Auditing Maintenance Processes for Plant Efficiency

Maintenance audits give top-level management a realistic understanding of maintenance along with essential recommendations to achieve business goals.

Audits in general are associated with investigation and reform, particularly in present industrial environments where change is interpreted as a survival strategy rather than a controlled improvement process. Many organizations have experienced audits in safety, quality, or environmental and financial management; however, few companies have considered maintenance audits.

Maintenance costs have been quoted to represent between 5 and 40 percent of the total cost to make a product. Furthermore, the effectiveness of maintenance directly affects equipment performance. As competitive pressures grow, management must look for ways to reduce costs. Quite often decisions involve a reduction of employees, contractors, spares, and training when other options may exist. Unfortunately, these decisions are often made without a real understanding of the consequencesand, most importantly, without understanding the real cost drivers.

Business owners are good at making strategic product decisions because that is their core competence. However, very few business owners can make good business decisions regarding maintenance because maintenance is not their core competence.

Case studies
Here are three typical scenarios showcasing reasons companies may want to conduct maintenance audits.

Scenario 1. A paper company was in the process of purchasing three paper mills in different locations. These mills were not meeting performance standards, and there appeared to be a need for quick improvements to the process, the organizational structure, and the overall maintenance performance.

The new owners reviewed the papermaking operations and knew what was required to achieve business budget requirements. They requested a maintenance audit in order to understand their total investment needs.

The audit revealed the need for a greater investment in maintenance tools, systems, organizational structure, training, and maintenance strategy effectiveness. With this information available, the owners recognized the potential for a quick return on their investment by concentrating on their core businesspapermakingand outsourcing maintenance to a company whose core competence was the business of maintenance.

The resulting business partnership was successful because it was based on expected performance indicators and continuous improvement.

Scenario 2. A large cement company was building a new plant next to an existing plant that had not been performing to budget expectations. A maintenance audit was carried out to identify maintenance effectiveness and specific requirements needed to improve performance at the existing plant and, most importantly, to provide management with a clear understanding of the maintenance requirements of the new plant.

The audit identified an improvement strategy for the existing plant. By operating the existing plant more efficiently, the company achieved potential cost benefits to actually fund the existing plants improvement program and the maintenance tools and strategy development for the new plant.

Scenario 3. The corporate body of a company with seven plants at different locations wanted to improve overall plant performance and increase profitability. The company used the maintenance audit process to identify opportunities for improvements at each site and to create common benchmarks, standardization, transfer of best practices, methods, tools, and resources.

The audit was customized to represent the business and was sold to the company. A working team of plant managers was formed so they could be trained in the maintenance audit and best practice maintenance business. An audit engineer was assigned to the working team to lead the project and to assist in developing individual plant improvement programs and corporate benchmarking requirements.

Why conduct audits
The main reason for conducting maintenance audits is to improve plant performance and to increase profits. Put simply, companies produce a marketable product for profit and businesses invest in equipment and processes to produce this product with confidence.

However, the availability and productivity of the equipment and processes are determined by maintenance effectiveness.

Most companies do not have a core competency in maintenance management and, in particular, do not understand the true consequences of maintenance inefficiencies.

The maintenance audit identifies the effectiveness and maturity of key elements in the maintenance business and provides accurate data for decision making with the best interests of the company, business, and the organization in mind.

The audit process
The audit process is conducted on site and reviews key elements systematically. This is done by:

  • Interviewing key people in the organization (including preferred suppliers and preferred contractors)
  • Conducting site inspections of equipment and facilities
  • Reviewing process flows and mapping maintenance functions and controls
  • Reviewing stores management, documentation management, and control
  • Demonstrating systems application
  • Attending key meetings
  • Becoming involved in all maintenance functions
  • Validating plant, equipment, and maintenance performance

Maintenance audit results
It is imperative that the audit results are represented in a format understood by management and the people audited. Carrying out a presentation before and after the audit ensures maximum understanding and cooperation.

Audit results are provided in the following format:

  1. Management summary and essential recommendations
  2. Audit evaluation table for each element
  3. Audit summary sheets for each principal function
  4. Audit comments and recommendations for each element

Based on the audit results and recommendations, a continuous improvement plan should be developed and implemented to achieve optimal results.

Auditing tools
Siemens Westinghouse Technical Services has developed a number of tools to use when it conducts a maintenance audit.

Organizational structure determination. Most organizations are divided into three segments: Management, Systems and Procedures, and Personnel and Resources (the workforce). Each of these areas is made up of key elements and vital links to determine the effectiveness and success of the organization.

Management responsibility is aligned with the value chain of the business and represents the who, what, why, and how in order to successfully maintain or capture market share of the product. Most importantly, management determines the business reasons for maintenance.

Systems and Procedures are the tools, either imported or developed within the organization, to effectively administer management's visions and requirements and to provide best practice assistance to the workforce.

Personnel and Resources carry out the work within the performance expectations of management.

The links between these three key areas are the drivers of organizational culture and directly represent management's commitment and leadership.

A thorough maintenance systems audit has to question all of these areas and links in order to present a total understanding of the business. Management then will have a benchmark with appropriate recommendations to minimize waste of resources and employ best practice principles to areas or service in line with the business plan.

Audit evaluation table. The audit evaluation table is formatted to provide an objective assessment of each element. The purpose of this is to provide the auditor with an understanding of the status of the maintenance function development within the company.

The Assessment Levels pyramid is based on the principles of continuous improvement. The top of the pyramid represents the most specific, advanced level of assessment. Similar evaluation tables are commonly used to represent progress in maintenance organizations.

Audit summary sheets. These summary sheets are commonly used to prepare short- and long-term improvement programs focused on recommendations and requirements.

For example, if management agrees that financial control is an element that has to be improved to better manage maintenance expenditure and asset performance, these decisions have to be made:

  • The level of control which should be achieved in the next one to two years
  • Whether support systems are in place
  • Who will be responsible and what the performance requirements are
  • Required training
  • Benefits that can be achieved and measured
  • Cost of this exercise

As each element result is compared to the business plan, management can use a report summary to represent the continuous improvement plan required in order to achieve future business direction.

If this is carried out correctly, management will invest wisely to improve the principal elements in order to achieve their goals. Furthermore, they also will provide a plan for the future that can be reviewed to ensure that the improvement plan is on target.

A maintenance audit should be the building block for proactive decision making because cost-effective improvement can be accomplished only when management understands the effectiveness of the maintenance organization. An audit provides the framework and benchmarks for targeted continuous improvement with a clear understanding of the gaps and needs among the three primary areas of the organization. MT

This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it is a senior maintenance consultant for Siemens Westinghouse Technical Services, a business of Siemens Energy & Automation, Inc., 100 Technology Dr., Alpharetta, GA 30005; (770) 740-3639.