In our competitive environment, every manufacturer struggles to do more with less and to find capital for “non-production” areas, such as maintenance, safety, training, housekeeping and HR. If done in a shortsighted fashion, the employer learns through painful experience the sacred law of “unintended consequences.” Plant Engineering magazine (yes, a lawyer can read such stuff) ran a brief instructive story on harm to production and profits resulting from gradually shifting almost all maintenance functions to production employees. You’re probably thinking that “I wouldn’t do that,” but many employers have eliminated certain housekeeping workers and relied upon production employees to clean up their area or machine. One of the contributing factors to the deadly Imperial Sugar combustible dust explosion was accumulation of material in work areas … in part because operators were supposed to clean up after their shift, and did not do so.
In “Autonomous Maintenance: The Perils of Eliminating a Department,” Rick Walker explains:
Companies are still pursuing the dream of autonomous maintenance as taught by Tokutaro Suzuki in his book “TPM for Process Industry.” The theory is that basic tasks such as cleaning, inspecting, tightening, and lubricating can and should be done by equipment operators because they are the equipment owners and are closest to the equipment on a daily basis.
…. our clients have implemented and benefited from this “operator care” concept. This has also helped clients deal with the shortage of maintenance trades through shifting tasks that don’t require years of training and special tools to the appropriate persons and allowing the maintenance professionals to focus on the work that best utilizes their skills
Hard to fault this reasoning. However, nuance and balance must guide any strategy. Read further:
…. product demand decreased. The company asked: “How can we trim our workforce to accommodate the new business environment?” The answer was to let them go. The company limped along for the next two years. Maintenance wasn’t being done quite as well or as fast, but they had lots of time and capacity to meet the demand. And things started to get better.
Over time the market demand for the product increased. At the same time, the market price decreased. Now the plant was getting busier making more products, but making less money on each product. Of course, management’s directive was to meet the demand and cut the manufacturing cost. And for a while they did. They still had a little extra time to make the volume, and they deferred and canceled some maintenance tasks. It was all fine—until the plant needed to run at capacity to meet the demand. The years of neglect and poor maintenance were taking their toll on the equipment’s ability to operate as it had when new.
Let me share some of my experiences where the “non-production” functions were neglected: