North American labor shortages continue to exasperate many factories, particularly production line machinery and automation equipment maintenance. Manufacturers are dealing with increasing retirement Baby Boomers, lack of interest from younger generations, and wage pressures from other economic sectors seeking workers. This results in more overtime for maintenance staff and increasing utilization of contracted maintenance vendors. Logistic problems are lingering from two years of the coronavirus pandemic, slowing delivery of replacement components. 

All these pressures are negatively impacting maintenance technicians’ job satisfaction. This labor shortage has reduced preventive maintenance practices, leading to more reactive and emergency maintenance, creating more pressure on maintenance teams. To relieve some of this stress, companies should move towards utilizing more manufacturing automation technology. 

Dealing with Labor Shortages & High Staff Turnover in a Digital Age

One of the most important elements of any relationship between a manufacturing business and its employees involves job satisfaction. If factory workers aren’t happy with their job, the quality of their work suffers, and they’re likely to look elsewhere for employment. Savvy manufacturers know the value of good workers, and they’ll do all they can to keep them. Yet employees retire or find employment opportunities elsewhere that factory owners can’t match, so even manufacturers that treat their workers well eventually need to hire new staff. 

To attract talent, better pay isn’t the only way to keep workers happy. Many companies are introducing technology that makes workers’ jobs easier. A global survey of workers found 87 percent of staff in companies that are leaders in adopting technology had a favorable opinion of their employer, whereas 70 percent of employees in companies that lagged at implementing technology were dissatisfied with their employers. Manufacturing automation is no different, as it revolutionizes the industrial world, creating a more efficient and safer workplace. 

Digital Collaboration: Utilizing Automation in Manufacturing Maintenance

Data is becoming a key factor for maintenance activities within industrial settings, considerably lessening or even eliminating unplanned downtime, thus increasing productivity. Historical data gathered by smart sensors and regular preventive maintenance inspections reveals patterns that enable manufacturers to predict failures before they occur. With software platforms supporting this automation, manufacturing plants can greatly improve their maintenance capabilities, making their production lines run more efficiently. 

Digital collaboration is set to make maintenance in production facilities easier and more efficient, though this goes well beyond equipment automation. Equipment manufacturers are using computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS), the core of which is a database that organizes information on a factory’s production assets. 

With automation, equipment manufacturers use CMMS asset registries to: 

  • Estimate associated costs with coding. 
  • Keep a digital copy of documentation, videos, and images, such as warranties, maintenance manuals, and safety procedures. 
  • List equipment location and positioning within a plant.
  • Provide information on monitoring equipment, such as meters, sensors, and instruments utilizing Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) technology. 
  • Record class and type of equipment, manufacturer, model, and serial number. 
  • Track downtime statistics and other performance issues. 

With automation, equipment manufacturers open up new ways of analyzing data to improve production. It allows factories to generate reports so that maintenance staff can easily access information on costs, suppliers, material usage, and other aspects of production equipment. Utilizing such information expands what maintenance workers can do with technology that can even identify anomalies in system performance to predict equipment failures before they occur. Today’s CMMS allows mobile access and is cloud-based, making it accessible remotely to implement maintenance solutions quickly.  

Creating a Preventive Maintenance Plan

Poor maintenance negatively affects production in any industrial setting, as equipment failures and underperforming machinery result in more downtime. A preventive maintenance plan improves uptime by ensuring production lines remain operational, lowering the risk of breakdowns and the need to make emergency repairs. 

Follow these eight basic steps for developing a preventive maintenance plan: 

  1. Ensure everyone understands the company’s maintenance strategy, allowing personnel to give feedback and offer recommendations to improve efficiency.
  2. Set clear objectives about what the plan should achieve, training maintenance staff and other stakeholders with the skills they need to enact it. 
  3. Create an inventory of all equipment that will be part of the maintenance plan and current condition, utilizing manufacturing automation software to optimize the process.
  4. Analyze and prioritize equipment, looking at those systems that benefit most while replacing machinery that will soon be obsolete or too costly to repair.  
  5. Understand all aspects of machinery on the production line, looking at manufacturer recommendations and warranty conditions to determine how often and when inspections should occur. 
  6. Give scheduling precedence for inspections to equipment that will ensure the fewest failures, adjusting plans so that there’s a long-term strategy for all vital equipment. 
  7. Create short-term (daily or weekly) plans so that those on the production line are ready for prearranged equipment downtime, giving enough flexibility to make adjustments to staffing and scheduling. 
  8. Train employees working with or maintaining equipment to ensure they understand correct operational procedures, including equipment adjustments, service, and repairs. 

A key reason for the training of and input from maintenance staff involves their inclusion as stakeholders in the process. Once a preventive maintenance strategy has been decided upon, stakeholders can then work towards predicting rather than reacting to maintenance needs. 

Predictive Maintenance for Manufacturing Automation Equipment & Systems

The introduction of IIoT-based technology within factories exploded since the Internet of Things (IoT), with manufacturing accounting for more than double that of any other sector in 2019. With its ability to enable more effective factory automation, equipment manufacturers see the wisdom of Internet-connected production in optimizing output. The advantages of this are myriad, with one of its chief functions allowing maintenance personnel to predict rather than react to equipment or system issues.  

Predictive maintenance is becoming a key aspect of any preventive maintenance plan. Utilizing maintenance software that supports this automation, equipment manufacturers enable producers to expand insight into their manufacturing process, which leads to increased overall operational efficiency. Using predictive analytics software, factories ensure their production lines are operating optimally while identifying anomalies helps track potential equipment failures before they occur. 

According to Deloitte, predictive maintenance based on IIoT technology will reduce maintenance costs in factories by 40 percent, resulting in a yearly savings of $630 billion by 2025. According to a report by McKinsey & Company, such automation in manufacturing maintenance is also set to reduce maintenance costs to businesses by 20 percent and decrease unplanned downtime by half while extending the life cycle of factory equipment. 

Why Use Your OEM To Maintain Your Equipment

Over the years, the Prater team has seen many avoidable situations when it comes to properly maintaining equipment. We highly discourage companies from using non-OEM personnel to repair OEM equipment as it will void any warranties and there is no guarantee that the equipment will perform. In fact, using non-OEM for maintenance can be quite dangerous for high-speed rotating equipment. It's best to not risk it and to call your OEM.

Prater Industries: Automation Equipment Manufacturer

Prater Industries is a leading industrial equipment and systems manufacturer, providing solutions to factories in numerous industries. These include feed production, grain milling, food processing and baking, pet food, rubber, chemical, plastics, and agricultural sectors. The company’s production equipment requires as little maintenance as possible, though it’s also designed to ease cleaning, repair, and replacement of components when necessary. 

With our close partnership with Sterling Systems and Controls, Prater Industries can also incorporate its equipment into any manufacturing automation system. This partnership additionally allows Prater to bring cutting-edge maintenance tracking technology to production lines, with Sterling’s preventive maintenance scheduling software enabling companies to utilize maintenance automation. Manufacturing plants can then use this technology to increase their productivity and output.