Total productive maintenance: where to start?

29 May 2018

Jonathan Wilkins explains the three core concepts of total productive maintenance (TPM) which are necessary for any manufacturer striving for a lean manufacturing model.

If machinery is not functioning reliably, it is not possible to produce right-first-time products with no risk. While perfect production – with no breakdowns, defects and accidents – may seem impossible for many manufacturers, total productive maintenance (TPM) can bring it closer to being a reality.

The concept of TPM is built on the 5S foundation, lean manufacturing terminology which describes the steps of a workplace organisation process – sort, set in order, shine, standardise and sustain. Implementing these five steps helps to streamline operations and makes problems visible through meticulous organisation and cleanliness of the workplace. To gain the benefits of TPM requires commitment and a great deal of planning. However, there are three steps that can be taken to get you on your way.

Employee empowerment: The TPM approach encourages employees to take ownership of the machinery they are operating, which increases production uptime. TPM does this by allocating the jobs traditionally completed by dedicated maintenance staff to all employees operating the plant. Typically, a TPM plan will have operators carry out basic manufacturing maintenance duties and cleaning regimes, encouraging a proactive attitude towards spotting maintenance issues.

To implement this effectively, plant managers need to provide the correct training for all staff on the factory floor. For example, staff are often expected to carry out cleaning, inspections, lubrication and corrective work for the piece of machinery that they operate. To ensure this is carried out safely, plant managers need to invest both time and resources in training.

Safe environment: Unclean work environments present the most risk of injury in industrial settings, but a simple cleaning regime can help mitigate this. Again, cleaning regimes should be carried out by all staff on the factory floor and can involve tasks as simple as returning tools to the correct place, ensuring machines are set up properly and cleaning stations once operation is finished. TPM focuses on the layout and efficient flow of products and people. Minimising clutter will help maximise flow throughout the floor design, while reducing safety risks.

Quality output: To improve the output of products and minimise defects, manufacturers need to identify potential weaknesses in the production process and assign quality checks at each point. Quality assurance streamlines production and helps ensure that the final products meet the company’s quality criteria. It also ensures that the processes used to design, test and produce products are always carried out correctly.

Part of effective quality assurance involves the measurement of tight production tolerances, which cannot be carried out by humans alone. By using production automation, manufacturers can hugely increase throughput and improve quality of working life for their employees.

While it is true that teams are only ever as strong as their weakest link, with a little help from automation, many of these weaknesses can be reduced, if not eliminated completely.

Jonathan Wilkins is marketing director at EU Automation.

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