Good maintenance can prevent unnecessary downtime.  It’s an obvious statement, however many companies fail to do the basics right and lose money as a result.  Here, GEA looks at some simple ways in which dairy plants can keep production flowing.

Plant maintenance can be complicated.  Although equipment is more reliable than ever, the tolerances are increasingly fine, production demands more onerous and the consequences of failure, more severe. 

Ultimately, and in an ideal world, plants would operate with sophisticated predictive maintenance plans, using data gathered through experience of multiple similar plants worldwide.  But, in practice, most plants should take a more balanced view.  Predictive maintenance, in which the condition of components is constantly monitored to anticipate break-downs, may be vital for some mission-critical components and systems, but a simpler approach can also prove immensely beneficial if it’s done well.

Time-based preventative maintenance, is the bedrock of many maintenance programs.  And when components are relatively non-critical, it’s fine.  Even corrective maintenance, where parts are replaced only when they fail, can be acceptable in some areas.  But even then, some basic precautions can improve productivity significantly.  For example, listening to machines.  Every machine has a characteristic sound (vibration profile).  If it changes, call in the maintenance supplier early to check it out.  Being vigilant can achieve a fair balance of risk between the company and the maintenance team.

Only use original manufacturer’s spares. Third party components may not be of the same quality and, therefore, their lifespan is unpredictable.  Effective maintenance programs are built on accurate data, add a rogue component to the mix - and everything changes.

Make sure that maintenance partners have adequate stocks of spares and that they have the infrastructure to keep their delivery KPIs.  There’s no point in a supplier having stocks if they don’t have the knowhow to get parts to where they are needed, in time.

And, perhaps, the most important element is supplier contact.  If there is a crisis, you need to be able to contact the right person, at any time of day, and they must be able and willing to respond quickly.  Some suppliers operate a ticket system that shows that your request is being attended to and provides transparency of the process: it’s a great comfort to know what’s happening and when your problem will be solved.

Training is also a vital element and secures safety of both men and machine. Many stoppages and also accidents are caused because operators don’t know how to get the best from their machines, recognize problems as they develop, and put them right if they occur.

Downtime can be caused by many factors – defects in materials; start-up, shutdown or product changeover; cleaning; product rejects; etc.  However, if identified and categorized in time, the correct type of maintenance for each part of the process can be applied and planned in a maintenance program to fit the plant’s needs, helping to reduce downtime and improving overall plant effectiveness.