Facility Dude

Manufacturing plants face older machinery but also greater demand

By Kate Donnelly
Dec 12, 2014

Facilities Management

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Perhaps more than many other industries, manufacturing plants rely heavily on the strength and condition of their equipment. In addition to infrastructure essential to building operation such as HVAC, plumbing and electricity, administrators and plant managers also have to stay on top of the tooling machines themselves to keep the doors open and production steady.

Manufacturing facilities face older machinery but also greater demand However, there seems to be a disconnect between the state of the machinery across many U.S. manufacturing plants and the demand being placed on them by the industry. More factory owners are finding they have to do more with less, or at least less pristine equipment. Capital budgets may not be in sync with the need to repair or replace aging equipment, but there are tricks savvy plant managers and maintenance staff can employ to keep their factories running smoothly.

An epidemic of aging equipment

Factory and manufacturing machinery tend to be big-ticket items, and thus aren't replaced as often as other bits of facility infrastructure. Even so, the current state of industry equipment is dire. According to Industry Week, the U.S. manufacturing industry is working with the most widespread outdated equipment it's faced since 1938. Unfortunately, despite the state of the industry, the source noted that orders for new tooling equipment have actually fallen 2.7 percent in the first half of 2014.

Factory owners and plant managers are starting to feel the pressure, as despite widespread aging equipment, post-recession manufacturing booms are putting greater demands on the industry. According to CNBC, manufacturing spending in the U.S. has hit its highest point in three years.

Staving off spending

Despite growing need, the fact remains that many plants simply don't have the budget to replace aging or obsolete equipment. However, there are steps to take to prevent having to spend money on costly replacements or retrofits in the meantime.

According to Manufacturing Business Technology, one of the most basic steps has to do with simply keeping up with regular planned maintenance. Conducting consistent preventive maintenance operations may seem unappealing from a budget standpoint, but rather than viewing it as money spent, it's better to view it as money invested against having to prematurely purchase equipment. The source also highlighted the importance of robust maintenance training that includes knowledge on older legacy systems. That way as older plant managers leave and newer, younger ones take their place, they will be equipped with essential knowledge of the building's current systems and will be able to keep up with maintenance operations.

Taking stock

Industry Week recommended fastidious inventory and inspection as a means of monitoring performance of older equipment. The good news, is with the help of a CMMS, it can be possible to efficiently track performance of individual pieces of equipment against benchmarks. This can be valuable for determining cost-benefit analyses of whether to repair or replace. This way, you'll be better positioned to determine which areas require immediate capital forecasting, and where you may be able to get by with creative maintenance workarounds.

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