Technical department and operators join hands

By collaborating more on first-line maintenance, the technical department and operators are improving safety, quality, and efficiency in production. How does this kind of collaboration happen and how do you organise it? Pontifexx and EZ Factory have worked together to structure and facilitate the autonomous maintenance process and guarantee that TD and production can join forces seamlessly. They explain what the success factors for this are.

Pontifexx specialises in optimising maintenance and availability at production facilities. EZ Factory developed the visual app EZ-GO, which supports operators in first-line maintenance with digital checklists, instructions, tasks, and audits. That makes autonomous maintenance easier, faster, and more effective. Joint collaboration is built into the structures of both companies. “We enhance each other’s strengths,” explains Johan van de Pol, Commercial Manager at Pontifexx. “When you introduce or expand autonomous maintenance, the operators are given important new tasks. The EZ-GO app helps them execute and record tasks, which in turn increases the effect of autonomous maintenance. The app was really born out of the shop floor and it’s very user-friendly.” Randy Appiah from EZ Factory adds, “Conversely, our customers often use the implementation of the app as an opportunity to optimise their AM. Just blindly copying the old paper methods into the app is a waste of time. Pontifexx understands factories through and through, and specialises in guiding those processes. That’s why we are happy to have them on board as our implementation partner.”

How autonomous maintenance helps both TD and operator

What both have noticed during AM projects is that the TD and production are often surprised by the benefits they can achieve together with AM. “Plenty of companies think they need to have their second-line maintenance in order first before they can structure their first-line maintenance,” explains Johan. “But we say: turn that around! The TD doesn’t get around to planned maintenance because they spend so much time putting out fires that could easily be prevented. For every TD employee, there are eight to ten operators standing on the line. They know exactly where things get stuck or where there are risks. They’re actually the eyes and ears of the TD. And they are perfectly capable of carrying out a whole range of standard inspections and maintenance tasks themselves. Taking advantage of that allows you to prevent a lot of outages. This makes life easier for the TD, so they can focus on systemic maintenance.”

Implementing AM: do it together

“Autonomous maintenance may sound like a massive undertaking, but actually everyone is already doing it,” Randy says. “Everyone takes care of the installation in one way or another, but it usually isn’t in any particularly structured way. Autonomous maintenance often starts a simple conversation between the TD and the production team. Together, they can look at how they want to optimise maintenance and which tasks can be delegated to the operators. This is where the power of the app comes in. Because the instructions are visualised with clips and photos, the engineers can easily transfer their knowledge and rest assured that things are being done properly and the same way, every time. It provides peace of mind and confidence. The digital checklists are very user-friendly – they show you exactly what needs to be done for each machine at every moment. Signing off is a thumbs-up on the screen, and everyone knows that it’s been done according to standard. If something isn’t right, it is easy to report and track in the app. Finally, thanks to the reports, the team gets valuable input on structural improvement opportunities.”

That is how it works!

An important point that Johan has noticed when introducing AM is the cultural difference between the TD and the operators. Operators are mainly focused on a continuous process – they have to be alert 24/7 to ensure that they’ve achieved a certain quantity and quality at the end of their shift. The TD is much more focused on technology, making sure that machines are in order and that broken items are repaired. This kind of AM trajectory brings these two worlds together, which is why we pay a lot of attention to emphasising the common interest: both parties want to avoid breakdowns. The operator gets more involved with the technology side and the mechanics become more invested in the process, so they understand each other better and can work together more effectively.”

Self-reinforcing process

When autonomous maintenance is organised like this, it’s much more relaxed on the shop floor. It is a self-reinforcing process. Because the operators regularly inspect and carry out maintenance, there are fewer outages. Because there are fewer outages, the TD has more time for preventive maintenance. The reports from the app lead to insights that they can discuss with each other and further improve the process. So AM is really a starting point for continuous improvement. It gives you the knowledge, the facilities, the data, the consultation structure, the willingness to collaborate, and the time to continuously improve. With all that in place, you can make serious strides around safety, quality, and efficiency,” Randy concludes.