The need to improve manufacturing operations in the UK is without question. Global competition is intense and this has forced several UK manufacturing companies to transfer operations to low-cost economies. It is therefore imperative that the remaining manufacturing facilities continuously improve and become as efficient and effective as possible. The primary mechanism in business to steer such actions is strategy and this should be developed, implemented and linked across corporate, business and functional levels (Skinner, 1969, Pinjala et al., 2004). When manufacturing performance is considered, equipment maintenance has a key influence on safety, cost, customer service, and quality. Research by Robson (2010) found that maintenance organizations in the North East of England were not creating maintenance strategies and linking them to manufacturing and business goals. However, this may not be an issue unique to the UK because similar concerns were raised in Sweden by the research of Jonsson (1997).
It is not clear why managers choose not to create a maintenance strategy (Note 1) but it could be that they “do not know how”. The plethora of strategic models and frameworks certainly makes it difficult, because there is no clear pathway for practitioners to follow. This paper addresses the problem by firstly reviewing the literature in respect to strategy and from this, developing a pragmatic approach to the formulation and implementation of a maintenance strategy. The structure of the paper is as follows: Section 2 considers the benefits of creating a maintenance strategy and why it is important to do so; Section 3 presents a short review of the literature covering both corporate and maintenance strategy; Section 4 proffers a practical approach to developing a maintenance strategy; Section 5 explains how a maintenance strategy can be audited and finally; Sections 6 provides a set of conclusions.
Maintenance strategies are important because they can bring significant benefits to manufacturing organizations. The interdependence between manufacturing operations and equipment maintenance means that if a suitable maintenance strategy is deployed this should lead to improved machine reliability and availability. A maintenance strategy also ensures that scarce and expensive resources i.e. maintenance labor and materials are efficiently and effectively used. In the UK, most manufacturing companies expend between 4-6% of their annual turnover on maintenance (Willmott, 1994). The alternative to a maintenance strategy is poor and ineffective equipment maintenance, which will detrimentally affect all areas of manufacturing operations. Improving the reliability of machines also aligns well with the concepts of Lean Manufacturing, because reliable machines mean repeatable and predictable processes which in turn, reduce the waste due to overproduction and unplanned stoppages (Slack et al., 2007). The completion of customer orders in full and on time becomes more likely as product defects caused by equipment failures diminish. From a maintenance organizational perspective, a holistic maintenance strategy sets out a sustainable vision for the future with clear policies for equipment maintenance and staff. This covers a wide gamut of topics e.g. objectives, goals, appropriate machine maintenance tactics, performance measures, training, staff development, succession planning etc. The generation of a documented strategy with agreed plans, also promotes the reputation of the maintenance function within the plant hierarchy, raising its profile and strategic status. In this situation, the maintenance function is no longer a “necessary evil” but rather a function that is positively contributing to the business and measuring its performance and progress against agreed targets.
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(Author: Kenneth Robson, Robert Trimble, John MacIntyre