In most industries, and especially in the beverage industry, the maintenance function receives a variety of interpretations, including definition, management, execution and budgeting. Why is this so important? Basically, maintenance functions are designed to protect and preserve physical assets. Therefore, it becomes prudent to review how the function has grown from operator tasks to reasonably sophisticated skill level technicians.

Historically, machines were attended by operators who not only activated controls but also were responsible for fixing any malfunction of the machine whatever it might have been. Simple and straightforward, the practice of machine operators becoming mechanics has prevailed for years and exists today with limitations.

However, beverage facilities and have changed dramatically with semiautomatic to fully automatic machines and related equipment, as well as updated physical structures and support services. The constant changing of operating conditions and environment make it necessary to initiate several steps to provide a level of maintenance appropriate for the conditions. 

The initial step is an evaluation of the conditions to determine what skill level is required to perform needed maintenance for each segment of the operation. Evaluation of conditions should outline difficulty of the tasks and the type of maintenance involved. The allied step with skill level is the maintenance type ― emergency or planned/predictive ― as it sets the criteria for personnel selection.

The definition of maintenance is significant because studies have indicated that preventive type reduces the frequency of emergencies. Studies also have indicated that tasks involved in different types of maintenance might require varied skill levels. Although definitions might vary on what is an emergency, breakdowns alias downtime, clearly establish the situation.

On the other hand, preventive, planned or predictive maintenance is often set by equipment manufacturers. However, considerable progress has been made by producers toward establishing computerized “PM” programs in many beverage facilities. The criteria are clearly established by comparing costs of emergency maintenance versus preventive maintenance over at least a year and should assist management in determining what type of program is needed.

The cost factor has always been, and continues to be, a critical issue and often becomes a debatable point during budgeting and capital expenditure planning ― a factor management must seriously address. During financial planning periods, the skill level, type of program and management priority toward the function, all play specific roles in setting maintenance budgets for execution. 

The rapid pace of technological innovations, (computerization, automatic programming, advanced functional designs) that in most cases prompt higher skill levels, means procurement of personnel possibly at more cost ― specifically, it could create a plant engineering position to manage the maintenance evolution, even for this phase in the chain.  

The bottom line for the maintenance function evolution does not stop here. The day of the beverage plant operator, practically and realistically, has passed in most packaging operations. However, all phases of the beverage supply chain, processing through distribution, are impacted by how well maintenance is performed and by whom. The technology advances are occurring and require updated maintenance function capability. 

As maintenance evolution progresses, in terms of results, look at these significant areas that describe its importance: What does it impact (production, productivity, performance/perspectives)?; and what is involved (personnel/management, protection, planning/scheduling)?

By orchestrating a reliable maintenance program, plants will reduce downtime and increase throughput.