Guide to Mastering the Fundamentals of Autonomous Maintenance

Autonomous MaintenanceAutonomous maintenance is a maintenance strategy where machine operators continuously monitor their equipment, make adjustments and perform minor maintenance tasks on their machines. They are in charge of doing basic maintenance duties such as lubrication, cleaning, and safety checks, allowing maintenance experts to focus on more demanding jobs. The ultimate goal of autonomous maintenance is to create a culture of continuous improvement and proactive maintenance.

What Is Autonomous Maintenance?

Autonomous maintenance is the first step in the process of Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) system, which is a comprehensive approach to equipment maintenance and improvement. The idea behind autonomous maintenance is that operators, who are closest to the equipment and its operation, have a deep understanding of how it operates and can take preventive action to keep it running smoothly. These employees are responsible for handling the basic equipment maintenance tasks, such as cleaning, lubrication, and inspections. ​​Honda Testimonial

Two core principles that guide autonomous maintenance:

  • Proper Operation of Assets:  Operating equipment correctly and as directed reduces deterioration and unexpected downtime.  
  • Efficient Asset Management: This principle ensures that equipment is restored to a “like new” standard and properly managed throughout its lifespan to optimize its performance, reduce maintenance costs, and maximize its value.

Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) Strategy

Just a short description of what TPM is and how autonomous maintenance fits into this strategy.

TPM is a comprehensive approach to equipment maintenance that attempts to maximize equipment effectiveness while minimizing downtime. Autonomous Maintenance (AM), one of the TPM pillars, is a process in which operators take responsibility for the routine maintenance of their equipment.

Total Productive Maintenance

Autonomous maintenance (AM) is a key component of TPM because it allows operators to discover and resolve equipment issues before they become major problems that require significant downtime to repair. Companies that use AM can reduce the frequency and severity of equipment breakdowns, resulting in higher production efficiency, lower maintenance costs, and improved overall equipment performance.

In the context of TPM, AM fits into the overall framework by being one of the eight pillars of the TPM approach. The pillars include autonomous maintenance, focused improvement, planned maintenance, quality maintenance, early equipment management, training and education, safety, health, and environment. The TPM pillars are focused on improving the overall effectiveness of the maintenance function by addressing issues such as equipment design, maintenance planning and scheduling, and training and development for maintenance personnel.

Companies can ensure that operators have the skills and knowledge needed to take ownership of routine maintenance of their equipment by including AM in the TPM approach, while also providing guidance and assistance to help them succeed in this role. Eventually, the purpose of AM is to foster a culture of continuous improvement in which operators actively participate in the maintenance and development of equipment rather than merely responding to problems as they arise. 

Autonomous Maintenance Skills

Autonomous Maintenance requires operators to master skills like detecting abnormalities by understanding the machine’s components, making improvements, identifying possible quality issues, and determining their causes. Some of these skills required are:

  • Increasing operator knowledge of their equipment.
  • Keeping equipment in a “like new” state, ensuring they are clean and lubricated.
  • The ability to notice emerging issues before they become failures.

In the past, the implementation of AM required a significant investment in training and resources, but nowadays, the process has been streamlined with the help of computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS). CMMS integrates the necessary instructions, tools, and customized checklists into work orders and maintenance plans, ensuring that maintenance is performed each time according to the same process. 

How To Implement Autonomous Maintenance

Although there is a standardized set of seven stages for implementing autonomous maintenance, the process may differ throughout various organizations.

Implementing autonomous maintenance can be achieved through the following seven steps:

Step 1: Increase Operator Knowledge

Machine operators often receive training on how to operate machinery at optimal capacity, but for a successful autonomous maintenance program, they require a more comprehensive understanding of the machines. This involves technical knowledge of the assets, their components, common issues, and troubleshooting procedures. Equipment-related skills that machine operators should possess include problem detection and troubleshooting, asset repairs and restoration, and optimal asset operating conditions settings. Implementing an effective training schedule and periodic retraining can help to develop and upgrade the machine operators’ skills.

Step 2: Establishing Baseline Standards for Asset Maintenance

To prepare the assets for autonomous maintenance, the initial step involves cleaning and inspecting the machines to achieve an “almost new” condition, and this task should involve the production, machine engineering, and maintenance teams. Thorough cleaning and overhauling of the assets and the surrounding area should be carried out while keeping an eye out for common signs of deterioration such as loose bolts, leaks, cracks, contaminated fluids, dirt and dust accumulation, and limited asset functionality. Additionally, it is important to create easy-to-follow Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for inspections and other basic maintenance tasks.

Step 3: Root Cause Analysis for Contamination Control

Once the initial inspections and cleaning are complete, it is crucial to address any identified problems and eliminate their root causes to prevent further deterioration of the assets. Improving access to the assets for baseline maintenance activities is also recommended. To prevent recontamination of the equipment, established cleaning and maintenance standards should be followed by everyone, quality machine covers and seals should be installed, continuous inspections should be carried out to ensure cleanliness, and orderliness should be established within the facility. Safety measures must also be taken into consideration, as there is a responsibility under OSHA regulations to provide a safe working environment for employees.

Step 4: Establish Lubrication and Inspection Protocol

After setting up baseline standards for machine maintenance in step 2, these standards will serve as a foundation for creating inspection and lubrication standards for the assets. The standards should clearly outline which assets and components need cleaning and lubrication, how the process should be carried out, and whose responsibility it is. It is recommended to develop these standards, particularly for critical assets, with the guidance of experienced maintenance engineers. The standards should be regularly reviewed and updated for maximum efficiency. Operators can create their own standards for non-critical assets, but all standards should be documented, maintained, and accessible to primary users.

Step 5: Maintain Consistent Asset Inspection and Monitoring

This stage entails inspecting and monitoring equipment on a regular basis to ensure it is operating at peak performance. This is accomplished by developing a checklist of inspection tasks and frequently checking equipment performance data. Operators can be taught to undertake these inspections and report any abnormalities to the maintenance staff. Equipment downtime and maintenance expenses can be avoided by proactively detecting and addressing possible issues. Furthermore, frequent monitoring and inspection can help discover areas for improvement and allow for continual process optimization. Overall, this process helps to guarantee that equipment is running efficiently, reducing the chance of breakdowns and increasing equipment lifespan

Step 6: Standardize Visual Maintenance

At this stage, the objective is to enhance asset visibility. This means ensuring that machine operators can easily comprehend how the equipment works. To achieve this, opaque machine covers should be replaced with transparent ones. Valves and levers should be clearly labeled to indicate the direction of opening and closing. Moreover, normal and safe operating values should be marked next to gauges, and sight glasses should be installed so that operators can detect when machines reach hazardous operating levels.

Step 7: Achieving Continuous Improvement

Autonomous maintenance is an ongoing process that requires continuous attention throughout an asset’s lifecycle to ensure that it remains effective in identifying and preventing equipment breakdowns This can be achieved by gathering and analyzing data, seeking feedback from machine operators and maintenance technicians, and implementing changes to the program as necessary. The focus should be on continually refining the maintenance processes and protocols to improve equipment reliability, increase productivity, and reduce costs. By prioritizing continuous improvement, you can create a maintenance program that is sustainable and provides long-term benefits for your business.

Autonomous maintenance is a continuous process that extends throughout the entire lifecycle of your assets. It’s crucial to collect and evaluate maintenance data to identify areas for improvement in your maintenance program. By implementing a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) like eWorkOrders and seeking feedback from machine operators, team leaders, and maintenance technicians, you can establish a sustainable autonomous maintenance program that will serve you well over the long term.

Benefits Of Autonomous Maintenance

Lowers labor expenses: Since operators are always closer to their machines, inefficiencies associated with travel and wait periods for a maintenance specialist to arrive are not present.

Creates a routine for equipment cleanliness and lubrication: When a maintenance professional is in charge of a large repair, they can forget simple duties like cleaning and lubrication. With AM, operators regularly perform these quick activities.

Increases plant safety: As operators constantly service equipment, there are fewer accidents since the surrounding workspaces aren’t congested with tools and waste.

Helps with early issue discovery: AM empowers operators to exhaustively understand the equipment to catch early indicators of degradation and failure. This lets them take remedial steps before disasters.

Autonomous Maintenance vs. Preventive Maintenance

Autonomous maintenance and preventive maintenance are two distinct maintenance strategies that organizations can adopt to keep their equipment running smoothly. Preventive maintenance involves scheduling routine maintenance tasks to minimize equipment failure, downtime, and the need for repairs. This strategy involves following manufacturer recommendations or industry best practices, performing regular inspections, replacing worn-out parts, and fixing potential problems before they become more significant issues. In contrast, autonomous maintenance empowers operators to take ownership of equipment maintenance and provide the necessary cleaning, inspection, and lubrication needed to keep equipment running correctly. This strategy involves training operators to perform basic maintenance tasks, allowing them to identify problems before they escalate, and giving them the responsibility to maintain and operate the equipment effectively. Overall, while preventive maintenance is still essential, autonomous maintenance can complement it and help companies achieve even greater efficiency and reliability in their operations.

The Importance Of Autonomous Maintenance

Autonomous maintenance is important for businesses looking to maximize their equipment’s performance while minimizing downtime and repair costs. By empowering operators to take ownership of routine maintenance tasks, autonomous maintenance can increase machine reliability and reduce the need for costly repairs. It also helps to extend the lifespan of equipment and reduce the likelihood of unplanned breakdowns that can disrupt production. Moreover, by shifting the responsibility of maintenance to the operators, maintenance teams can focus on more complex tasks, such as troubleshooting and repairing more critical components. Overall, autonomous maintenance is a key element in creating a sustainable and efficient maintenance program for businesses across various industries.

Benefits Of Autonomous Maintenance

Below are some benefits of autonomous maintenance:

Reduced Labor Costs: Transferring simple maintenance tasks to operators eliminates the need to allocate time for those duties to maintenance technicians, freeing up time for more critical repairs. This can lead to cost savings by avoiding the need to hire additional personnel. It is important to note that this approach does not place an additional burden on employees, as autonomous maintenance is integrated into their existing job responsibilities.

Increased Productivity:  Autonomous maintenance can help reduce equipment downtime, allowing for improved uptime and higher productivity. 

Increased Uptime: By ensuring that equipment is consistently inspected and maintained, autonomous maintenance helps reduce the occurrence of breakdowns, which can result in increased uptime and reduced downtime.

Improved Equipment Maintenance: While cleaning and lubrication may seem like minor tasks, they can greatly extend the lifespan of equipment and reduce the likelihood of major repairs. With autonomous maintenance, operators can take care of these tasks and report any issues to technicians before they escalate into larger problems.

Early Problem Detection: Operators are in close contact with their machines and can quickly detect and address issues before they worsen. With the right training, they can take corrective action on the spot, reducing equipment downtime and the need for more extensive repairs.

Enhanced Teamwork and Participation: Autonomous maintenance gives operators a sense of ownership over their equipment and encourages collaboration between maintenance and production teams. By involving operators in the maintenance process, they are more invested in the success of the equipment and the production process, leading to a more engaged and motivated workforce.

Improved Safety: Autonomous maintenance can help reduce workplace hazards by preventing equipment deterioration and related safety risks. Operators become more aware of potential safety hazards and can take steps to prevent accidents from occurring, resulting in a safer work environment.

More Time for Critical Tasks: By reducing the workload of maintenance technicians, autonomous maintenance allows them to focus on more complex tasks that require specialized knowledge and training. This can lead to more efficient and effective maintenance programs overall. 

Empowered employees: Operators are given more responsibility and autonomy, which increases their investment in the equipment and the production process, leading to a more motivated and engaged workforce.

Tips for sustaining autonomous maintenance

Below are some tips for sustaining autonomous maintenance as you scale:

Define roles and responsibilities: Clearly define the individuals or teams responsible for carrying out AM tasks, and make sure that all employees are aware of their roles and responsibilities in the process.

Develop and implement a comprehensive training program: As you scale your autonomous maintenance program, it’s important to have a well-designed training program in place to ensure that all employees are adequately trained in maintenance procedures and safety practices.

Develop a clear and concise communication plan: Effective communication is key to the success of any program, and autonomous maintenance is no exception. Develop a communication plan that outlines roles and responsibilities, establishes clear lines of communication, and ensures that all stakeholders are aware of program progress and changes.

Establish a system for reporting and addressing equipment issues: Invest in a system for logging and tracking machine failures and abnormalities, and establish a process for identifying and addressing the root causes of failures. A CMMS can help in creating and implementing such a system. By analyzing the data, the maintenance team can prioritize maintenance tasks, improve maintenance planning, and identify process improvement areas.

Monitor and measure outcomes: Regularly measuring the results of your AM program helps to identify areas for improvement and ensures that the program is meeting its objectives.

Encourage continuous improvement: To sustain your AM program, you need to encourage a culture of continuous improvement. Encourage operators to share their ideas for improving maintenance processes and reward those who come up with innovative solutions.

Continuously measure and evaluate program effectiveness: It’s important to track the progress and effectiveness of your autonomous maintenance program through data analysis and performance metrics. This allows you to identify areas for improvement and adjust your program accordingly.

Leverage technology and automation: Utilizing technology such as sensors, predictive maintenance software, and automated inspection tools can help streamline maintenance procedures and identify potential issues before they become larger problems.

Foster a culture of continuous improvement: Encourage your employees to actively seek out and suggest improvements to the autonomous maintenance program. This can be achieved through regular feedback and recognition of employee efforts.

The Role of CMMS in Autonomous Maintenance

A computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) plays an important role in autonomous maintenance. It provides a centralized platform for managing maintenance operations, allowing operators to log and track equipment performance data, report issues, and schedule and prioritize maintenance tasks. With a CMMS, operators can receive automated alerts and reminders for preventive maintenance activities, ensuring that maintenance is performed on schedule and before equipment failure occurs. Additionally, a CMMS can help identify trends in equipment performance and track the effectiveness of maintenance efforts, allowing for continuous improvement and optimization of the maintenance program. Overall, a CMMS is a valuable tool in supporting the implementation and sustainability of autonomous maintenance practices.

Here are some features of CMMS software that help:

Work Order Management: A CMMS can help operators create and manage work orders, assign tasks, and track the progress of maintenance activities.

Asset Management: CMMS allows maintenance personnel to track equipment assets and generate reports on equipment performance, downtime, and maintenance costs.

Preventive Maintenance: CMMS can assist in scheduling and tracking preventive maintenance tasks, such as routine inspections, cleaning, and lubrication.

Root Cause Analysis: Root Cause Analysis is the process of analyzing equipment failure to determine the underlying reason and prevent future occurrences. A CMMS can help in root cause analysis by providing a centralized system for documenting and tracking equipment failures, maintenance tasks, and associated data. This data can be utilized to discover patterns and trends, helping maintenance teams in determining the root cause of the problem and taking corrective actions to prevent similar issues from occurring in the future.

Training: Track training and certification for operators. This ensures that operators are adequately trained and qualified to perform maintenance tasks.

Inventory management: Track and manage inventory levels of spare parts and consumables needed for maintenance activities. This helps ensure that the necessary parts are available when needed and also helps reduce excess inventory and costs.

Communication and Collaboration: A CMMS provides a platform for communication and collaboration between maintenance and production teams, allowing them to share information and work together more effectively.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, autonomous maintenance is a critical component of a successful maintenance program, providing numerous benefits such as improved safety, increased productivity, and better quality control. By empowering operators to take a more active role in equipment maintenance, companies can reduce labor costs, ensure equipment is well taken care of, and detect issues early on. With the help of a CMMS, operators and maintenance teams can work together to implement a sustainable autonomous maintenance program that leads to long-term success and cost savings.

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