these complex machines is not always easy, though because of the current skills gap. Even maintenance personnel who are familiar with the equipment don’t always use a systematic method to diagnose the problem, and often end up using trial and error to fix it. This can be extremely expensive if they replace costly parts unnecessarily, or if the whole process takes far longer than it should.

Since it’s hard to find people who can do this, one alternative is to provide training yourself. Maintenance professionals who are trained to troubleshoot electrical faults in a systematic method can find problems and fix them quickly and with the least expense possible, so that downtime is kept to a minimum. Troubleshooting training for your maintenance team can pay off well in terms of plant reliability, and bottom line.

Computer simulation-based training like Simutech Multimedia’s Troubleshooting Skills Training System (TSTS) is a cost-effective way to ensure that your maintenance staff can quickly, safely, and efficiently diagnose and repair faulty production equipment—before it hurts your reliability.

If you’re interested in bringing TSTS into your organization, you might also want to check out two other recent posts, one that will help you calculate the ROI of training, and another with a sample letter you can use to introduce your supervisor to simulation training.

Thanks again for joining us, Troubleshooters! Next week we’ll look at troubleshooting plant reliability from the manufacturing executive’s point of view.

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