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What Questions Should Supervisors Ask Their Equipment Operators?

Questions Supervisors Should Ask Their Equipment Operators

What questions should you ask your operators, and how can you transform those answers into actionable intelligence to fuel enterprise asset management or a reliability based maintenance programs?

Business leaders in asset-intensive industries have a lot to learn from their equipment operators – if they're willing to listen. Even then, listening is only part of the puzzle. These supervisors must trust their workers enough to take their input seriously and apply knowledge gleaned from these fireside chats to positively impact performance, production and uptime.

If you're an operations supervisor, what questions should you ask your operators regularly, and how can you transform those answers into actionable intelligence to fuel enterprise asset management or a reliability-based maintenance programs?

"Operator input is crucial to building a lean changeover."

How many different ways do we do this?

Every minute you aren't producing, you're losing out. Variance in mechanical changeover can slowly eat away at operational costs and create inconsistencies in quality if supervisors ignore it. To maximize production uptime and minimize expenses, businesses ought to focus on these vulnerable stages by developing a standard operating procedure for handling them. Ought to. Unfortunately, many don't.

However, operator input is a crucial component of building a lean changeover. Supervisors must understand all the different ways operators perform changeovers so they can analyze them, train operators on the right method and drill drill drill. Involving operators in this process helps ensure they follow the SOP to the letter. After all, they had a hand in its creation.

Which machines are critical to operations?

Machine operators understand equipment inside and out, but they also understand how the network of assets play off each other and how much production depends on them. This becomes vital when fleshing out a proactive maintenance program centered around a master criticality ranking.

Maintenance professionals cannot waste time attending to low-priority repairs if others should take precedence. Furthermore, these repair teams should understand the full implications of offlining before they schedule downtime, including the effect maintenance might have on other mission-critical assets. Again, operators can provide a wealth of knowledge, experience and insight into criticality.

How are we doing with spare parts?

MRO spare parts management and optimization has the potential to open up cash flow for businesses with an inventory of unused, unmanaged and dead spares. Renegotiating supply volumes for tighter orders and requesting valuable services alone can easily save 5 to 25 percent in annual MRO costs.

"Small changes to spares could result in operational inconsistencies."

However, we do not recommend fussing with spare parts inventories without the consent of operators. Small changes to spares could result in operational inconsistencies if the switch drastically alters SOP for parts replacements. Operators are stakeholders in the MRO process – though maintenance professionals handle more complex repairs, operators have been known to step up in certain maintenance duties. As such, they can provide a valuable perspective as to what spare supplies could survive a little austerity and the ramifications of a spare parts switch-up.

Where is the problem?

Every facility has its bad actors, usually referred to by a cute moniker. Operators may know them by name, but have yet to relate problems to upper management. An industrious bunch, operators might settle for an easy workaround to keep things moving. While admirable, even slight deviations from standard operations detracts from efficiency, hides underperformance and puts production and safety in jeopardy. For investigative tools like root cause analysis to work their magic, supervisors must have a strong rapport with operators.

Closing remarks

Asset operators are not drones, and supervisors would be wise to listen to their insight. That said, expertise can only get you and your organization so far. To collect all valuable operational data and convert it into actionable intelligence, operations teams require versatile EAM solutions such as IBM Maximo or Infor EAM. Sure, analytics comes from hard data pulled from things like vibrational and thermal sensors, but do not underestimate an operator's viewpoint. It could save you in more ways than you can imagine.

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