How Autonomous Maintenance Will Change Your Process Strategies

Autonomous Maintenance in a manufacturing company is a process that is performed by the operations crew and not by maintenance technicians. It is an important part of the Total Productive Maintenance (TPM). The main aim of the process is to empower machine operators to perform preventive maintenance tasks.

Many companies today are still pursuing autonomous maintenance activities that Tokutaro Suzuki teaches in his book called “TPM for Process Industry.” The theory explained in this book is that basic tasks such as inspecting, cleaning, lubricating and tightening can and should always be done by the people who operate machines because they are the closest to these devices as they use them daily and thus should be in charge of all basic maintenance tasks.

This operator care concept has helped many manufacturing companies to deal with maintenance trade shortage by shifting simple tasks that do not require extensive training or special tools to the appropriate people which in turn allows maintenance professionals to focus more on tasks that best utilize their skills.

In general maintenance programs, machines usually run continuously for extended periods of time until they reach a maintenance date or get a breakdown. In this case, machines are handed over to the maintenance department to handle the maintenance and fixing. In contrast, the maintenance process enables machine operators to perform simple maintenance on the machines directly. These tasks include bolt tightening, lubrication, cleaning, and inspection and helps prevent machine breakdowns and faster solutions in case of detected malfunctions.

Japanese companies first developed Total Productive Maintenance as a way of extending the already existing Total Quality Control concept with ideas of predictive and preventive maintenance programs.

Total Productive Maintenance gives machine operators a lot more responsibilities and thus a dedicated training is needed. Machine modifications are also done to ease the process of cleaning and maintaining the machines for the non-tech operators. The training empowers the operators with knowledge and skills on how to better maintain and improve their work equipment.

So you should look at your maintenance practices. Does your manufacturing plant have the right people who are doing things correctly? Are the operators' knowledge and ownership of the machines they use being up to date? Do you review feedback and operation logs from periodic Total Productive Maintenance reviews to detect degradation? Do you ensure a right balance between maintenance and operation objectives and performance management goals and correlate with asset availability in every area of your facility? Are you leveraging the experience and skills of maintenance trades?

Expected Actions of Maintenance Operators

Autonomous maintenance enables machine operators to develop and master some skills:

  1. Detect and improve abnormalities;
  2. Understand machine components, functions as well as detect abnormality causes;
  3. Identify issues related to quality and point out their cause.

In most cases of machine failures, the machine operator should provide quick and accurate diagnosis and troubleshooting. The only way that this is made possible is by a methodical implementation and proper dedicated training programs.

In extreme cases where a machine has to be handled by the maintenance technicians, its operator may play a significant role in assisting the maintenance engineer.

One of the advantages of this is that operators can report any interventions and detected issues quickly and provides optimal traceability of the problems encountered provides the team with easy troubleshooting solutions.

5S of Operator’s Education:

The education provided to operators starts with an observance of some rules, named by the Japanese “5S”:

5S Explanation

5S Explanation

If your company observes and strictly follows the 5S rules, failsafe working methods will be highly optimized. This kind of maintenance implementation heavily relies on five steps, which originate from the five Japanese S.

All the steps are critical to production and require consistent coaching and control. Note that most of the outlined steps below may vary from one manufacturing plant to another:

1. Education

This step is sometimes known as “step 0”. Education is the process that imparts the necessary knowledge on machine components and their functions. To correctly perform machine cleaning which is the most important task, operators need to understand maintenance objectives in full and be able to ensure equipment reliability and improvements.

Mobility Work the industry 4.0 CMMS maintenance protocols is a great resource for you training sheets.

2. Initial Cleaning and Inspection

The initial equipment cleaning is crucial for maintenance that is of high quality and is performed by all members in the production, maintenance, and engineering teams and involves thorough equipment cleaning and their surroundings. The main aim of this is to ensure restoration of equipment to its best performing condition by eliminating any identified deterioration signs.

  • Leak detection
  • Lubrication
  • Defective items correction
  • Loosened bolts control
  • Non-apparent cracks detect
  • Oil and other fluids contamination rate decrease
  • Material rests removal from water or oil
  • Dirt and dust removal reducing paint corrections
  • Conductibility suppression in electric manufacturing because of dust or oil deposits on contact points
  • Conductivity related suppression of any electrical incidents of oil or dust covered contact points
  • Micro-stoppages elimination due to dust and waste accumulation
  • Prevention of fire in inaccessible places
  • Improved precision adjustments when changing levels of production

You can write the entire process and results in a protocol which would ease traceability of the faults detected. Another advantage is that you can access this file in future by another operator conducting initial cleaning.

3. Contamination and Inaccessible Areas Elimination

Once you perform the initial equipment cleaning has and restoration, it is important that deterioration does not occur again. Removing the deterioration is only made possible by eliminating all sources of contamination and improving cleaning and maintenance accessibility.

At this point, it is safe to give machine operators freedom of controlling contamination causes directly at the source, especially because they understand the machine better and having worked with it and having done the initial cleaning.

This step considers many possible security issues that could arise during autonomous maintenance. Cleaning and running of machines can be very dangerous and frequent operator change also increases difficulties.

Possible solutions an account manager should consider:

Maintain cleaning standards. The more serious machine problems can take the time to repair and so this may cause extended shutdown time for a machine. You can fix other issues such as broken parts and leaks.

  • Avoiding soiling – Machine soiling causes should be gradually eliminated. High-quality cover and sealing are some of the standard solutions. There are however other contamination that requires a more serious investment such as pumps and deducting.
  • Promoting cleanliness, during machine maintenance and inspection operations.
  • Encouraging machine operators to keep order. A delayed troubleshooting can occur due to a particular tool that is missing.
  • Operators should have the knowledge on how to facilitate any planned inspections by omitting inaccessible zones.

4. Develop Standards for Lubrication, Cleaning, and Inspection

Establishment of the operation standards of lubrication, cleaning and inspection start from current documentation following suggested a schedule for lubrication and inspection.

You can adjust the step individually to every machine from the operators. This phase enables you to develop your standards showing the items that are to be cleaned or lubricated, responsibilities to be assigned and methods to be used.

Two complementary methods need to be followed in this case:

  • In cases where the issues are not critical, operators can receive in-house training to follow established general standards after which they can be given a chance to set rules of their own, led by experienced technical engineers.
  • A dedicated working group for maintenance and production methods can be created in critical cases.

The outcome of this phase is standards that have been established, which also act as success evidence for maintenance implementation at a point.

Inspection and Monitoring

Most manufacturing plants, unfortunately, overlook basic machine inspections

Overlooking inspections should never be the case, as this implementation is not so laborious.

The following tasks are simple and can be successfully performed by machine operators:

  • Locating leaks
  • Checking lubrication levels
  • Tightening loose bolts
  • Identification of possible mechanical issues such as cracks, wear, etc.
  • Performing mechanical adjustments:, micro switches, regulate sensors, etc.

These operations can all be planned with specific recurrences, enabling optimal and precision traceability of each check or inspection done by the operator in the production department.

5. Finalize Standards

Mobility at work can be involved at every step of autonomous maintenance related actions. Since mobility at work is also a community, it enables you to share maintenance protocols and data on tools and machinery with colleagues and friends from anywhere around the globe. This social network aspect enhances your equipment search and enables you to benefit from the user experiences of the other members of your community.

Establishing a procedure for autonomous maintenance and finalizing the provisional standards is the final step of a successful autonomous maintenance implementation.


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