Why you should be executing Autonomous Maintenance and how you can start today. 

Andy Pritchard  |   November 1, 2022  |    5 min read

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    Autonomous Maintenance (AM) is the most important pillar within the Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) methodology because it provides maintenance teams with the data and the time to make the other pillars happen. 

    An Autonomous Maintenance program offloads minor maintenance tasks, like cleanings, inspections and lubrications, to machine operators. Also referred to as “Operator-led Inspections'', the practice has been gaining a lot of momentum as of late, mostly due to the clear and vast benefits, high return on investment (ROI), and enhancements to corporate culture and operator engagement that the program offers. 

    One Autonomous Maintenance case study you can review online showed that the Assela Malt factory in Ethiopia realized a 46% decrease in breakdowns per month, a 5% increase in factory-wide production increased and a 64% reduction in overall maintenance expenses. 

    This plant was facing an increasing frequency of failure in their machinery that was driving up production cost. Machine breakdown caused productivity loss, increased maintenance person-power and expense, and a loss of overall plant capacity. During an 18-month study, AMF trained their operators to perform 5S audits and CILS, which resulted in staggering gains to the overall efficiency of their plant: 

    • 46% decrease in breakdowns per month
    • Factory wide production capacity increase of 5% 
    • Machine idle time was reduced by 8%
    • Maintenance person-hours were decreased by 23%
    • An overall maintenance expense reduction of 64%

    The study also specifically notes an uplift in their employees' attitudes and work culture associated with being empowered with new responsibilities that directly affects their ability to make a positive impact.

    If you are interested in learning about how AM works in more detail, please feel free to download our “Ultimate Guide to Autonomous Maintenance”, where we get into the details of how to set up and manage an optimal AM program at your facility. 

    There are numerous benefits that can be realized with a well managed AM program. Here are the top benefits that we have witnessed while working with our customers.

    1) Operator Engagement
    Profile view of confident bearded machine operator wearing white coat using digital tablet while wrapped up in work at modern production department of dairy plant, portrait shot

    Autonomous Maintenance offers the immediate benefit of providing operators with more responsibility, accountability and knowledge, which can have a massive impact on employee engagement and retention, not to mention OEE. 

    Employee engagement has become a core challenge for manufacturers, especially since COVID presented tangible barriers to attract and retain talent. AM transforms operators from “button pushers” on an assembly line to integral members of the team who are responsible for the everyday maintenance of their equipment. 

    Employee engagement is the degree to which employees invest their cognitive, emotional, and behavioral energies toward positive organizational outcomes. The positive impacts of enhancing employee engagement are well documented in manufacturing. 

    According to Engaging for Success: Enhancing Performance Through Employee Engagement, “organizations that truly engage and inspire their employees produce world-class levels of innovation, productivity, and performance.” Over the course of the 5-year, UK government-funded, research project, the researchers discovered that companies with low employee engagement earn an operating income 32.7 percent lower than organizations with more engaged employees.

    AM provides operators with a sense of personal attachment to their work and the organization. They are motivated and able to give their best to help the organization succeed – and from that flows a series of tangible benefits for the organization and individuals alike.

    2) Freeing up Technician Time
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    A core benefit of the AM practice is that maintenance technicians are now free to spend more time on preventive and proactive maintenance planning, instead of minor maintenance tasks. In the Assela Case Study, the researchers found that maintenance teams saved over 23% of time that they reallocated towards preventive maintenance. 

    This allows the other pillars of TPM, such as Focused Improvement, Quality Maintenance and Planned Maintenance, to happen, because AM offloads time consuming, yet simple, maintenance tasks to operators. 

    Ask yourself, what would you do as a maintenance manager or technician if you got 23% of your day back?

    3) Straightforward Implementation
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    While other pillars within TPM are complex and have loads of moving parts, Autonomous Maintenance programs are much more straightforward to implement. Where Planned Maintenance, for example, usually requires additional systems to be in place before the program can be implemented, a simple AM program only requires operator training and CIL scheduling. 

    After achieving a commitment from leadership, maintenance teams begin training operators on what is required to clean, inspect and lubricate machine parts. Operators can also be trained to conduct their own peer-to-peer 5S audits and perform simple centerline audits on machine properties. Maintenance teams then set up a schedule to ensure inspections and cleanings were completed regularly. 

    Ultimately, you can start an AM program at your facility today.

    4) AM allows everything else to happen
    TPM Pillars-min

    As alluded to earlier, Autonomous Maintenance (AM) is the “glue” that holds Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) together. Without AM, maintenance teams spend too much time on simple machine CIL (clean, inspect and lubricate) tasks and lack the capacity to focus on more strategic pillars, including Early Equipment, Planned and Quality Maintenance programs. 

    AM also provides maintenance teams with reams of rich data from operators. Operators who use their equipment everyday can develop a “feel” for the machines. They may not be able to diagnose the root cause or fix the problem, but they can provide insights into issues that may have been undetectable to a maintenance tech who is not familiar with the day-to-day operations of the machine. The data, including inspection failures, centerline issues and other abnormalities, can be used to inform Planned Maintenance activities.

    5) Reduce Maintenance Costs
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    One of the goals of TPM is to reduce maintenance costs through enhanced efficiency and a reduction in unplanned, reactive maintenance. Over the course of the 6 month Assela AM Case Study, the researchers found that maintenance costs decreased by over 60%. 

    AM reduces the time required for maintenance teams to execute simple maintenance tasks, which means maintenance managers can reallocate hours accordingly, which can have an immediate impact on maintenance department costs. In other words, you can do more with less. 

    AM also provides rich data points that can be used to better plan Proactive maintenance measures, thus decreasing breakdowns. Breakdown and reactive maintenance is usually much more expensive than planned and preventive maintenance.

    6)  Increased Product Quality & OEE
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    The worst product quality issues are the ones that go undetected, leave the facility and affect your end customer’s experience with your product. These issues are usually caused by minor calibration equipment failures where something is too hot or off balance. 

    Autonomous Maintenance requires operators to report abnormalities, which increases the probability of minor issues being detected. Machine training and frequent, hands-on maintenance, gives operators a familiarity with the equipment, which also increases the chances that small issues are detected and corrected before a few defects become a mountain of waste. Centerline audits can also help ensure machines are calibrated correctly. 

    OEE is a metric that takes into account quality defects, run vs planned line availability and cycle time performance to arrive at a “North Star Metric” that is used to assess how well lines are performing. Autonomous Maintenance has a direct impact on OEE through the increased involvement of machine operators. 

    AM requires some upfront training that gives operators a better understanding of how machines work. As a result, they are better equipped to understand insights into what might be affecting machine performance, availability and quality. A consistent cleaning and lubrication schedule helps keep lines moving and reduces unplanned downtime. 5S audits also help to ensure areas are optimized for productivity and efficiency. 

    AM provides data about breakdowns, inspection failures, cleaning and lubrication schedules and 5S and centerline audits. Combined with breakdown reports, your maintenance team has all the data you need to being understanding relationships between equipment in order to predict when and where problems might occur in order to prevent them.  

    Download the Ultimate Guide to Autonomous Maintenance

    Everything you need to know about how Autonomous Maintenance works and the best practices gleaned from our 10+ years of experience helping organizations achieve success.

    Ultimate Guide to Success with Autonomous Maintenance

    Everything you need to know about how Autonomous Maintenance works and the best practices gleaned from our 10+ years of experience helping organizations achieve success.

    Everything you need to know about how Autonomous Maintenance works and the best practices gleaned from our 10+ years of experience helping organizations achieve success.

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