For factory owners or managers, embracing the concept of autonomous maintenance is one of those strategies that makes sense on several levels.

Implemented correctly, autonomous maintenance will benefit everyone with an interest in the efficient running of the factory floor. As a bonus, it can also boost staff morale – making both your maintenance teams and your machine operators happier.

In this post, we’ll provide an overview of autonomous maintenance and the benefits this strategy can provide when it comes to the upkeep and maintenance of industrial equipment.

What is autonomous maintenance?

Autonomous maintenance is a strategy where machine operators in a manufacturing facility are given the responsibility of carrying out basic maintenance work on the machines and equipment they oversee, rather than leaving the job to dedicated maintenance technicians.

The concept is generally part of a broader strategy designed to effectively maintain and extend the life of manufacturing machinery. In fact, it’s such a fundamental part of the process that it constitutes the first of the ‘eight pillars’ that make up the long-established Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) methodology for asset management.

The benefits of autonomous maintenance

The main principle behind autonomous maintenance is that if operators have the skills and authority to maintain the equipment they work with, they will prevent breakdowns and free maintenance technicians to focus on more complex tasks. But it can also unleash a range of other benefits, both financial and non-financial:

  • Early problem detection – Because they work so closely with the equipment, operators are in the best position to notice when something begins to go wrong with a piece of machinery. They are on hand to take immediate action to prevent a potentially costly breakdown.

  • Better adherence to maintenance schedules – Operators trained to carry out basic cleaning, lubrication, and other maintenance work on their machines are more likely to perform those tasks according to the prescribed schedule than maintenance technicians with a whole factory full of machinery to worry about.

  • Enhanced safety – With operators trained to be alert to malfunctions, and to step in to prevent them from occurring, the potential for equipment-related accidents to happen is reduced. Having a regime of regular cleaning and maintenance also reduces the likelihood of debris and mess building up around a machine, or tools being left lying around, further reducing the risk of accidents.

  • Improved team dynamics – Having operators take on more responsibility for the effective operation of their machinery gives them a greater sense of purpose and elevates their role within the organization. It also alleviates the “us and them” mentality that can develop between machine operators and maintenance technicians. With an autonomous maintenance approach, everyone feels they are working towards the same goal: to keep the factory running smoothly.

Autonomous maintenance vs. preventive maintenance

If you’re a manufacturing professional, you’ll no doubt be all too familiar with the concept of preventive maintenance and you may be wondering how it differs from autonomous maintenance. The short answer is that preventive maintenance is one component of a comprehensive autonomous maintenance strategy.

Preventive maintenance is routine maintenance carried out on a schedule with the aim of warding off unexpected downtime due to equipment failure. When a factory adopts an autonomous maintenance approach, responsibility for machinery maintenance will fall to the operators rather than the maintenance technicians. And, as previously mentioned, one of the benefits of operators taking responsibility for maintenance is that it is likely to be carried out with more regularity than if it were left to overworked technicians.

While it may only form part of an autonomous maintenance strategy, the importance of preventive maintenance should not be understated. According to a report published by The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, an organization can save up to 12-18% by implementing a preventive maintenance program as opposed to relying on corrective maintenance measures.

How to get started with autonomous maintenance

If you want to reap the benefits of an autonomous maintenance approach to manufacturing, there are several steps you can take to start the transformation:

Define maintenance standards for machines and equipment – Ensure you understand and document the maintenance actions, and cadence, needed to keep the factory equipment operating at peak performance.

Train workers on maintenance procedures – Machine operators need to be educated on how to carry out the maintenance work. They also need to understand they have a vital role in the organization’s autonomous maintenance approach to optimizing the performance of the equipment on the factory floor.

Outline a regular maintenance schedule – As well as being trained in maintenance procedures, machine operators need to understand and be committed to carrying out the required maintenance on a regular schedule.

Monitor and inspect equipment after every use – The machine operators’ training should include teaching the importance of regularly monitoring and inspecting their machinery for potential problems.

Identify and eliminate the causes of excess wear – To maximize the life and performance of machines and other equipment, organizations need to understand how to eliminate excess wear. This information should be passed on to operators so they can incorporate it into their day-to-day autonomous maintenance activities.

Develop a culture of continuous improvement – The implementation of autonomous maintenance can be viewed as one step in a broader organizational transformation that includes developing a culture of continuous improvement.

On their own, each of these initial steps has the potential to deliver significant improvements within a manufacturing operation. When implemented together, the impacts can be compounded as your organizations reaps the benefits of progressing on its autonomous maintenance journey.

How Tulip helps enable autonomous maintenance

At Tulip, we’re big believers in empowering those closest to the operations with the tools they need to do their job. Using our platform, businesses are able to incorporate maintenance procedures into operators’ daily workflows ensuring ongoing equipment upkeep is consistently accounted for.

If you’re interested in learning more about how manufacturers are using Tulip to drive autonomous maintenance within their facilities, please reach out to a member of our team today!