Chinese Maintenance Management Moves from Reactive to Predictive

May 21 10:02 2013 Brandon Vincent Print This Article

Since China’s entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001, the country has managed to grow exports by a rate of 27.3% per annum and attention continues to be paid to the progress of China’s manufacturing.

Often in the U.S. that attention focuses on output (or production),Guest Posting while maintenance (or operations) remains a shadowy background figure.  An article by Bruno Lhopiteau, the General Manager of Siveco China, the country’s largest maintenance consultancy, takes a closer look at the role preventive and predictive maintenance can play in increasing the profitability of manufacturing in China.

Key Challenges for China

As in the West, maintenance is generally relegated to a backseat in plant operations in China, and major manufacturing trends, such as “lean” manufacturing and “green” technologies, are typically viewed as mutually exclusive of maintenance, even though it plays a critical role in their successful implementation.  Nowhere near the top of the corporate agenda, maintenance strategy and execution tends to be assigned to a technical supervisor or a local JV partner.

In a 2010 survey conducted by Shanghai University, the indirect cost of maintenance (losses and related costs) was reported to be 10 times greater than the direct cost – stunning evidence of the impact maintenance has on ROI.

Premature signs of aging (e.g., increasing breakdowns after only a few years in operation), are not uncommon in Industrial facilities, and are strongly linked to insufficient investment in facilities maintenance and design issues that go unaddressed, as “most organizations still operate on a purely reactive basis (“run-to-failure”)”, according to Mr. Lhopiteau.

Ironically, the country which has leapfrogged over production records in large part due to a surplus of affordable labor, grapples with an acute shortage of experienced managers and skilled technicians essential for maintenance management.

How to Build a Better Plant

Foreign engineering firms too often attempt to pursue facilities design and incorporate maintenance best practices based on a Western model, which fails routinely to be implemented. Domestic design firms have their own blind spots, tending to design for the short-term and disregard long-term impacts.  As a result, quick fixes are the norm, rather than the exception. Defining maintenance plans for utilities and production machines that are adapted to the experience, habits and skills of local teams, tend to find better traction than attempting to graft western standard operating procedures there.

The Best Practice for Incorporating Best Practices

The theme of cultural relevance continues when looking at implementing new technologies in Chinese maintenance operations. If you want to alienate floor personnel, having a foreign expert (influent in the cultural norms) conduct audits, training, and/or introduce IT tools, is the way to go.  A better path to upgrading maintenance staff expertise and integrating best practices, would involve culturally-sensitive training of floor staff on preventive maintenance, planning and optimization, as well demonstrating for the plant’s management team the impact maintenance can have on production. According to Mr. Lhopiteau, “typical ROI for a maintenance improvement project making proper use of hi-tech, as a catalyst, can be well within one year, sometimes weeks when design problems are quickly uncovered.”

Countering a Contrarian View

For years the idea promulgated by China’s central government was of IT as a short-cut or workaround to best practices, rather than an instrument of them. That era has gone the way of the dinosaur, as younger, highly-tech savvy workers bring their expertise to every sector, including maintenance. As social-cultural conditions lure Chinese workers from factories to offices, leveraging the innovative applications of technology in maintenance could allow China’s maintenance sector to attract more tech-sophisticated workers, which in turn would aid China’s facilities in progressing from reactive to predictive maintenance.


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Brandon Vincent
Brandon Vincent

Brandon Vincent is the author of this article about the shift from reactive to preventative maintenance in the Chinese manufacturing sector and how a CMMS system can be best leveraged to do this.

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