What is industrial maintenance?
Industrial maintenance, also referred to as plant maintenance, is the application of reliability best practices to increase equipment uptime in a manufacturing environment. When equipment is working as expected, manufacturers can avoid roadblocks in the production phase of the supply chain.
It’s virtually impossible to meet production quotas at reasonable costs without implementing industrial maintenance. Relying on contractors to repair equipment on a reactive basis is expensive in terms of labor costs and unscheduled downtime. Hiring a team of industrial maintenance experts is crucial for running an efficient plant.
Types of industrial maintenance workers
Industrial maintenance mechanic
The industrial maintenance (IM) mechanic is the most popular type of industrial maintenance worker as they are needed in every industry that uses machinery for manufacturing purposes. In addition to maintaining and repairing equipment, IM mechanics also install and dismantle equipment. They work with hydraulics, pneumatic systems, pumps, valves, cylinders, and other types of industrial equipment. The strongest IM mechanics have electrical and PLC programming skills.
The industrial engineer is responsible for planning, designing, implementing, and managing processes that maximize equipment reliability and production efficiency. They are not technically part of the maintenance team, but they collaborate with maintenance leaders to understand which types of maintenance can assist with achieving production goals. The industrial engineer reports to a production engineering or continuous improvement manager.
Other industrial maintenance workers
There are other types of maintenance workers that support industrial maintenance even though they don’t have the word “industrial” in their job title. Some of the most popular types are listed below.
- Maintenance technician: Unlike the mechanic that’s involved with installs and maintenance, the technician usually only focus on the latter. After the machine is built, they maintain it with routine maintenance. They also conduct repairs that are standard and frequent in nature.
- Maintenance planner: The planner makes sure that mechanics and technicians have the tools, parts, documentation, and resources they need to perform scheduled maintenance. Within a larger plant, the planner will work with a maintenance scheduler. If the plant is smaller, the planner performs scheduling functions as well.
- Maintenance supervisor: The supervisor keeps technicians, mechanics, and planners aligned to achieve high levels of equipment uptime. They also manage maintenance costs and report on maintenance activity with CMMS or EAM software.
Example of industrial maintenance
Steelmakers use blast furnaces to produce industrial metals like pig iron, lead, and copper. These furnaces are a necessary component of the steelmaking process. If the furnace stops working, the entire production line is put on hold.
To prevent long periods of downtime resulting from unexpected failures, planned maintenance is performed. However, once a blast furnace starts, it runs continuously for nearly a decade with only short stops in between. Therefore, maintenance is completed as quickly as possible. Every minute of downtime means a decrease in output and loss in profit.
In 2013, a blast furnace operated by the steelmaker AK Steel failed unexpectedly which resulted in $12 to $17 million of uninsured losses. Industrial maintenance practices are used to prevent unexpected failures like this from happening.
Organizations that utilize industrial maintenance
Any organization that owns and operates heavy machinery to manufacture products utilizes industrial maintenance.
- Food processors: Maintenance is performed on industrial-sized fryers, spiral ovens, continuous steam cookers, food conveyors, and other heavy duty food processing equipment.
- Refineries: Maintenance is performed on heat exchangers, boilers, furnaces, fractionation towers, reactors, and tanks. Work is also needed for screwed, welded, and flanged piping and tubing.
- Printing presses: Maintenance is performed on rotary presses, flatbed screen printing units, flatbed embossing units, laminating units, and cold stamping units.
- Paint suppliers: Maintenance is performed on dryers, chillers, thermo oxidizers, mixers, mills, filling line equipment, conveyors, wrappers, tanks, motors, pumps, tank washers, and tank tippers.
Industrial maintenance certifications and training
There is one recognized certification that is specific to industrial maintenance. This certification was once offered through the International Society of Automation (ISA) and certificate holders were referred to as Certified Industrial Maintenance Mechanics (CIMMs). However, this certification was transferred to the Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals (SMRP) and certificate holders are now referred to as Certified Maintenance and Reliability Technicians (CMRTs).
In addition to acquiring relevant certifications through SMRP, industrial maintenance professionals can take classes at various schools that offer training for industrial maintenance. Offering this type of training to existing employees is a good way to retain strong talent.
Industrial maintenance news and resources
- Manufacturing.net: News and educational content focused on the manufacturing of aerospace devices, automotives, food, biofuels, and more.
- Plant Services: Manufacturing news and educational content about predictive maintenance, reliability, and industrial safety.
- Reliability FM: Podcasts about plant performance, reliability engineering, and asset performance. Industry thought leaders are interviewed, too.