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Getting Started with Autonomous Maintenance: Key Concepts, Steps and Best Practices

History of Autonomous Maintenance

In the 1960’s, Japanese manufacturing and for that matter, worldwide manufacturing was experiencing major growth and challenges.  An engineer, Seiichi Nakajima, saw that many improvements were needed beginning with how manufacturers approached the maintenance of their equipment and assets.

What is Total Productive Maintenance?

He began working on the theory of Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) which is a strategy directed at improving the reliability and efficiency of industrial equipment.  This strategy was unique and innovative as the concept was to introduce the equipment operators as a key contributor to the performance of maintenance tasks.  This philosophy was to help ease the burden on maintenance personnel who were overworked and help reduce machine downtime. This concept is called Autonomous Maintenance.

One of the foundational components of the TPM strategy is Autonomous Maintenance. The focus of this process is to introduce the frontline worker in manufacturing as the key component to the concept of preventative maintenance.  This process consists of training the production line operators to conduct the basic maintenance tasks of the equipment, significantly reducing the time it takes to perform this work and reducing downtime.  Giving this responsibility to the operators can help uncover and resolve potential equipment issues prior to them becoming major problems.

What Is Autonomous Maintenance?

Autonomous maintenance is a foundational concept or pillar of the Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) Framework. Autonomous Maintenance  takes a proactive approach to the initial steps of plant and equipment maintenance by putting the frontline workers in production as the first line of defense in preventing equipment issues.  

Key Components of Autonomous Maintenance

  • It empowers the workers on the floor to assume the responsibility for routine equipment care and minor repairs.  
  • It is a fundamental shift from reactive to preventative maintenance.  
  • It emphasizes the importance of instilling a sense of ownership and accountability amongst the employees and those operators running the equipment day to day.  
  • It creates a new culture that puts those who are most intimately involved with the equipment to be actively engaged in the process of keeping the machinery running efficiently.

By involving the frontline worker in production in the day to day care of the equipment, it reduces the dependence on the formal maintenance teams and helps in building an understanding of what steps are truly needed to maintain proper equipment functionality throughout the organization.  This approach not only helps to prevent breakdowns, equipment deterioration but can actually prolong the life of certain machinery and assets.  

Autonomous Maintenance develops a culture of continuous improvement, where the employees are encouraged to identify and help implement initiatives to improve efficiency.  It gives the operators and shop floor workers a stake in the game and a sense of ownership.  Most importantly it increases reliability, productivity and overall performance.  It is referred to as preventative maintenance but really should be called Proactive Maintenance.

factory workers leveraging autonomous maintenance practices with redzone

What Are the Benefits of Autonomous Maintenance?

Autonomous Maintenance puts the responsibility of routine equipment care and maintenance to the machine operators or the frontline worker.  This concept provides an incredible range of benefits including the improvement of Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE_ and a significant reduction in operational costs.  Here are some significant benefits to implementing this strategy and concept into a manufacturing organization.

  • Improved Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) – Empowering frontline workers improves OEE by focusing  on the components of availability, performance and quality, Having the operators perform the routine maintenance tasks, reduces downtime, increases availability and improves overall performance.
  • Reduced Maintenance costs – By involving the operators in the basic maintenance, it helps the specialized maintenance teams to focus on the more complex issues for which they were trained and thus decreases maintenance costs as freeing up enormous chunks of time
  • Reduced Downtime – Autonomous Maintenance has the ability to minimize equipment downtime because regular inspections, cleanings and basic tuning reduces the time needed for major repairs.
  • Increased Equipment Longevity – Frequent maintenance such as cleanings, lubrication, inspections and basic repairs helps keep a piece of equipment running and in good condition increasing its lifespan. 
  • Improved Productivity and Efficiency – Autonomous Maintenance streamlines the maintenance process reducing downtime and improving the overall productivity and efficiency of the shop floor.
  • Improved Safety in the Workplace – Having operators being the frontline of equipment maintenance, safety hazards are more likely to be discovered and addressed sooner.  A cleaner, organized and maintained workspace reduces the risk of accidents.
  • Increased Operator Ownership – Autonomous maintenance fosters a sense of ownership amongst operators, which leads to increased accountability and a more motivated and dedicated workforce.
  • Improved Collaboration – by having the line workers involved in the ongoing preventative maintenance process, communication between operators, maintenance teams and supervisory level employees is increased and improved.
  • Enhanced Quality and Consistency – products being produced on machines that are well maintained and performing efficiently helps improve product quality.
manufacturing worker performing routine maintenance

The Seven Key Autonomous Maintenance Steps

Autonomous Maintenance consists of a structured approach that involves engaging the frontline worker (operators) into the process of performing routine maintenance tasks to improve equipment reliability and to instill a culture of proactive maintenance.  Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) consists of seven critical steps needed to efficiently and successfully implement Autonomous Maintenance.These steps are:

  1. Initial Cleaning: Identify and remove unnecessary items from the work area.
  2. General Inspection: Establish a routine for inspecting equipment and identifying abnormalities.
  3. Initial Lubrication: Develop a lubrication schedule and ensure proper lubrication of equipment.
  4. Tightening: Standardize procedures for tightening bolts and other fasteners to prevent loosening.
  5. Standardization: Establish and maintain standardized procedures for cleaning, inspection, lubrication, and tightening.
  6. Autonomous Inspection: Train operators to conduct autonomous inspections beyond routine tasks.
  7. Autonomous Maintenance Review: Continuously review and improve the AM process to enhance overall effectiveness.

These steps are designed to progressively involve frontline operators in equipment maintenance, fostering a culture of proactive care and contributing to improved overall equipment performance. Implementing these steps requires an ongoing commitment to operator training, teamwork and a cultural shift towards proactive maintenance. Implementing and following this approach will create a sustainable system of autonomous and proactive maintenance that will lead to increased equipment reliability, reduced downtime and a more engaged and empowered workforce.

Maintaining Autonomous Maintenance Seamlessly

Like any new process and/or philosophy that a manufacturing organization adopts and implements, Autonomous Maintenance itself needs a consistent and structured approach to continue to be a beneficial part of an organization’s TPM methodology.  There are a number of steps that can be taken to create a stable and a sustainable Autonomous Maintenance strategy.

  • Continuous Training: Regularly update and reinforce training programs to keep operators informed about new technologies, procedures, and best practices in autonomous maintenance.
  • Performance Metrics Monitoring: Establish key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure the effectiveness of autonomous maintenance, regularly monitor them, and use the data for continuous improvement.
  • Feedback Mechanism: Implement a feedback system that encourages operators to provide insights, report issues, and suggest improvements, fostering a culture of continuous communication and learning.
  • Equipment Condition Monitoring: Utilize advanced technologies such as IoT sensors to continuously monitor equipment conditions in real-time, allowing for predictive maintenance and early problem detection.
  • Periodic Reviews and Audits: Conduct regular reviews and audits of the autonomous maintenance processes to identify areas for improvement, ensure adherence to standards, and maintain overall effectiveness.
  • Connected Workforce Software: Leverage connected workforce software to enhance collaboration, access real-time data, and streamline communication for more efficient and effective autonomous maintenance practices.
  • Supportive Leadership: As with any program, the support of all management levels and corporate leadership will ensure success. Supportive leadership reinforces the importance of Autonomous maintenance and encourages that it is a successful practice.
manufacturing workers leveraging redzone to improve productivity

The Future of Autonomous Maintenance With Redzone

A connected workforce platform like Redzone can significantly enhance the implementation and effectiveness of autonomous maintenance by fostering collaboration, providing real-time data, and streamlining communication. The basic premise of the Redzone software is in the enablement of the frontline worker.  The success of Autonomous Maintenance is dependent on the empowered frontline worker so the two go hand in hand.  Here are key benefits:

  • Multi-media work instructions linked directly to the digital operator care tasks on the mobile tablet for reference 
  • A digital visual factory that shows teams and their leaders exactly where the problems are and also which areas have high compliance and high performance
  •  Real-time Data Access: Enables operators to access equipment data, performance metrics, and maintenance history instantly, aiding in quick decision-making.
  • Collaborative Communication: Facilitates seamless communication among team members, allowing them to share insights, updates, and collaborate on maintenance tasks, leading to more effective problem-solving.
  • Task Scheduling and Tracking: Helps in planning and tracking autonomous maintenance tasks, ensuring they are completed on time, and providing visibility into progress and potential issues.
  • Mobile Accessibility: Allows operators to access the software on mobile devices, promoting flexibility and enabling them to perform autonomous maintenance tasks on the go.
  • Integration with IoT Sensors: Integration with Internet of Things (IoT) sensors enables real-time monitoring of equipment conditions, aiding in predictive maintenance and early identification of potential issues.
  • Training and Documentation: Provides a centralized platform for training materials, documentation, and standard operating procedures related to autonomous maintenance, ensuring consistency and knowledge transfer.
  • Data Analytics for Continuous Improvement: Utilizes analytics to analyze maintenance trends, identify patterns, and suggest improvements for optimizing equipment performance over time.

Leveraging Connected workforce software, like Redzone, enables organizations to amplify the benefits of autonomous maintenance, creating a more efficient, collaborative, and data-driven approach to equipment care and maintenance.

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