Everything You Need to Know About Autonomous Maintenance

What is Autonomous Maintenance?

Autonomous maintenance is a maintenance methodology where machine operators monitor their equipment and perform minor maintenance tasks rather than relying on a maintenance technician to maintain the machine. This allows operators to gain machine knowledge and own daily maintenance responsibilities to care for their equipment. This frees up time from maintenance to focus on proactive work. As a pillar of Operational Excellence, it builds its foundation in the production hall among the production workers who are its main driving force. Milliken has developed this pillar, referred to as Daily Team Maintenance (DTM) within our Milliken Performance System, to perfection. This path to full awareness of the production workers building the company’s autonomous maintenance culture leads us through 7 steps of implementation.

What Are the Challenges of Autonomous Maintenance?

Above all, it is difficult to measure the success of the autonomous maintenance process.

How many companies with advanced systems of even Scada type, which monitor the status of signals sent by plc systems 24/7, where even such small downtimes as fractions of seconds are recorded and prove that our process is not fully stable? Many companies collect downtime data by keeping manual records, which do not always fully reflect the picture of losses, as well as almost always contain a certain subjectivity of assessment. This is often because not everything was recorded as not every production change is so eager to keep records, even though in the end the small downtime/failure is clearly defined for every phenomenon.

Often in companies there are no rules on how to treat minor downtime. Is this a maximum of 2 or maybe 3 minutes? Or maybe when the problem comes back cyclically and not every 7-8 hours and “puts out” a 100m production line for a minute or two? Often such a “banal stop” according to the operator may cost the company a significant amount of money, depending on the manufactured assortment and production time. Customers for whom our Practitioners work often measure the success of autonomous maintenance with lower costs of production losses, because less minor downtime and fewer failures are lower costs for the plant, which can easily be counted.

The second challenge facing autonomous maintenance is the subsequent return on investment.

Autonomous maintenance activities cannot be treated on par with Focused Improvement, or even Kaizen. Here it is easier to show us what costs we have incurred and how much we have gained from the improvement. Autonomous maintenance is a long-term investment. While closely related to the no less important element of the cultural transformation of the company, must engage the production staff to take fuller control over the machine park, which it has to operate and prove that the employees can also generate profit for the companies, reducing its losses due to imperfect operation of the machines. The costs of such training, in addition to the unit price itself, include the hidden cost of the lack of original staff on the line and the substitution/overtime introduced. The company cannot afford to stop production due to the training or training cycle, however, education is an element that cannot be omitted for the whole undertaking of creating autonomous maintenance cells.

Depending on the needs and organizational maturity of its customers, we conduct an educational process divided into visits to a factory. On average, there are as many visits as months in a year. The first year is work in a select machine/group of model machines. There we educate and work in the hall with groups of internal trainers and future implementers who will take full control over the implementation process in the long term.

PSbyM helps to implement autonomous maintenance programs around the world because this model is perfect in its versatility. There is also proof that our autonomous maintenance program, in its simplicity, can be implemented with great success.

The success of any initiative is always measured by the number of its followers. In the case of the development of the autonomous maintenance concept, to be clearly successful, we need to involve a large part of the organization. Exceptions always become the rule and if we “let go” on most of the production hall, the enthusiasm of the employees can quickly fade away.

It is also impossible to talk about the phenomenon of “quick profits” within an autonomous maintenance implementation. The so-called quick wins will unfortunately rarely be noticed because our concept is long-term and assumes a slow return on investment. The goal we will achieve in a few years’ time cannot be overestimated – the employees will become “owners” of the machines they operate. They will understand that downtime is not just the loss of one or two unproduced pieces but can also bring measurable negative financial results for the company if left alone.

Well-established AM standards reduce the burden on operators and make their daily work easier. These activities become almost unnoticeable to the operator and the maintenance services can address more complex issues as well as develop to meet the increasingly higher technological requirements of the machine park. This allows the main objective of the maintenance department to focus on the more complex problems of machine and plant maintenance rather than only occasional adjustments and the so-called “firefighting”, as production staff are now able to help.

Benefits of Autonomous Maintenance

Among the intangible results of the well introduced autonomous maintenance system, one should certainly mention the greater knowledge and skills of production employees. Additional benefits of autonomous maintenance are:

  • Increased competence of an operator making them more self-confident and much more likely to solve problems in an analytical and learned way.
  • Increased morale among the staff. Employees who are entrusted with even small tasks feel appreciated and needed in the company,
  • Increased number of potential candidates for technicians and maintenance engineers.
  • More efficient process of moving production associates into the maintenance structure as they are already familiar with the company, hierarchy, etc
  • The “production-maintenance” relationship gains a whole new positive dimension and we start solving problems in cross-functional

Finally, well implemented autonomous maintenance improves the ability to plan production efficiently. The reliability of the machine park and the fast and efficient solution of team problems that interfere with the production process allows us to produce on time, in the right amount and without losses.

Why is it worth promoting the “ownership” of equipment among operators?

So why promote this property among the machinery operators? Why is it so important when the technological development of diagnostic equipment, as well as the maintenance services themselves, seems to have no end and every step we learn about new, non-invasive technologies for monitoring and securing machines?

Because it is the operators who are most familiar with the operation of machines and their malfunctions. By operating machines daily, in the same sequence of movements and functions, it is easy to recognize whether everything is running okay with our machine. For an experienced operator, faults such as: too slow of a signal from the sensor, too long opening time of the jaws/clamps, too small angling of the spindle cover, or micro leaks of oil or other medium, will be noticed very quickly. What may seem like a machine standard to others, a trained and committed operator will treat as an anomaly or a deviation from the standards in which a machine should always function.

Secondly, it is the operators who are the so-called first line of defence and the removal of the malfunction/failure starts with the production workers, who try, according to their responsibilities and skills matrix, to intervene to solve the problem themselves. The call of maintenance services is the next step when all possibilities from their own solution portfolio fail.

Another reason, often unnoticeable, mainly for those who have not been in contact with the characteristics of the maintenance services, is that technicians do not wait at the machines 24 hours a day. Their competences, as well as their higher salaries, do not allow for “guarding the hall” and overstaffing. Rather, it is the departments with a shortage of employees, where planning of maintenance work, let alone participation in routine or emergency work on production, often becomes a great art.

Again, operators are here to help, because they are always at the machine and are the first to signal the dysfunction of a given machine or its subassembly.

Seven Steps of Autonomous Maintenance

Starting with the restoration of the machine in step 1, through improvements and eliminating of difficult to reach places, standardization of inspections, and ending with the development of technical competence of production workers and implementation of autonomous maintenance strategy in the entire production plant.

  • Step 1: Restore, inspect, understand the equipment.

The HOW: The machine team restores the equipment to “like new” condition while also familiarizing themselves with equipment function and watching for abnormalities and deterioration.

  • Step 2: Identify deterioration and implement solutions.

The HOW: The machine team puts solutions in place to reduce sources of deterioration and make it easier to inspect and clean their equipment.

  • Step 3: Establish cleaning inspection, and lubrication standards.

The HOW: The machine team works with maintenance and the Maintenance Pillar to create cleaning and lubrication standards for their equipment.

  • Step 4: Train operators to detect / correct abnormalities.

The HOW: Maintenance technicians teach operators to find and correct abnormalities before they cause defects or breakdowns on their specific equipment.

  • Step 5: Apply practical application of methods.

The HOW: Operators apply the new skills they have learned on a day-to-day basis.

  • Step 6: Standardize AM process.

The HOW: The AM Pillar team confirms and standardizes the DEC process created in steps 1-5 in all work areas throughout the plant.

  • Step 7: Continuously improve the process.

The HOW: The AM Pillar team leads the location in sustaining and continuously improving the DEC system.

Autonomous Maintenance Case Study




One of our customers within the food & beverage industry, who started working with PSbyM in 2018, was looking to being a several-year project to implement an Operational Excellence program, including Autonomous Maintenance principle.  Our proof of concept for autonomous maintenance implementation with this client went to two semi-automatic filling lines for cans. The site was struggling in the past with many short stops and difficulties with implementing cleaning procedures to keep very high FMCG hygienic standards and to cope with demanding client audits. PSbyM started to engage in this model area with the autonomous maintenance team in end of May 2019.

The autonomous maintenance team was established with two local operators, 2 maintenance technicians, one process engineer and one quality engineer.

The goals here were clear:

  • make the equipment safer and more ergonomic
  • reduce the number and duration of the downtimes
  • increase accessibility of the equipment-means make it easier to clean and to maintain
  • improve the performance (to produce more)
  • improve the communication between production and maintenance department

We started to work on the model line and went through the first three implementation steps of autonomous maintenance. After only 9 months we reduced the number of technical breakdowns and equipment losses by 10%. By March 2020, we saw the best performance month ever in the history of the company.

Autonomous maintenance became a value for the site leader, manager of the model line area, and their operators. This ownership provided a huge boost and improved overall cooperation between maintenance and production which was reflected on the MTBF chart for this machine.

Feedback from the owners withing the production department

Svenja, the production supervisor, told us that she sees not only higher performance of the model line but also: ‘’my operators are more aware now if something is not going right with the equipment and very quickly reacting to it with the tagging system. This line runs so smoothly that my people can be focused on high quality production and do not need to deal with short stops, etc. Even our customers or auditors that are visiting the line are of the same opinion-that this area looks now much safer and they are 100% sure about the product quality that it delivers ‘’.

Are you ready to move your team out of the “I use, you fix” mindset? Contact Performance Solutions by Milliken today and see how we can help!

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