Support Functions in Operations

Maintenance Management is a support function mainly to the production operations and to the service operations and is one of the most important of among support functions. It has a tremendous impact on the condition of the plant and machinery in the factories and the equipment that may be used in the service industry. For example, in a continuous process plant such as a petroleum refinery if there is a breakdown in one section, it may immediately affect the entire operation downstream and the other operations a little while later. If it is batch operation, breakdowns may damage the condition of the batch of materials in production or it may disturb the schedules of various batches to be produced, thereby leading to considerable confusion. Breakdowns and slowdowns are quite unwelcome, anywhere. In a software services industry or in a call center, the functioning of the telecommunication and transmission equipment is vital to their business. The lack of good maintenance could be disastrous.

As medical doctors might say that the importance of maintaining good health is generally not fully realized by many people until they happen to fall sick, similarly the importance of Maintenance Management is not adequately realized by the industry. This is particularly true of the Indian industry. In several factories, scant attention is paid to the proper stocking of the spare parts, to maintaining proper policies and procedures, to have appropriate preventive maintenance schedules, to have updated maintenance manuals, to the acquisition and development of required number and quality of technicians and junior and senior managers who may have appropriate skills to operate and maintain the modern equipment properly, and to the application of the principles of work study, incentives and performance evaluation to the extent possible. Maintenance management is perceived to be of secondary importance to the production of goods. In the service industry, it has a similar or even less importance.

There is a general lack of management input in maintenance. The reasons given by many for the same are:

(i) Machine failures occur at random and are therefore unpredictable.
(ii) One maintenance job is not like another maintenance job so as to put it in a standard category.
(iii) Different types of equipment are imported at different times, resulting in a heterogeneous stock of equipment; this makes it difficult to provide proper skilled manpower and facilities for maintenance and repair.
(iv) Obtaining spare parts from foreign countries is difficult making them within the country is not economical since the quantity required of each item is small. It is difficult to apply management principles and generate economies in such circumstances.

True, the above given explanations are some of the real problems in applying management principles/techniques to maintenance: the last two reasons are particularly true for developing countries such as India. But then at the positive impact of having good maintenance management in a factory or in an operations facility, the need for proper management of maintenance is vital as also the need to make best use of the management concepts available even if the circumstances do not permit their application in totality. Good maintenance management is an important input or achieving the desired quality of the products and services. In the following paragraphs, we will discuss the concepts, principles and techniques of management useful in maintenance.

Primary objective of maintenance management: Availability of the operations system

The objective of maintenance is to facilitate the optimal use of capital equipment through actions such as replacement, repairs, service and modification of the components or machinery so that these will continue to operate at a specified availability for as long as it is beneficial to do so. Maintenance encompasses keeping the ‘availability’ of the entire production/ operations system of the organization. One of the basic definitions of ‘availability’ is as follows:

The availability of plant can be improved by various means, such as:

(i) Diagnosing the faults or failures as early as possible and taking quick decisions regarding the same.
(ii) Reducing major break downs or crisis situations with the help of appropriately organized preventive maintenance programs;
(iii) Designing and installing the equipment in such a way that the failures of the equipment will be low over its lifetime or in other words, increasing what is known as the ‘reliability’ of the plant, machinery and equipment in the design stages. Also, the equipment could be so designed that the times for maintenance action are small i.e. the ‘maintainability’ should be high.
(iv) Having proper replacement policies of equipment and their components parts in such a way that the total reliability and availability of the system is enhanced at optimal costs.
(v) Having standard times and standard procedures in maintenance as much as possible, so as to gain good control over maintenance operations and also to provide adequate incentives and motivation for maintenance personnel.