Tag Archives: Preventative Maintenance


Does it seem like you’re always putting out fires? Not in the literal sense, of course. We’re talking about operations problems and snafus that seem to pop up at the most inconvenient times. Machines break down. Workers call in sick. Human errors can result in costly fixes. Unforeseen backups or bottlenecks slowing things down. Too much inventory. Not enough inventory. Some days, it can seem like you’re in a constant state of troubleshooting. The problem with that is, it’s hard to move forward into tomorrow when you’re consumed with putting out the fires of today.

Sound familiar? You’re not alone. At USC Consulting Group, we hear it a lot from the clients we partner with to increase efficiency and streamline operations at their facilities. Over the years, we’ve learned that the best course of action to break the cycle of constantly putting out fires is to get ahead of those problems before they become “fires.” Easier said than done, right? Actually, no. The way to do it is to implement an effective Management Operating System (MOS).

MOS 101

What is a Management Operating System, or MOS? Without using industry jargon, a MOS is simply a structured approach to operations. It’s intentional, forward-looking and at times anticipatory, in that it can help spot trouble before it spots you.

A good MOS is a set of tools, processes and frameworks that guide the operations of your business, namely the way employees work. It fosters continuous improvement to address issues as they occur. Or, ideally, before they occur.

Because many of the “fires” you’re stamping out every day can range from production shortfalls to problems related to worker safety, companies that use production lines or have other types of hazardous workplace environments commonly employ management operating systems.

Your MOS should be able to spot inefficiencies in an operating system before they become major problems. This ensures that adjustments can be made so operations are not adversely affected. An MOS should also use real-time feedback so an organization can safely direct operations, funding and other resources to maximize return on investment.

The best management operating systems center around four main components:

In other words, it maps out how the job gets done, in what way and by whom.

Let’s look at that in a little more detail.

When designing processes, businesses must be sure that they’re safe, secure and clear for employees to understand and tools are used to support operations — and never in ways that are not dictated by the overall structure. This means users should not use tools in inappropriate ways, especially those that could simply automate their inefficient methods. One process change we always recommend is preventative maintenance. Taking a little downtime today to service your machines can save major work stoppages tomorrow.

An effective MOS uses well-designed systems that help employees and the company as a whole achieve goals, which means they should run smoothly and enhance and even boost established efficiency.

Roles within an MOS should adhere to clearly defined job descriptions that require certain skill sets, and when combined with a business’ processes and systems can best utilize talents. The skills gap has only complicated the matter, but that’s fodder for another blog.

The best-run management operating systems always establish a business-wide structure upon which the different roles within the company interact. This is usually done last because it ensures that the processes do not dictate the entire established structure and cause further issues.

Read more about it in our blog, “How Can a Management Operating System Help Your Organization?”

Benefits of using a good MOS

Putting a carefully planned management operating system in place, one that is unique to your organization and its challenges and strengths, can result in a boatload of positive benefits. According to CEO Magazine, an MOS allows for an organization to “better control the flow of work and production, driving higher outcomes in customer service, quality and cost.”

At a minimum, these systems make use of tools that allow organizations to create plans for future work in certain operations, carry out that work, and then measure the work performance data to suggest future improvements that could be needed.

At maximum? Your company will perform with operational excellence, humming along at capacity, anticipating hiccups before they become problems, planning for growth or even downturns so you won’t be taken by surprise and generally making your life easier and your bottom line stronger.

Other ways an MOS can benefit you and your company:

A word about technology. Sure, you can automate your management operating system. Many companies do. But in our opinion, it can’t match good, old-fashioned brainpower, experience garnered through years on the line, common sense of longtime employees and forward-thinking ideas.

Ready to stop the firefighting mentality and talk about it? Give us a call or email us at info@usccg.com. We’ll listen first and then collaborate with you on a path toward operational excellence. It’s what we do.

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Are you performing preventive maintenance on a regular basis? If you’re not, you may want to consider adding it to your schedule. Why? In a word, it’s about efficiency. In a few words (as its name suggests), it prevents problems before they start. Preventive maintenance is becoming the manufacturing industry standard. Roughly 80% of asset and facilities stakeholders are embracing the process as a way to cut costs, increase efficiency, and keep assets running like clockwork.

By performing regular preventive maintenance (or its cousin, data-based predictive maintenance) you are heading off problems, snafus and breakdowns at the pass. It’s about identifying and handling any potential issues that may be lurking down the road. The point is to find potential problems before they become real problems that could lead to delays and costly headaches.

The irony of preventive maintenance is that it can sometimes seem like it causes more problems than it solves. It requires regular downtime, which in itself is a problem. There’s also the tricky matter of timing. Finding the optimal time to perform the maintenance can be a delicate balance between shutting down for maintenance too soon and waiting too long.

But, the challenges are worth the rewards. Ensuring you have the proverbial well-oiled machine will make your operation more efficient and productive now and in the future.

Let’s take a look at preventive maintenance benefits and challenges and how it can help boost your operations.

Preventive maintenance benefits

The idea behind doing regular maintenance on the lifeblood of your manufacturing operations — your machinery — is to keep it humming along at optimal efficiency and prevent any problems that might occur. Benefits to making it a regular part of your business process include:

You control the downtime schedule. It’s true that performing maintenance requires downtime. You’ll experience a work stoppage because of it. However, the good news is, when that downtime happens is up to you. You can schedule it for slow periods and avoid your high-volume times. Build maintenance into your schedule as a regular part of your routine.

Fewer surprises. A snafu happens, something breaks, and you have to stop production to figure out what it is and fix it. That can happen at any time, and trust us, it will happen when you least want it to. Performing preventive, not reactive, maintenance will lessen those unwelcomed surprises that erode your productivity and profitability. A general rule is that planned work will cost two-thirds less than unplanned work in time and other resources.

Increased efficiency. At USC Consulting Group, we’re all about efficiency, and one of the surest ways to find “hidden efficiencies” that you didn’t even know were possible is to perform regular preventive maintenance on your machines.

Increased longevity of your machinery and assets. This is key. Just like your car needs regular oil changes and tune-ups to keep it running at its best, so do your assets.

Preventive maintenance challenges

There are some challenges with doing regular preventive maintenance. However, in our view, these don’t outweigh the benefits.

Finding the optimal time to do it is tricky. A regular schedule is the key to finding the best time to shut down for maintenance. And the downtime is typically where we see the most pushback from executives and managers who aren’t thrilled with this process.

It will cause shutdowns. There’s no way around it. To perform maintenance on your equipment, the line must stop.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. This is an old adage for a reason. You may be shutting down for your scheduled maintenance when no problems actually exist. The shutdown does come at a productivity cost, so… is it worth it? Some manufacturers solve this issue by performing predictive maintenance instead. It’s a more complex process that is data driven, and analyzes how your assets are performing in real time. All’s well? No shutdown. But if you find problems, that’s when you act. It reduces downtime, and you’re not replacing any parts while they’re still good to go. The downside of this approach is complexity and connectivity. If you don’t have state-of-the-art machinery, you won’t get the data analytics that this process requires. That’s why the majority of manufacturers today are using the preventive approach.

At USC Consulting, we’ve been helping manufacturing businesses increase their efficiency, production, throughput and profits for more than half a century. Get in touch today if you’d like to learn more about how preventive maintenance benefits can boost your bottom line.

Asset Performance Management: The rise of reliability eBook

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As a typical rule of thumb in maintenance, planned work will consume roughly one third of the resources (labor cost, materials cost, and costs associated with equipment down-time) as unplanned work will consume. Therefore, the first objective of any maintenance program can be simplified as maximizing the percentage of time and resources spent on planned maintenance, and reducing the amount of unplanned maintenance or repair work resulting from unexpected breakdowns.

Understanding the Types of Work

Planned work can be broken down into two main categories: preventative maintenance and planned repairs. Preventative maintenance includes all the work done not in response to a failure, but to prevent future failures from occurring. This work is typically outlined by the manufacturer in terms of frequency and work that must be performed (oil change, lube, and filter). If the fleet size remains constant, so will the level of preventative maintenance. Planned repairs are work that must be done as a result of wear and tear in which the equipment has not yet failed and can still run reliably until the maintenance department is set up with the required materials, labor, and shop space to adequately address these repairs. For exemplary purposes in this article, we will consider maintenance needed for an underground mine as a model. Due to the travel time in underground mining and the requirement in most cases to have repairs done in the shop after a wash, these two types of planned work are best done together to minimize the mechanic’s trips to and from the equipment.

Given that the level of preventative maintenance will remain considerably flat, as both the materials required and time required can be predicted and cyclical, the only way to effectively increase planned work as a proportion of total work is to increase the level of planned repairs. The first task is to shift the balance of planned maintenance and unplanned maintenance. That is, to convert as much of the resources spent on unplanned work as possible into resources spent on planned work.

Mining Dump Truck Planned Maintenance

Converting Unplanned Work into Planned Maintenance

The first step is to create a backlog, a master list of all known repairs that must be made to each piece of equipment. It consists of repairs necessary to components that are in a partial state of failure, but have not yet failed. The size of a backlog and how well it is managed will provide some valuable insight as to the over-all health of your assets. A complete detailed backlog will also provide other benefits to management when taking a closer look at each type of equipment and analyzing which components require more attention than others. If repairs to equipment must be done before the equipment actually fails, the ability to identify or predict failures before they actually occur will be crucial. Coordination can then be made for the replacement of these components before failure occurs. This can be a very difficult and daunting task when considering a large fleet with complex equipment.

The first element to be considered when creating and managing a backlog is where the backlog work will be sourced from. Where will the maintenance planners get the information to create backlog list? Each time the equipment is inspected, an opportunity is provided to gather backlog. In an underground mining environment, some of these touch points include the preventative maintenance services, planned repairs, and operator circle checks.

An additional inspection can be strategically added to generate a greater and more detailed amount of backlog. Figure 1 below depicts the impact on parts procurement time of an inspection conducted by a mechanic in a predetermined time frame before the equipment is scheduled to come into the shop for a preventative maintenance service.

Planned maintenance backlog chart

Figure 1—Current State vs. Future State with Backlog

Once the backlog list has been developed, the repairs can then be strategically scheduled alongside the preventative maintenance services while the equipment is already in the shop with shop space and labor assigned to it. Additionally, once these repairs have been scheduled, parts and materials can be ordered, packaged, and delivered to the shop where the repairs will be completed.

The supply benefits of planning repairs before failure are amplified in underground mining as the remote locations can be difficult for suppliers to deliver to. Even once on site, the materials must go through a complex supply delivery system to make their way underground. Planning these repairs ahead of time allows the equipment to run for the duration of this prolonged lead time. If the equipment is run until failure, it will remain down for the entire duration of this lead time until the needed parts can be delivered.

In generating and completing the backlog list against each piece of equipment, failures and breakdowns that would normally occur can now be discovered before failure and repaired on average much quicker than if the equipment would have broken down. The backlog system is working towards converting unplanned maintenance work into planned maintenance work, and therefore consuming one third of the resources on each repair converted as would normally be expended.

Planned maintenance leads to significant cost savings with improved productivity. For 50 plus years USC Consulting Group has helped organizations develop planned maintenance programs to increase their uptime. Contact us today to start converting your maintenance practices and keep your operations running as much as possible.


How reliable is your asset maintenance program


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No manufacturing company can reach its full potential unless its people and assets are kept safe. Any accident, no matter how small, can seriously interrupt workflow and hurt a business’s ability to meet its production goals. This is why manufacturers must be diligent about creating a culture of safety within their organizations. Beyond establishing and promoting basic safety behaviors and procedures, investing in workplace automation could greatly improve the overall well-being of your industrial operation.

For example, robots can complete the same task thousands of times a day without becoming bored or inattentive, which can decrease delays caused by mistakes or distractions. Automation also means that human workers reduce their risk of suffering injuries due to repetitive strain.

Another advantage of automated technology is accident prevention. Autonomous forklifts and other self-driving machines can avoid collisions and other mistakes often made by human operators. This means work can continue with fewer interruptions and employees are able to stay on the job without injury.

Perhaps one of the most important benefits of workplace automation is the amount of data it provides. With detailed metrics that are compiled automatically, managers can get a clearer picture of their operations. Data can also help administrators identify areas of improvement that can be targeted to reduce the risk of accidents and increase productivity.

Building a safer and more successful workplace requires taking advantage of every tool at your disposal. To learn more about how automation can help you accomplish this goal, take a look at the accompanying infographic by The Numina Group.


How to Increase Productivity and Safety with Workplace Automation


By improving your processes and automating certain procedures, you can create a workplace that is not only safe, but extremely productive. If you’re looking for guidance in buttoning up your operations to be as efficient and secure as possible, contact us today.


How reliable is your asset maintenance program


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Score operational excellence in your business by embracing the continuous improvement process.

Here’s the story…

The Ice Kings are struggling.  They’ve lost 6 of their last 7 games. Last season, they went to the playoffs. What’s wrong?

Enter Coach USC, who takes a page from the USC Playbook – Embracing Continuous Improvement.

Coach USC takes a look at the team – who need to improve all of their skills – shooting, passing, stick-handling and skating. This means breaking it down to the fundamentals with practice and training.

Like the Ice Kings, businesses need to take a page from the USC Playbook to help them continuously improve starting with the fundamentals of proper employee training.

But all of the training in the world won’t make a difference unless the team is in top shape – that means exercising and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Just as in business – it’s important for assets to “stay in shape” through predictive and preventative maintenance.

It doesn’t stop there – Coach USC performs data analysis by watching the game tape each week to see how they can keep playing better. Businesses can also continuously improve through organizational and operational reflection, capital awareness, and creating a culture of openness.



For over 50 years, USC Consulting Group has been a game changer – helping hundreds of clients to find gaps, refine processes and turn weaknesses into strengths.

Ready to find out more how USC can help your team embrace the continuous improvement process? Download the USC Playbook today.


USC Playbook - Embracing Continuous Improvement


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The preventive maintenance methodology has become industry standard. An estimated 80% of asset and facilities stakeholders now leverage preventive workflows, while approximately half take advantage of predictive maintenance tools meant to further enhance such forward-thinking processes, per research from Advanced Technology Services and Plant Engineering. Why are so many businesses embracing this approach? The return on investment can be immense. Some see maintenance savings of between 12% and 18% percent, on top of the revenue-generating performance improvements that naturally unfold as a consequence of machine uptime increases, according to Transcendent. Companies on the outside looking in on the emergence and solidification of the PM model typically view these developments with considerable envy and race to keep up with the competition. However, firms attempting to play catch-up at hyperspeed often encounter roadblocks — most notably, the perceived cost of implementation.

Redesigning existing maintenance workflows is neither easy nor expense-free. These essential backend processes support production activities that directly affect the bottom line, and changing them, even incrementally, might seem risky, especially for organizations with thinner margins. However, the long-term costs that come with hanging on to reactive maintenance methodologies could very well outweigh the expenses incurred as a product of PM implementation and the shop floor disruption that could accompany such a move. Organizations looking to embark on this transition would be wise to unpack the entire cost equation and determine the potential ROI.

Understanding PM implementation costs

The Preventive Maintenance (PM) concept is easy to understand — focus on equipment upkeep and optimization, and address small mechanical deficiencies before they devolve into bigger problems bound to cause downtime. The idea is far more complicated in practice, however. To actually achieve PM implementation, maintenance stakeholders must navigate a multistage process that begins with program design. This initial phase normally involves establishing an overarching PM objective. Some organizations move forward with PM implementation with the sole purpose of saving money, while others want to ensure optimal shop floor performance. Choosing an end goal establishes the foundation for effective program development. Here, maintenance experts — ideally those intimately familiar with OEM requirements, Plant Engineering reported — design granular equipment management processes, including rotating and reciprocating mechanical component lubrication.

Understanding preventive maintenance implementation costs

Once maintenance personnel have developed an effective PM plan, they can move forward with deployment. This normally entails scheduling mission-critical PM tasks through computerized maintenance management software and training the staff members who will execute these actions. To ensure long-term PM sustainability, stakeholders will create and release program management and communication workflows that facilitate adherence and continuous improvement. This process requires considerable effort and can come with an equally substantial price tag. According to Plant Engineering, the expense breakdown might include items like this:

These are a handful of the most common expenses organizations navigating PM implementation encounter. However, the costs sometimes do not stop here — under-the-radar expenses can materialize post launch, per researchers from Oniqua Enterprise Analytics. These extra amounts actually come from over-maintenance. This occurs when maintenance teams become overly focused on equipment optimization and establish work intervals that are far too short, meaning staff members execute upkeep activities so often that both time and resources go to waste. A surprisingly large number of firms make this mistake, according to analysts for Oniqua, who found that 80% of PM tasks unfold over a period of 30 days or fewer and that 30% to 40% of these duties are applied to equipment that has little to no impact on uptime.

Assessing PM implementation ROI

While the aforementioned costs can certainly make PM implementation seem overwhelming, the operational returns that come with embracing this approach typically make these initial expenses easier to swallow. For example, researchers for ReliaSoft estimated that organizations with reactive maintenance operations in place pay around $8 per replacement part, while those with PM strategies spend just $2 per new equipment component. Additionally, PM programs often catalyze shop floor improvements that could only be achieved through purchasing new machinery. An operation that implements such an initiative might pay $100,000 per year to maintain PM workflows that increase capacity by 25% — a gain that would require an upfront equipment investment of $500,000 and $200,000 in annual staffing and asset management work, Reliable Plant reported. Together, PM-related cost reductions and productivity boosts can generate big returns, according to Jones Lange LaSalle, which found that some adopters stood to 545% ROI.

This sort of improvement is simply too significant to pass up for most modern businesses, particularly small and medium manufacturers, many of whom are just getting by within today’s fluid marketplace. That said, pursuing PM implementation can be an immensely daunting task for all organizations, regardless of sector or size. Here at USC Consulting Group, we have been helping companies across a variety of industries navigate PM implementation for decades, leveraging proven techniques and tools that simplify change management and lay the foundation for sustainable organizational growth via continuous operational improvement.

Contact us today to learn more about our work and how we can help your business embrace the Preventive Maintenance methodology.


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More than 43,000 commercial aircraft navigate American airspace daily, shuttling an estimated 2.6 million passengers among airports here and abroad, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. An army of approximately 10.6 million aviation professionals facilitate these efforts, propelling the countless behind-the-scenes and front-of-house functions that make modern air travel possible. Maintenance specialists are among these essential personnel and perform mission-critical duties that support passenger safety and operational efficiency. Carriers understand well just how important these technicians are and devote tens of billions of dollars annually to funding maintenance programs, per analysts for the International Air Transport Association, who estimated that total MRO spending for the industry was $76 billion in 2017, the latest year for which IATA research was available. Despite this level of investment and hard work on the part of on-the-ground maintenance teams, many airline companies struggle with aircraft availability and reliability.

Southwest Airlines’ recent rash of maintenance foibles is among the most prominent examples. The airline, which is the second-largest American carrier based on market share, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, has been forced to cancel hundreds of flights throughout the month of February 2019 as a consequence of unplanned maintenance issues, per Reuters. Southwest has watched its stock prices decrease by almost 6 percent over this tumultuous span, which it seems will continue for the foreseeable future.

Recently, the carrier conducted an internal review and discovered that as many as 100 disgruntled mechanics may have deliberately caused some of the maintenance disruptions that catalyzed hundreds of cancellations and delays, The Dallas Morning News reported. While this brand of alleged internal vandalism is certainly unique, Southwest Airlines’ aircraft availability issues are not. Available seat miles for all U.S. carriers dropped from 1.74 billion in 2017 to 1.66 billion in 2018, the BTS found. This was the first year-on-year ASM decrease the agency recorded since 2009.

It is clear that carrier maintenance divisions must make improvements, but how? The IATA pinpointed some sector-specific operational problems that are hamstringing maintenance teams in the industry. By addressing these issues, carriers can bolster aircraft availability, re-engage travelers and regain ground in the marketplace.

OEM explosions and trade tensions

U.S. airlines consume an estimated 40 percent of all aircraft equipment produced worldwide, according to the Business Research Company. While domestic carriers are expected to continue their spending dominance, the aircraft manufacturing space itself is undergoing significant change, the IATA found. For one, more original equipment manufacturers are entering the aftermarket component arena in a bid to usurp the MRO manufacturers that have long populated the subsector.

The OEMs entering this niche market offer top-of-the-line replacement components and sometimes bundle such items with system-wide repair services, Aviation Pros reported. These offerings boast obvious benefits but are designed to draw airline procurement teams away from MRO producers or manufacturers that provide FAA-certified items with parts manufacturer approval.

Unfortunately, the emergence of aftermarket OEM products is not the only development catalyzing jarring change within the aircraft equipment space. Widespread economic protectionism is hamstringing international supply chain operations and making it difficult for aviation manufacturers to obtain reasonably priced raw materials, CBS News reported. These organizations have no choice but to raise their prices to cover the extra overhead costs that come with possibly rerouting shipments or bearing the brunt of 10 percent to 15 percent tariff increases. In the end, these additional expenses trickle down to carriers, of course.

Together, these less-than-positive trends directly affect airline maintenance teams. How? With their colleagues in the procurement department scrambling to adjust to these new realities, maintenance leaders and technicians risk MRO stock shortages that delay aircraft upkeep and ultimately lead to slowdowns or cancelations.

That said, there are viable solutions to the procurement problems discussed above – most notably, strategic sourcing. By redesigning their procurement networks and cultivating collaborations with multiple vendors spread across geographic locations, airlines can get the parts they need, when they need them and for the right price, no matter the market conditions.

Aviation Maintenance crew repairing aircraft engine

Growing technician shortages

Both domestic and international carriers are staring down an immense and ever-expanding aviation maintenance technician shortage, per researchers for the Aviation Technician Education Council, who predict airlines will be struggling to fill approximately 15,000 open maintenance positions by 2027. There are two reasons for this. For one, an estimated 30 percent of current maintenance specialists are near retirement age, the ATEC found. Secondly, many of the young talent who might step into these empty positions are pursuing other careers or going to college to move into management roles in the aviation space rather than take on technical work, CNBC reported. This is, of course, a major problem for carrier maintenance crews, most of which are already struggling to keep fleets in good shape with the assistance of seasoned technicians.

While airlines may not have the resources to launch their own training academies, they can help cultivate talent pipelines by working with educational institutions to offer apprenticeships and other hands-on opportunities that engage young people interested in entering the aviation arena and potentially the maintenance specialty. Carriers can also address talent shortages operationally by developing and rolling out workflow optimization programs that allow them to do more with less. These kinds of stopgaps can not only mitigate the impact of the developing technician deficit but also lens carriers the operational framework they need to move forward without depending on future workforce development.

U.S. airlines that hope to address the above maintenance challenges and keep their customers should take immediate action, lest they see cancellations and delays knock them out of the marketplace.

Is your airline searching for a strategic partner that can help bolster maintenance operations in the face of great change and turmoil? USC Consulting Group can assist. We have been working with organizations within the aviation industry for more than five decades, collaborating with them to transform their operations and adapt to marketplace shifts of all kinds.

Connect with us today to learn more about our experience and how we can help your carrier adjust to the ongoing maintenance challenges.


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Heavy production assets are ubiquitous across numerous industries, from residential construction to mining. Keeping this mission-critical equipment up and running is among the top priorities for modern industrial organizations. It is why the average firm devotes almost 10 percent of its facilities budget to maintenance activities, according to researchers from Plant Engineering.

Virtually all of these entities leverage either predictive or preventive maintenance methodologies, both of which materialized in recent years due to widespread enterprise digitization. But how exactly are businesses deploying these strategies to ensure heavy production assets maintain peak performance? Here is an industry-agnostic look into the state of predictive and preventive maintenance best practices for heavy asset optimization:

Unpacking the preventive approach

An estimated 80 percent of maintenance teams employ preventive maintenance techniques, per survey data from Advanced Technology Services and Plan Engineering. The proactive approach centers on one operational goal: reducing production downtime. There are several associated best practices that guide preventive maintenance implementation and management.

Relinquishing the reactive approach to asset maintenance is the most impactful of these exercises. Unfortunately, it is also the hardest to adopt, Modern Materials Handling reported. Maintenance specialists that have traditionally listened for the cacophony of mechanical collapse and responded in turn must change their mindsets and instead focus on implementing piecemeal adjustments to mitigate the wear and tear that causes asset failure.

Making this cultural switch is no easy task – neither is reassessing all production and maintenance policies and procedures, and drafting new ones to comport with key performance indicators and company goals. However, four-fifths of maintenance teams have managed to execute these and the other preventive best practices on the way to transformation, including groups responsible for overseeing heavy assets.

Chemical Factory Heavy Asset Optimization

Industrial organizations that excel at heavy machinery maintenance and effectively address small mechanical errors before they devolve into downtime-causing kinks focus on developing and sustaining routine asset optimization schedules, according to Reliable Plant. Through consistent check-ups and slight tweaks, maintenance teams responsible for bulky equipment can ensure these key production tools are always in good condition and ready to perform. Usage monitoring is also key, as heavy assets that are misused, either intentionally or unintentionally, typically break down the fastest.

How does usage monitoring unfold within an actual production workflow? A construction company preparing to excavate a new worksite might assess the climate and the soil to determine which backhoe digging attachment is not only best suited for the task at hand, but also the least likely to cause mechanical stress. These and other techniques make preventive maintenance possible, even with heavy assets in play.

Unpacking the predictive approach

When investments in heavy machinery began climbing dramatically more than a half decade ago, equipment manufacturers advised industrial companies to adopt asset tracking solutions to ensure that the multimillion-dollar tools they were deploying were actually required, The Wall Street Journal reported. At the same time, an innovative approach to maintenance, which also happened to be based on data analytics, was emerging.

This methodology, called predictive maintenance, would allow organizations to harness the power of advanced information technology to monitor mission-critical machinery in real-time, calculate the potential for future downtime and make improvements to avoid shutdown. In the years since this strategy materialized, many businesses have embraced it. In fact, 47 percent of industrial firms attest to deploying predictive maintenance processes and tools, per Advanced Technology Services and Plan Engineering.

Perhaps the most well-publicized and successful predictive maintenance programs have unfolded within organizations leveraging larger production assets. For example, construction equipment giant Caterpillar was among the first asset producers to manufacture products meant for use in predictive maintenance workflows, Forbes Magazine reported. The company began building bulldozers, dump trucks, excavators and other common equipment with pre-installed wireless sensors designed to transmit usable performance insights to maintenance leaders. Caterpillar customers have seen significant efficiency gains and cost reductions as a consequence of this forward-thinking equipment and the accompanying software.

Harley-Davidson is another early adopter that propelled predictive maintenance to new heights. Starting back in 2010, the automotive giant began outfitting the decades-old equipment in its York, Pennsylvania plant with wireless sensors configured to monitor mechanical operations and measure physical variables such as component vibration to assess asset performance, The Journal reported. These tools and the predictive maintenance program they facilitated led to drastic shop floor improvement, as Harley-Davidson watched production throughput times and costs decrease.

While impressive, these outcomes merely represent the initial stages of the predictive maintenance approach, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers. The rise of deployable enterprise artificial intelligence technology is expected to have an immense impact on this strategy, lending industrial firms the ability to monitor more data points across larger pools of equipment, including heavy assets.

Caterpillar Predictive and Preventive Maintenance for Heavy Asset Optimization

That said, there is ample ground to cover before AI-propelled predictive maintenance workflows become industry standard. Most organizations inhabit the second position on the predictive maturity scale, per PwC, and therefore still depend on instrument inspections and other manual means. However, a significant number have entered stage three and now leverage real-time condition monitoring tools. Far fewer are in stage four, where expansive data-driven workflows capable of handling massive amounts of asset information are the norm.

In any case, predictive maintenance holds immense potential for teams assigned to heavy assets and, as the survey data from Advanced Technology Services and Plan Engineering indicates, a good number of the teams overseeing large machinery today have at least embraced some processes and tools associated with the strategy.

Implementing preventive and predictive maintenance strategies centered on heavy equipment can seem like an overwhelming task, especially for smaller industrial firms or those with particularly intense production demands. For businesses in these positions, external assistance could be all but necessary. USC Consulting Group has been helping organizations optimize their maintenance operations for decades, leveraging proven techniques and tools that accelerate change and lay the foundation for sustainable growth.

Connect with us today to learn more about our work and how we can help your company reduce heavy asset-related downtime.


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American metal manufacturers are moving forward with operational optimization efforts and seeing considerable results. In fact, labor productivity in the space increased by more than 3 percent in 2017, according to research from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

U.S. metal manufacturers can achieve further gains by turning their attention to cycle times. A surprisingly large number of businesses overlook them. In 2016, 45 percent of manufacturers operated without cycle time targets for new product lines, according to analysts at IndustryWeek. Enterprises in the U.S. market that want to compete strategically and see further growth must address this critical variable. But how? Let’s take a look at three surefire methods to reduce cycle time in metals manufacturing.

1. Effective maintenance programs

Cycle times suffer when mission-critical assets go down unexpectedly. Unfortunately, this is a common occurrence across all industries, according to the market research agency Vanson Bourne. More than 80 percent of businesses have experienced at least one instance of unexpected downtime over the last three years, and 45 percent said they were unable to deliver to customers on time as a result. Metal manufacturers that want to meaningfully reduce cycle time must put into place maintenance programs that prevent operational disruptions linked to machine dysfunction.

Predictive maintenance initiatives are the ideal solution that more than half of manufacturing firms have adopted, according to a study from Plant Engineering. Advanced shop floor analytics platforms support these innovative strategies, providing maintenance teams and other operational stakeholders with up-to-the-minute machine performance data. With this information flow available, firms can monitor their equipment and address small mechanical hiccups before they turn into downtime-causing disasters. In the end, assets that operate unimpeded reduce cycle time.

Specialty Metals Producer Shortens Cycle Time to Reduce Inventory

2. Real-time analytics

The big data revolution has catalyzed change across numerous industries, including the manufacturing space. More than 80 percent of U.S. manufacturers leverage enterprise analytics solutions, according to researchers from IQMS. These systems give businesses the power to oversee the entire supply chain, from the product development to last-mile delivery. This wide-reaching insight is priceless, especially in today’s fast-paced economy.

Real-time analytics are, of course, ideal for metal manufacturers that intend to cut back their cycle times. It allows them to pinpoint sluggish shop floor components and institute end-to-end improvement. Traditional methods for collecting data pale in comparison to modern data gathering strategies used in the manufacturing space today. Older approaches centered on fragmented sources, from which analysts must pick and choose insights for further processing. By the time these steps have been completed, the resulting information is likely no longer viable. Conversely, shop floor intelligence programs with real-time analytics solutions at their cores give manufacturers the power to access key data as sensors collect it, and make operational adjustments, leading to productivity and output gains.

3. Improved OEE practices

As mentioned above, machine health and cycle time go hand in hand. However, while predictive maintenance strategies can keep assets up and running, they embody only one variable of the equipment usage equation. In addition to ensuring that shop floor machines are running as designed, metal manufacturers must search for ways to optimize their performance and get as much out of these assets as possible. Strong overall equipment effectiveness initiatives support such improvement efforts.

According to Ellis New, senior management consultant and business practice leader at Productivity Inc., ideal OEE strategies take into account six salient production variables known to reduce equipment effectiveness:

Metal manufacturers can leverage advanced data collection tools or more traditional methods to find accurate readings for each of these items. With these metrics, firms can calculate their availability, performance and quality rates, which, when multiplied, reveal the overall OEE percentage. Operational teams can increase the figure by making changes to production lines to boost asset performance. Some manufacturers go beyond OEE best practices and leverage a newer strategy called high-performance machining, Better MRO reported. This entails building all-encompassing equipment management workflows with cutting-edge hardware and software components meant to bolster productivity and output.

Businesses in the metals manufacturing space can drastically reduce cycle time and experience considerable growth by embracing these practices. However, few should attempt to implement these and other large-scale fixes without assistance from knowledgeable partners with proven expertise and valuable perspective. Here at USC Consulting Group, we offer metal manufacturers the opportunity to improve their production processes and lay the groundwork for continued success.

If you’re interested in learning more about our work in the metals industry, contact us today for more information.


Learn more about project management best practices.

Every organization with major assets has different initiatives or projects it wants to pursue such as shutdowns, turnarounds, outages or other large scale capital projects. However, managing all the details that go into those efforts — from team coordination to stakeholder communication — requires a dedicated strategy. Furthermore, avoiding schedule overrun and staying within or under budget is critical. That’s where project management comes in, which helps leaders better monitor, control and execute projects by emphasizing:

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The Essentials of Project Management

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