Process and Operations

MRO Q&A: Decreasing Downstream Delays

MRO Q&A is a Food Processing series addressing maintenance, repair and operational issues in food plants.

Q: Too many times we have to throw away product because of the effect of downstream delays. Do you have any ideas on how to decrease these?

A:  There are several steps that can be taken to minimize this. From an engineering perspective, you can purchase machines that are much more reliable. This is effective, but there comes a point, financially, where this could be governed by the laws of diminishing returns.

Within maintenance; you can optimize the content and frequency of your preventative maintenance routines to eliminate downtime. You can also modify your process control set points for product quality and make them tighter than the actual outgoing quality requirements to allow some forgiveness within the process. By using the data from your past preventative maintenance activities you can formulate predictive maintenance routines that are more focused on known failures. Once you know when a component has failed, you can utilize conditioned-based monitoring equipment to track that deterioration and predict the next failure.

Electronic failures typically are unpredictable. One technique to consider is to build in redundancy of those critical devices along with an audible alarm so when the first device fails, it alarms audibly, but allows the process to continue running. This allows maintenance to make the necessary repairs during downtime and not interrupt production.

Opportunities exist in the production area, such as having detailed standard operating procedures for each job, a highly visible problem-solving method to help eliminate the recurrence of product waste situations and a solid continuous improvement support mechanism.

Many ingredients are naturally occurring. Purchasing plays a significant role by setting the product specification so there is balance between its cost and how efficient that material can run through the production process.

Your question is a noble one and, as you can see, the solution requires the contribution of many different areas within the facility. Product is produced by many employees and the solutions to the problems that arise are solved using the minds of those same employees. Use them!