Technology Helps Maintenance Technicians Optimize Asset Use

CMMS dispatch system, condition monitoring tools and parts management are among the tools available to food manufacturers.

By Kevin T. Higgins, Managing Editor

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From a bean counter’s perspective, maintenance is a cost, and the less cost, the better.

From a production manager’s vantage point, maintenance technicians are the plant equivalent of ER doctors: If they aren’t on duty, machines are going to die.

Product out the door is manufacturing’s key metric, but maintenance technicians, engineers and other support personnel ensure the heartbeat of the plant. Demand for their services is high, as Food Processing’s 2017 Manufacturing Outlook Survey attests: 38.9 percent of participating food companies are actively recruiting maintenance technicians, and 54.8 percent are expanding in-house technical training, either as part of a total productive maintenance program or to groom the next generation of high-skill maintenance personnel.

The real issue is optimizing performance and investing capital where it will have the biggest impact. Technology has a big role to play. Asked what actions they were taking to optimize plant assets, 17 percent said they were implementing a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) or similar asset management software.

Lakeview Farms began a new CMMS journey three years ago, converting from a paper-based system. CMMS implementation invariably invites pushback because of the behavior changes it requires and the resentment tracking systems engender. But the timing was right: The Delphos, Ohio, maker of dips, sauces and dessert items was in the process of consolidating three far-flung manufacturing facilities into a 770,000-sq.-ft. building in the northwest Ohio town.

ToddParker EngineerLVF“Each facility had its own maintenance staff, its own CMMS program, its own parts inventory system,” recalls plant engineer Todd Parker. More troubling, work orders were paper based, not electronic; when a job was completed, the work order was placed in a manila folder and filed away, making root cause analysis a “frustrating and time consuming” task, he says.

Transplanted workers also brought with them personal relationships that can upend prioritizing jobs based on greatest need. “The old-fashioned way was for techs to go to the line where the manager was a friend and ignore other areas of the plant,” Parker grimaces. Lacking an advocate, plant infrastructure suffered: Inadequate maintenance of compressors and other refrigeration components resulted in bloated operating costs.

Implementation of the CloudDispatch system from Leading2Lean changed that. Instead of lavishing attention on equipment that didn’t need it while starving other assets of preventive maintenance, work orders were handled on the basis of criticality and what delivered the biggest payback. Within six months, downtime shrank 34 percent and overall repair costs fell 15 percent.

“Standard CMMS programs record post-mortem events, with maintenance guys lining up at a computer and entering what they did that day,” maintains Eric Whitley, business development manager at Leading2Lean (, Wellington, Nev. CloudDispatch, in contrast, was modeled on a 911 dispatch system, with real-time capture of who was sent on a call, how long they were on it, what the problem was and what corrective action was taken.

Within two months, enough data are stored in the cloud-based system to begin crunching the numbers and identifying the leading causes of machine failure, ranking machines from best to worst performers, understanding which parts are failing most frequently and other information to begin implementing a true predictive maintenance schedule.

“Based on the historical data, with one, two, three clicks, you’re into Prado charts,” Whitley boasts. “You still do kaisan events, but they are based on empirical data that gets you really close to root cause. The data point to the truth.”

Leaner parts cribs

The earliest returns from Lakeview’s CMMS rollout came from replacement parts. The inventory was worth $4.5 million, and the program flagged $1.7 million that were categorized as “unknown.” Many of them supported obsolete and decommissioned machinery that was not transferred to Delphos in the consolidation move. Cataloguing those parts allowed the company to begin liquidating them in the resale market.

While Lakeview’s inventory was notably bloated, most manufacturers’ parts cribs are filled with redundant and obsolete components. “The best place to start an improvement effort is the parts department,” agrees Eric Martin, director of operations for Peoria, Ill.-based Advanced Technology Services Inc. (

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