3 Key Questions to Ask When Optimizing Plant Operations

Operating a manufacturing plant or production facility at a high-level of performance is a challenge for any business.  Maintaining that high level of operational performance throughout your factory’s lifecycle will keep even your most seasoned Operations Manager up at night. If you find yourself questioning the efficacy of your performance initiatives, take a step back and re-evaluate.

The first place to focus in order to optimize operations and drive performance improvements is your company’s maintenance strategy. Optimizing and improving your facility’s maintenance, repair and operations activities are key to driving major gains in the following areas:

  • Process Safety/Employee Safety
  • Operating Costs
  • Employee Training & Knowledge Retention
  • Process Improvements
  • Equipment Reliability and Improvements

Assessing your current plant maintenance strategy doesn’t have to be painful process. Here are three simple questions you need to ask and answer to get your strategy back on track.

When was the last time I reviewed my maintenance plans?

On average, the age of a manufacturing plant in the United States is 20 years old. If you haven’t been periodically reviewing your maintenance practices on your more critical pieces of equipment – take the time now to examine your current plans and look for opportunities to improve your routines.  Your equipment is most likely in a different stage of its lifecycle than when it was first installed – verifying your preventative maintenance activities and inspections are in line with current practices can save hundreds/thousands of hours of costly downtime in the future or allow you to stand-down old routines and free up crucial man hours for other operations. You also might find your activities are out of compliance with newer regulations and standards.

Are other areas of my business utilizing information my maintenance operations are capturing?

The Institute for Manufacturing Performance notes that leading firms will invest up to 10% of their revenue into capital assets.  Are the key areas of your business, for example: procurement and engineering able to access asset performance information? Even the most rigorous project team won’t be able to predict all possible real-world operating scenarios. Providing reliable data around failure rates and equipment defects to your engineers is critical to improving your preventative programs over time.  The same equipment data will increase procurement’s ability to select the best vendors and your materials management team to order and stock necessary spare parts. Setting up the proper feedback loops from your maintenance routines and ensuring best practices can be repeated across other facilities is a crucial step toward maintaining long-term performance and asset reliability. In cases where information is not being captured, make it a priority to set up systems to record, track and share performance details from your day-to-day operations.

Do all my managers share the same goals when it comes to my organization’s maintenance strategies?

The U.S. Census reports there are more than 295,000 manufacturing plants in the U.S. alone, all of varying age, type and production volume. With such a diverse set of operating requirements, it is easy for firms to allow their maintenance strategies to be developed and implemented in a de-centralized or ad hoc fashion. However, while your operations may be diverse and differ significantly from plant to plant – establishing common goals across facilities for example: ‘Clean Backlogs,’ ‘Effective Work Prioritization’ or ‘Elimination of Bloat’ – is crucial to developing a culture of improvement across your organization.

If you find after answering these questions that your operations have some room for improvement, think about the following as you put together your next steps: where are you furthest away from your goals? Identify and prioritize based on greatest need (safety, reliability) and value (cost savings) moving forward. Lastly, as you start making changes in your strategies and routines, looks toward standardization across your facilities and across processes.




This post was co-authored by Teri Mendelovitz. Teri is a Vice President with the North Highland Company and leads the global Energy & Utility community.  She has 19 years of experience in the Energy industry across Upstream, Downstream, Chemicals, and Energy Services.  She has deep operational expertise, having spent most of her years “in the plant” working within the Reliability & Maintenance business function.

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