Autonomous Maintenance: The Key to a Healthy TPM Program

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Autonomous Maintenance

The word “autonomous” is commonly associated with “automatic,” a word that instantly brings AGVs to mind. However, when referring to maintenance work, we want you to think of the word “autonomous” in terms of Merriam-Webster’s definition: “undertaken or carried on without outside control.”

The primary goal of autonomous maintenance is to divvy out the more simpler maintenance tasks to machine operators. By using this self-management technique that requires operators to take charge of their own machines, professional maintenance technicians have more time to take care of higher priority maintenance work. Overall, this strategy leads to a more productive workplace and more reliable equipment.

Autonomous Maintenance & Total Productive Maintenance

There are eight pillars that make up Total Productive Maintenance:

  1. Autonomous Maintenance
  2. Focused Improvement
  3. Preventative Maintenance
  4. Early Management of New Equipment
  5. Process Quality Management
  6. Administrative Work
  7. Education and Training
  8. Safety, Health, and the Environment

All eight pillars work with the intention of reaching three goals: no machine breakdowns, no product defects, and no workplace accidents. While those three goals work to improve a workplace in terms of productivity, TPM also inadvertently addresses the amount of waste present in the facility. With that being said, this Lean manufacturing strategy can be one of the most difficult to implement due to its need for facility-wide involvement.

Notice that autonomous maintenance is at the very beginning of this Lean manufacturing strategy. The shifting of responsibilities from maintenance technicians to operators when it comes to basic problem solving, cleaning, and inspection tasks is the starting point for an excellent TPM program. Once that occurs, the other puzzle pieces fall into place and eventually lead to accomplishing the goals that TPM initially sets for its users.

Autonomous Maintenance vs. Preventative Maintenance

Autonomous maintenance and preventative maintenance, while both under the same umbrella of Total Productive Maintenance, have differing goals and qualities when it comes to equipment upkeep. The simple explanation is that autonomous maintenance is geared towards operators maintaining basic needs for the equipment they run whereas preventative maintenance is geared towards scheduled inspections.

Let’s go into more depth. There are two core principles to autonomous maintenance: preventing equipment deterioration through proper operation and maintaining “like new” conditions with proper management practices. Those responsibilities are placed on the operator’s shoulders as they are the ones who must perform basic maintenance on their machine.

As for preventative maintenance, the core principle here is to prevent downtime through regular inspections. That goal is achieved by taking care of the equipment in a way that promotes longevity, reducing critical machine breakdowns, and lastly minimizing production loss stemmed from equipment failure. Preventative maintenance is unique in that there are two other categories that fall within this maintenance strategy: usage-based maintenance and prescriptive maintenance.

Overall, both autonomous and preventative maintenance are incredibly important for the longevity and success of a TPM program. As two of the eight pillars that hold up TPM efforts, both types of maintenance account for a significant portion of duties within the house of TPM.

What is Overall Equipment Effectiveness?

The point of calculating OEE is to measure the total percentage of productivity occurring in a facility. The calculation effort assists facilities in identifying improvement opportunities and revealing losses that may have been previously hidden in the manufacturing process.

There are three parts needed to calculate the OEE of a process:

  1. Availability – Calculate this data by dividing run time and the planned production time.
  2. Productivity – Calculate this data by multiplying the deal cycle time and the total count and then dividing that result by the actual run time.
  3. Quality – Calculate this data by dividing the good count by the total count

Each answer to these equations will result in a percentage, 100% being the goal for every answer. Of course, a perfect 100% is virtually impossible, but getting as close as you can to that number is an excellent goal.

Calculating Overall Equipment Effectiveness is considered to be a best practice method for manufacturing since it’s considered an essential component to Total Productive Maintenance. To help you with those calculations, Creative Safety Supply has made a calculator for OEE! Try it out for yourself here.

The 7 Steps of Autonomous Maintenance

Autonomous maintenance doesn’t just happen on its own. There are rules to follow and objectives to uphold within this type of maintenance strategy. Again, autonomous maintenance can be incredibly difficult to follow and sustain. In fact, it’s common knowledge that those who try to implement this maintenance effort only make it to step three before the strategy falls apart.

Become familiar with what it takes to set up an autonomous maintenance program before diving in! Not only will it increase your chance of correctly implementing the maintenance program, but it will also play a part in your ability to keep it going.

Take a look at the following seven steps that are integral to the success of a fully-fledged autonomous maintenance program:

  1. Train theperators – The best time to train an operator on autonomous maintenance is before they need to perform small maintenance tasks on their machine. Receiving training from the company’s maintenance technicians on the machine’s compone Onts, how they work, and the necessary problem-solving skills is critical to get started with autonomous maintenance. With that being said, operators must learn how to:
  • Notice abnormalities
  • Correct those abnormalities
  • Set the optimum equipment conditions
  • Maintain those optimal conditions
  • Initial Cleaning and Inspection – The primary goal of this step is to get the equipment on track to perform like it did when it was brand new. Everyone works together on this step, that includes production members, maintenance, engineering, and the operators. While this is going on, it’s good to document what has been fixed, which can include:
    • Leaks
    • Lubrication
    • Removal of grime, dust, dirt, etc.
    • Conductibility restrictions from detritus/buildups of dust
  • Remove the Root of Contamination – By removing the root cause of buildup and neglect, the operator must simply keep up routine cleanings and simple maintenance. However, those actions must be more accessible to employees. In some instances, accessibility directly correlates with visibility; how are you supposed to clean or perform a task if you can’t see what’s going on? Here are some suggestions on maintaining the “like new” status of any piece of equipment:
    • Standardize cleaning procedures
    • Avoid buildup
    • Promote cleanliness
    • Promote organization
  • Standardize Lubrication and Inspection Efforts – Begin with the information that is on file for the piece of equipment and go from there. This can be manufacturer’s instructions or based upon past maintenance efforts. Ask questions like, “did they work?” “Did they not work?” The standards for unique machinery should include what needs to be cleaned and inspected, and how it should be cleaned and inspected. All critical and non-critical machine maintenance standards must be then documented for reference later on.
  • Inspection and Monitoring – Now that there’s operator maintenance standards to follow, those are tracked to ensure no duplicate tasks are performed unnecessarily. Operators will be responsible for checking lubrication levels, cleaning, tightening bolts, and other simple mechanical adjustments. This frees up the time of maintenance technicians to allocate their resources to more important and complicated tasks.
  • Standardize Visual Maintenance – The goal of autonomous maintenance is to make the need for maintenance as obvious as possible. This means the use of pipe marking for fluids, replacing opaque coverings with ones that are transparent, or even using gauge markers for both dangerous and normal operating levels.
  • Continuous Improvement – Autonomous maintenance, and TPS for that matter, would fail if it weren’t for continuous improvement efforts. Take the time to step back and look at the current process for maintenance procedures and ask the question, “can it be improved?” Reference documentation of instances where a process failed and learn from that.
  • Getting Your Maintenance Department to go Lean

    When we refer to waste, it’s not just the trash you put into waste bins. Instead, it’s time, labor, inventory, and energy. Wasteful behavior is a direct result of how the facility has chosen to operate, whether that be intentionally or from a lack of understanding.

    It can be argued that Lean maintenance is a prerequisite to Lean manufacturing because success begins with maintaining physical assets. Lean maintenance is defined as the application of Lean management tools to physical asset management. Keeping your tools in working order results in higher productivity, reduced costs, and naturally calls for the incorporation of Total Productive Maintenance to keep maintenance standards met.

    Lean Tools and Techniques for Successful Autonomous Maintenance Programs

    Some of the Lean tools a company can use to support their growing autonomous maintenance efforts include:

    • Using Autonomous Maintenance Audits/Checklists - Implementing checklists and auditing systems for an autonomous maintenance program can be extremely useful for employee reminders. Checklists for operators can include specific inspection routines to complete daily, cleaning, etc.
    • Implementing CMMS SoftwareCMMS software is composed of a database system in which labor is managed. This means all types of maintenance, who does it, how it’s done, and records of what has been completed. This type of software is extremely valuable when it comes to maintaining current maintenance programs as all the relevant information can be accessed quickly without looking through stacks and stacks of papers.  
    • Improving Existing Visual Communication – This is the time to get things organized and clear for your employees. Consider using 5S and OSHA labeling strategies to make sure your employees stay on task and stay safe.

    The Benefits of Autonomous Maintenance

    Despite how difficult autonomous maintenance is to implement in its entirely, it’s a wonderful addition to any maintenance program. Not only does it free up time for more important maintenance tasks, but it also increases the longevity of your equipment with minimal effort put forth by the operators themselves.

    The following is a list of only a handful of benefits that this kind of maintenance program has to offer. Perhaps they will convince you to try out an autonomous maintenance program yourself!

    • Reduced Labor Costs – Transferring some of the simpler maintenance tasks to operators eliminates the need to allocate time for those duties to maintenance technicians. Again, while autonomous maintenance frees up time for those technicians, it also means the company doesn’t have to hire on more people. Just to be clear, this does not mean employers are cutting costs by giving more work onto their employees, rather that autonomous maintenance is built into an operator’s already existing schedule.
    • Equipment is Well Taken Care of – Unfortunately, cleaning and lubrication is low on the totem pole when it comes to critical repairs. However, with autonomous maintenance, operators have the chance to complete those simple tasks to not only help preserve the life of the piece of equipment, but to also make the technician’s lives easier.
    • Issues are Detected Before the Problem Worsens – Operators work closely with their machines, so naturally with the right amount of training they are able to pick out problems early on and can take care of them on the spot if necessary.
    • Improved Teamwork and Participation – Giving this new responsibility to operators gives them the agency to do something about a problem themselves. Not only does this keep them engaged, but it fosters a new sense of teamwork since they must also be a part of the maintenance efforts.
    • Improved Safety – While autonomous maintenance does improve the longevity of equipment and various machines, it also improves workplace safety. This is because with machine deterioration there also comes more dangerous working conditions as the equipment is not necessarily running as it should.
    • Maintenance Personnel Have More time to Take Care of Other Tasks – Again, one of the most important benefits that an autonomous maintenance program has is the reallocation of time. Distributing the workload is important for efficiency and consistency.

    In the end, autonomous maintenance plays an important part in the Total Productive Maintenance System since reducing waste begins with actually taking care of equipment.

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