In such challenging times, when the pressure to produce quality products on time with limited budgets looms larger than ever, global manufacturers are increasingly recognizing the value of maintaining original equipment manufacturer (OEM) aftermarket relationships to ensure the best performance of manufacturing and assembly machinery throughout its life cycle.
Importance of Aftermarket Partnerships
Aftermarket relationships during the life of production equipment are essential for keeping it in top-notch condition. Although OEM support for installing, commissioning and starting up new production equipment is vital, partnership should go beyond these one-time events to ensure the best operations.
Long-term partnerships ensure a customized preventive maintenance plan from the OEM equipment suppliers can ensure the best equipment quality and performance, as well as minimize downtime. Whether maintenance is done monthly, quarterly or annually, it should focus on four key areas:
- Inspecting equipment.
- Verifying safety features.
- Testing controls.
- Replacing consumables.
It is important to invest in equipment that is backed by aftermarket services and support that are globally available, capable and predictable. The best aftermarket services continue to evolve, not only with technology like the Internet of Things (IoT) and virtual solutions, but also with the fast-moving global economy and workforce in mind. Tools of digital transformation now play an essential role in capturing and digitizing information about a manufacturer’s installed base of equipment and about the productivity, upgradeability and maintenance status of that equipment.
Manufacturers are expected to turn out reliable equipment uptime and provide timely maintenance in response to equipment-related problems. OEM services should focus on:
- Maximizing equipment availability.
- Tracking equipment and managing its life cycle.
- Rapid access to parts and repairs.
- Training to ensure a skilled workforce.
Global manufacturers rely on their equipment to run at its best, especially if it will be making a new product. But routine maintenance, which is critical to machine performance, can be neglected as production shifts, new tasks or emergencies arise, or personnel changes and experience are lost.
In time, equipment inevitably ages. Tooling wears, errors and alarms occur more frequently, and updates or maintenance recommendations are overlooked. On top of this, production and equipment decisions are made in locations far from where manufacturing is done. This makes it hard for manufacturers to retain all the knowledge and skills needed to handle specialized equipment and undermines the confidence to undertake major new projects.
With a growing array of web-based tools such as IoT, global organizations such as ours can deliver customers aftermarket support through regional service centers and technicians practically anywhere in the world.
Tracking Equipment and Training Staff
It’s typical for large manufacturers to move equipment around to meet customers’ production and service demands. As a result, they can lose track of equipment information, particularly when the equipment is portable, such as benchtop ultrasonic or laser welders.
It’s also easy to lose track of the age of equipment, which can become obsolete without notice. If equipment is tracked, evaluations can be conducted to indicate if newer equipment would meet manufacturing requirements while improving productivity and reliability at a lower cost.
Equipment can typically be in service for 20 years or more, so we recommend a periodic “walkdown” conducted by the supplier (OEM) to audit the status of plant equipment and where it is in its life cycle. These equipment reviews typically:
- Identify installed equipment’ quantity, model and serial number; control system; software versions used; asset identification number; and location.
- Visually inspect for operation and to identify alarms or faults.
- Evaluate maintenance needs such as lubrication for moving parts and proper installation of connections.
Walkdown data is compiled and reviewed with engineering and support teams that help prepare a detailed report of the installed base. The report breaks down equipment by age, condition, capabilities, current status and upgrade potential. It also lists recommendations for:
- Corrective and preventive maintenance.
- Repairs and upgrades.
- Refurbishing opportunities.
- Replacing obsolete equipment.
A reliable OEM offers the consistent global reach needed to support both standard and custom equipment. That would include an inventory of equipment and parts, the expertise to ensure proper use, ongoing maintenance and spares, periodic calibration and software updates. Companies should look for OEMs with regional service locations and parts hubs that work closely with customers to support critical parts. The hubs should be staffed by personnel who can install and service equipment. To protect essential operations, companies should consider a service agreement. Agreements may include priority access to parts, on-site or 24/7 access to service personnel, and other assurances geared to their production requirements.
It is common for manufacturers to “train up” workforces when OEM personnel are on hand to help start up new equipment or process lines. However, in real life, production and processes change, and trained personnel move around, get promoted or leave. Inexperience or uncertainty due to personnel changes can cause productivity to sag as knowledge is lost or maintenance skills and scheduling disrupted.
To keep a workforce with the knowledge to be productive, training in processes, equipment and maintenance is a must. Such training can be difficult without working with a global OEM partner with the technical resources suited to the language and culture of local employees.
In global manufacturing companies, keeping people up-to-date and equipment running is a constant challenge, but there are partners and a growing array of technology to help.
Sukumara Repuri is the director for Global Aftermarket and Sophie Morneau is the director of Global Strategic Accounts for Branson at Emerson.