Plant & Works Engineering
Adapting to the pace of change
Published:  24 February, 2014

For any facilities management team, the delivery of services in a manufacturing plant requires a thorough understanding of a number of critical factors, which are essential to the productivity and profitability of the plant. In particular, the challenge of adapting to changing production schedules and the ability to manage the health and safety risks inherent in any site are key to success. Guy Bruce, managing director - Industrial at Interserve reports.

Manufacturing sectors in the UK have witnessed numerous advances in industrial technologies in recent years and many companies now operate in line with lean working or just-in-time principles in order to ensure that the production line is as efficient as it can be.

This drive for increased efficiency brings with it the challenge of a shorter timeframe and reduced lead times, with pressure placed on contractors to meet rapid changes in demand and supply.

As order books increase or decrease and market demand fluctuates, facilities managers need to be able to adapt quickly to cope with changing production schedules.

This places a range of demands on the facilities management team, which can include the need to provide additional support staff at very short notice to support increased or longer production runs, an increase in the frequency or volume of cleaning schedules or the provision of more meals in the staff canteen to cater for different shift patterns. At the other end of the spectrum, changing production schedules may require careful consideration and adaptation of equipment maintenance and asset management schedules to cope with increased plant operating hours.

As demands on the production process alter, so too do the demands on the plant and equipment maintained by the facilities team. Asset lifecycle management becomes a crucial component of a productive site and must be continually monitored and reviewed in line with business needs.

Increased production runs will impact on many essential plant systems, such as the heating, lighting and air conditioning, on-site generation of power, compressed air and refrigeration systems and so on. This will require the facilities team to reassess its equipment maintenance regimes to cater for increased equipment operating hours and the associated wear on components and parts.

Conversely, a decrease in productivity also requires action to be taken, if only to re-evaluate the volume and frequency of routine maintenance. Although equipment may stand idle for longer it will still require inspection to ensure performance is maintained and that the plant can come successfully back on line as and when demand increases.

A well-informed facilities management team will be able to advise on when equipment replacement is required, based on the overall production need. Working with the manufacturer, it can help to analyse the financial outlay and commercial case for either outright replacement of plant and equipment or improved maintenance. For example, replacing a boiler shortly before a downgrade in production output takes place would not make the best commercial sense, whereas optimising existing equipment to be more energy efficient at such a time may pay dividends in the long term.

Limit the risk

The second area of challenge for the facilities team is to manage and limit the risks inherent in the manufacturing environment.

If such risks are not managed effectively, manufacturing plants can become dangerous places and as such they have a high degree of necessary regulation and control. The operating environment must be regularly audited, for issues such as sustainability and safety and depending on the sector and type of manufacturing undertaken numerous other factors such as air quality, food safety and laboratory temperatures must be taken into consideration.

As a result, the facilities management team will be required to work under a variety of potentially hazardous situations; in confined spaces, working at height or using equipment or chemicals which are inherently dangerous, often in and around the core production line. An injury or even a near miss could be sufficient to impact on a production run, delaying or worse, halting production altogether, with all the consequences of missed orders and deliveries that this may bring.

The facilities management function needs to be able to assess the likelihood of such risks and mitigate accordingly. Method statements for each activity undertaken with an associated training programme and audit trail must also be fully documented.

This is all standard practice and any competent facilities management team would be more than capable of working to such guidelines. The real challenge comes with the ongoing management of behavioural safety and in developing new ways to minimise common risks that can be overlooked easily.

Daily briefings with the facilities team and live, employee toolbox talks are proven to be very beneficial in communicating the risks. For instance, at Interserve we operate a behavioural safety programme, which seeks to change attitudes towards safety among the staff by highlighting good and bad behaviours and reinforcing learning; promoting and embedding a positive health and safety culture across the site and at every level.

Working together

Manufacturers expect to develop a close working partnership with their supply chain, so that the right components are delivered on time and in line with demand. The role of facilities management is no different and the best partnerships are when business strategy and plans are communicated effectively so that the service delivered can be adapted to support the overall production goals, as and when they change.

One example of this principle in action is at an automotive plant in the North of England where Interserve provides facilities management services. Here, the customer had a surplus of manufacturing staff for a short period of time while the engine line was being changed over and reconfigured.

Our local facilities management team was able to make best use of this additional resource by training and managing the client’s staff to undertake the cleaning and painting of the facility and equipment. In doing so, experienced staff could be retained on site while the changeover occurred and redeployed to their previous duties when production resumed. Not only did this provide a valuable service to the client that it may otherwise have needed to outsource at a cost, but it also ensured that valuable expertise could be retained locally, helping the new production line to operate smoothly from the outset.

The right facilities management provision, implemented carefully can have a positive impact on productivity, health and safety and the bottom line. By ensuring the facilities management team has the resources and expertise to adapt to changing requirements, productivity can be enhanced, downtime can be minimised and high levels of efficiency achieved.

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