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Visual Systems Improve Maintenance

Visual devices are widely used in 5S, Standard Work, Quick Changeover, Kanban, and other lean techniques, but they should also be an important component of your proactive maintenance strategy.

When implemented correctly, visuals can provide a number of benefits to your reliability program, including:

  • Simplified preventive maintenance
  • Optimized predictive maintenance
  • Faster troubleshooting and repairs
  • Improved quality, with fewer errors and defects

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Simplify Preventive Maintenance

Signs and labels can be used to identify preventive maintenance (PM) points and provide basic cleaning, inspection, and lubrication instructions.

These visuals are especially important if your company has implemented an autonomous maintenance program. When responsibilities for routine care and inspection are transferred to equipment operators instead of trained maintenance professionals, it becomes critical to clearly define their tasks and checkpoints.

For example, improper lubrication - too little or too much - is a major cause of equipment failure. A simple lube label can save your company significant costs in motor repair and replacement.

In addition, color-coded markings can be applied to zerk fittings and grease guns to guard against using the wrong type of lubrication.

Oil level indicators can also be applied to sight tubes to simplify oil management. The use of green and red striped labels placed behind the sight tube lets the operator easily detect when oil levels are too high or too low.

Preventive maintenance schedules and check sheets are other valuable visuals to have on your shop floor. These schedules show who needs to perform what task and when the task should be completed.

A schedule should simply highlight the task to be performed; it should not list the steps taken to accomplish it. If step-by-step instructions are required for the task, those details should be made available on a separate procedure.

Optimize Predictive Maintenance

As baby boomers retire - about 78 million in the next 10 to 15 years - there will be a growing number of new and relatively inexperienced technicians in the workforce. One large, well-known manufacturer recently forecasted that by 2014, approximately 70 percent of its maintenance staff will have less than five years of relevant job experience.

This will greatly increase the risk of errors and omissions in maintenance activities.

In addition, maintenance workers must learn how to use a growing number of sophisticated predictive maintenance technologies, such as vibration analysis, ultrasound, and thermal imaging. When performing predictive maintenance, it's critical to take measurements at the same exact place each time. To ensure that the location for readings remains consistent - regardless of who conducts the inspection - you can apply predictive maintenance targets.

When implementing predictive maintenance programs, reliability technicians often use inspection routes to streamline the process and maximize efficiency. The drawback to this approach, however, is that the technician may not be familiar with each and every piece of equipment, and the proper readouts may vary across different machines.

Visual controls like gauge labels make it clear to anyone at a glance whether the temperature or pressure is within the normal operating range. In fact, these visuals make it so easy to detect abnormalities that anyone walking by becomes a potential inspector, facilitating early detection of potential problems.

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Visuals can also be used to detect when chain tension is too loose, or advise when to replace the chain. When tension slackens, links from the chain should be removed, and the adjustment block can be shifted to restore proper tension with the shorter chain. Once a specified number of links have been removed, the edge of the block extends outside of the green area, clearly indicating that the chain should be replaced.

Faster Troubleshooting and Repair

Visuals can also speed troubleshooting and repairs. Including "to" and "from" information on equipment ID labels makes it easier to trace lines in electrical systems and pipe networks. As a result, you can perform repairs faster and reduce the risk of errors and potential injury.

Maintenance stores are perhaps the biggest contributor to maintenance inefficiencies, and your storeroom may offer plenty of opportunities for improvement through visual management. You can make repairs even more efficient by ensuring that the proper replacement part and its storage location are clearly identified, ideally by putting the information right at the point of need as shown.

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To reduce search time, and ultimately reduce downtime, clearly label shelves and bins in stock rooms and tool cribs. Where possible, use graphics and/or photos on your labels for faster recognition and to avoid pulling the wrong part.

To enhance safety and reduce hazards, many companies are posting graphical lockout procedures right on or next to their equipment. These procedures provide the detailed steps included in accomplishing a task, including photos, diagrams, and instructions.

All procedures should include the content, or what you do; the sequence, or the order in which you do it; the time, or the time it takes to do it or how frequently it should be done; and the objective, or the desired outcome.

Be sure to keep your procedures simple. For example, don't mix operator tasks with maintenance technician tasks. The most effective procedures are designed specifically for one type of user.

Posting hazard warnings and procedures with safe work instructions right at the point of need is the most effective way to reduce accidents and injuries at your plant. These procedures are as important (if not more so) than classroom or computer-based safety training.

Promote Error-Free Setup

When restoring equipment to operation, how can you ensure efficient and error-free setup? Visuals such as the operator control panel labels and alignment aids shown below help to simplify machine settings and positioning.

In addition, labeling the rotational direction on gears and shafts can help you avoid costly setup errors that can damage or destroy motors and drive systems.

Make Your Own Visuals

All of the visuals referenced in this article can be created right from your facility using a lean tools software system and industrial lean label printers. With a versatile in-house labeling system, you can create your own industrial-grade visuals on site and on demand, at a fraction of the cost of having them printed by an outside vendor.

Today's lean software uses template wizards to speed and simplify the design and layout of custom visuals. The software includes thousands of safety and industrial pictograms, and it even lets you import your own logos or photos. You can also import data from spreadsheets and databases to include on your labels.

Industrial printers are available that can print multiple colors without manual ribbon changes and can even print photographic images. These printers output to a wide variety of media, including permanent and repositionable adhesive labels, tags and Kanban cards, magnets, and more.

If you purchase a printer with a built-in plotter cutter, you can easily create cut-letter door signs and paint stencils. All these capabilities are available in a make-it-yourself visual workplace printing system for use in lean and world-class manufacturing environments.

As you look to improve equipment performance and reliability, it pays to keep your eyes open for new ways in which visual systems can benefit your overall lean initiatives.

Chris Rutter Image

Chris Rutter is a Senior Marketing Manager for the lean manufacturing and maintenance markets of Brady North America. Chris delivers training on visual workplace techniques and has presented at numerous conferences, seminars, and webcasts. www.bradycorp.com or www.BradyID.com/visualworkplace

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