Asset Maintenance: What It Is and Why It Matters to Your Business

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Asset maintenance is a critical component of any industry, particularly those with intensive capital investments, such as mining and processing, energy, transportation, and manufacturing. The sheer scope of equipment and assets these sectors utilise is substantial, and all are subject to wear, tear, and harsh conditions. This is where asset maintenance comes in.

However, despite it being a fundamental process and a primary driver for sustainability and competitiveness among Australian industries, understanding asset maintenance in a strategic context can be a challenging feat.

This guide will help demystify asset maintenance by providing comprehensive insights into asset maintenance, its importance, various strategies, different asset requirements, and the steps to implement an asset maintenance strategy.

We will also discuss the role of technology, regulatory considerations, and the importance of a standardised approach.

What Is Asset Maintenance and Why Is It Important?

To understand the importance of this process is to know the meaning of asset maintenance. It is the practice of inspecting, preserving, and restoring a company’s physical assets, such as machinery, facilities, and equipment, to ensure optimum performance and mitigate downtime.

It involves a systematic approach to ensure physical assets continue to function and perform in their present operating context.

Consider the mining industry. An environment where high-capacity machines and equipment, such as pressure vessels, haul trucks, drill rigs, excavators, locomotives, and conveyors are exposed to extreme conditions which necessitate a robust asset maintenance strategy.

Overlooking this can lead to equipment breakdowns, process interruptions, productivity losses, and substantial repair costs. Moreover, poorly maintained equipment could pose significant safety risks to personnel.

The importance of asset maintenance cannot be overstated. It is the cornerstone of sustainable and efficient operations across all asset-reliant industries. It underpins not only the operational efficiency and longevity of assets but also directly influences business profitability.

Well-maintained assets can operate at peak efficiency, leading to higher productivity. Conversely, poor maintenance can lead to unexpected breakdowns, causing costly interruptions to operations, impacting profitability, and potentially posing significant workplace safety risks.

Problems With Poor or Non-Existent Asset Maintenance

The proper maintenance of assets is crucial to any business, as assets can be a significant investment and critical to operations, as is the case in the mining sector.

Neglecting asset maintenance can lead to a variety of problems, including:

  • Reduced Lifespan: The life expectancy of an asset is usually determined under conditions of regular maintenance. When assets aren’t properly maintained, they can deteriorate faster, leading to premature failures. This means businesses will need to replace them sooner than expected, incurring more costs and potentially impacting operations.
  • Increased Downtime: Without regular maintenance, the chances of asset failure increase. When assets break down unexpectedly, they can cause significant downtime while they’re being repaired or replaced. This downtime can cause delays in service or production, impacting a company’s ability to meet its obligations and possibly leading to lost revenue. Depending on the nature and size of such losses, this can even lead to reputational damage and potentially lost clients.
  • Decreased Efficiency: Over time, unmaintained assets can become less efficient, leading to higher operating costs, as more energy or other resources may be required to achieve the same output. In the long term, this can have a significant impact on business profitability.
  • Safety Risks: Poorly maintained assets can pose a significant safety risk within the workplace. This is particularly true for assets like plants, heavy machinery, or vehicles, which could malfunction resulting in injury to personnel, workers’ compensation claims, lawsuits, or fines from regulatory bodies.
  • Compliance Issues: In many industries, regular asset maintenance is a legal requirement. Failing to maintain assets can lead to non-compliance with regulations, which can result in fines, penalties, and possible legal action. It can also lead to the withdrawal of necessary operating licenses and certifications, impairing a company’s ability to operate and do business.
  • Higher Repair Costs: When small issues aren’t addressed through regular maintenance, they can escalate into bigger problems. The cost of repairing or replacing major components of plant, equipment and other assets can be much higher than the cost of routine maintenance. In addition, the need for emergency repairs often results in higher costs due to the need for expedited parts or services.
  • Lower Asset Value: Assets that aren’t maintained properly lose their value more quickly. If a business needs to sell an asset or use it as collateral for a loan, its poor condition can result in a lower valuation. This can limit a business’s financial options and flexibility in the future.
  • Loss of Warranty: Many manufacturers’ warranties require regular maintenance to remain valid. If a business fails to maintain an asset, it could lose its warranty coverage, meaning it would have to bear the full cost of any repairs or replacements.

Regular asset maintenance requires an upfront investment in terms of time and money; however, the cost of not maintaining assets can be much higher.  Poor or non-existent maintenance can lead to reduced asset lifespan, increased downtime, decreased efficiency, safety risks, compliance issues, increased repair costs, lower asset value, and loss of warranty coverage. To avoid these problems, businesses have to develop and adhere to a regular schedule of preventive maintenance for all assets.

Purpose and Benefits of Asset Maintenance

The goal of asset maintenance is multi-pronged. It aims to:

  • Minimise downtime
  • Prolong asset integrity
  • Reduce asset repair or replacement expenditures
  • Ensure workplace safety

Asset maintenance, while demanding a commitment of time and resources, offers a suite of benefits in the form of:

  • Increased Efficiency: Regularly maintained assets function at their peak, optimising productivity and decreasing overall operational costs. For example, a well-serviced excavator would use less energy and extract more resources per hour than its poorly maintained counterpart.
  • Extended Lifespan: Routine maintenance can prolong the useful life of assets, meaning companies can defer the high costs associated with asset replacement. A mining haul pack, for example, can serve many more years if its engine is regularly checked and serviced.
  • Safety: Maintenance processes often involve workplace safety inspections and audits, reducing the likelihood of accidents. Regular inspection of safety equipment like harnesses or life-saving appliances is an absolute necessity in high-risk industries like mining.
  • Cost Savings: By predicting and preventing potential equipment failures, companies can avoid the high costs of urgent or unplanned repairs. Regular maintenance checks allow for early identification of issues, reducing repair costs and preventing the ripple effect of operational downtime.
  • Reliability and Uptime: Well-maintained assets are less likely to fail. Consistent asset maintenance reduces the likelihood of unscheduled breakdowns, leading to more predictable and reliable operations.
  • Regulatory Compliance: Regular maintenance ensures that assets comply with regulatory standards, thus avoiding fines or shutdowns. In the mining industry, there are stringent standards for machinery operation and safety.

Asset Maintenance Strategies

Asset Maintenance Strategies

Asset maintenance strategies are critical aspects of effective asset management. They entail systematic approaches to the inspection, upkeep, and repair of an organisation’s physical assets to ensure optimal performance and longevity.

Essential for various industries from mining, manufacturing, energy and transportation, these strategies aim to minimise operational downtime, enhance safety, and control maintenance costs.

Various methodologies exist, such as preventive, predictive, and corrective maintenance.

Preventive Maintenance (PM)

A preventive maintenance strategy involves routine inspection and servicing of assets to prevent faults from occurring. It’s akin to people having regular health check-ups to prevent ill health or disease.

Under preventive maintenance, there are also certain sub-types:

  • Time-Based Maintenance (TBM): TBM involves carrying out maintenance activities at predetermined intervals, regardless of equipment condition. It might involve lubricating a component every week or replacing parts every 12 months, irrespective of their wear and tear status. In the mining industry, for example, it can mean quarterly servicing of a mine conveyor belt to ensure it remains in good condition.
  • Usage-Based Maintenance (UBM): UBM is maintenance performed after a certain amount of usage. It stipulates maintenance tasks based on certain parameters, such as kilometres driven, or hours operated. For instance, a Hino truck on a mine site may be be serviced every 5000 km or 3 months; and there are different maintenance tasks and spares kits used when it is has reached 5000 km and 10,000 km.
  • Condition-Based Maintenance (CBM): CBM is a maintenance approach where tasks are performed based on the actual condition of the assets, detected through regular monitoring and diagnostic activities. It’s similar to performing surgery only when the test results indicate a problem. This strategy is effective in preventing both under-maintenance and over-maintenance. CBM may include vibration analysis, oil analysis, thermal imaging, etc.

➜ Learn more about Preventive Maintenance

Predictive Maintenance (PdM)

A predictive maintenance strategy uses data analysis, machine learning and predictive modelling to anticipate when equipment failure might occur.  It allows for the scheduling of maintenance before the predicted failure, thereby minimising downtime, maximising asset lifespan, and reducing maintenance costs.

Reactive Maintenance

Also known as ‘run-to-failure’, this strategy involves repairing or replacing assets only when they have already broken down. Its goal is to minimise initial investments in maintenance. While this may be suitable for non-critical assets, it’s not recommended for essential assets due to the unpredictability and potentially high costs associated with sudden breakdowns.

There are two sub-types under reactive maintenance:

  • Corrective Maintenance: Corrective maintenance is performed after a fault has been detected. The goal is to restore the condition and functionality of the asset and bring it back into operation. The complexity of corrective maintenance can vary widely from simple adjustments to complete overhauls.
  • Breakdown Maintenance: Breakdown maintenance is similar to corrective maintenance but is typically unplanned. It is the practice of waiting for a machine to break down before repairing it. Parts may be repaired or replaced. It usually happens due to a lack of preventive or predictive maintenance strategies and is considered a last resort due to the potential for unforeseen business disruption and cost.

Pro-active Maintenance

Pro-active maintenance is the opposite of Reactive Maintenance.

This is the final step involving the maintenance personnel and the Reliability Engineering team. They will be looking to solve the machine problems and provide solutions for effective maintenance, preserving the function of the system and allowing for greater availability of the equipment.

Maintenance Requirements for Different Types of Assets

Just as there are various moving parts in daily operations, there are various maintenance requirements for different types of physical assets.

These maintenance requirements vary significantly among different types of assets, largely due to their unique operational characteristics, usage, and exposure to wear and tear.

For example, heavy machinery used in the mining industry (e.g., drill rigs and excavators) requires a stringent maintenance regimen as they are exposed to severe operating conditions, causing them to degrade faster.

Key maintenance practices for these assets may include regular lubrication, the replacement of worn parts, non-destructive testing for potential internal failures, and strict adherence to manufacturer-provided maintenance schedules.

In contrast, assets like office buildings or facilities necessitate a different set of maintenance practices that are building specific. These may revolve around maintaining structural integrity, HVAC servicing, plumbing checks, electrical system maintenance, cleaning, and safety equipment inspections.

A company’s fixed asset maintenance program can extend the lifespan of these assets, ensuring a safe work environment, optimal asset longevity, and minimal service interruptions.

How to Implement an Asset Maintenance Strategy

Implementing an effective asset maintenance strategy requires a thoughtful approach that aligns with the company’s operational objectives and the unique characteristics of its assets.

Below are some key steps you can use if you have an in-house asset management team:

  • Define maintenance objectives. Start by outlining what you hope to achieve with your maintenance strategy. It could be improving asset longevity, reducing downtime, or ensuring regulatory compliance.
  • Conduct an asset inventory. Create a detailed list of assets, including their age, condition, criticality, and maintenance history. This will help prioritise maintenance activities.
  • Develop a maintenance schedule. Based on the objectives and asset inventory, create a schedule outlining when and what type of maintenance is required for each asset.
  • Train your staff. Ensure your maintenance team understands the strategy, schedule, and specific maintenance tasks they need to perform. Proper training can significantly improve the effectiveness of your maintenance program.
  • Implement monitoring and evaluation systems. Regularly review your strategy’s performance by comparing actual outcomes with objectives. Leverage data from these evaluations to refine the strategy.

Of course, not all companies have in-house specialists focused on asset management. In such cases, highly specialised asset maintenance professionals can step in to provide this critical service.

When working with asset maintenance experts like Asset Management Engineers (AME), your asset maintenance strategy would typically involve the following steps:

  • Consult with asset maintenance experts. When you get in touch or set up a meeting with AME, for example, it’s crucial to know what your maintenance concerns are and your goals for wanting to invest in an asset maintenance strategy.
  • Identify and classify assets. A detailed inventory showing the acquisition information, exact location, condition, and utilisation of each asset is a basic requirement in developing an asset maintenance strategy. Keeping this inventory updated is crucial especially if you have hundreds or thousands of assets to keep track of.
  • Decide on the type of asset maintenance strategy required. Based on the asset inventory data, you can then decide on the most appropriate asset maintenance strategy to achieve your goals.
  • Create a database. You need to use a computerised maintenance management system (CMMS) or enterprise asset management (EAM) to store maintenance data. A CMMS is a type of computer software designed to make maintenance management easier and more organised. Aside from working as a centralised repository for all maintenance operations data, a CMMS can also help streamline the planning, scheduling, and implementation of maintenance activities.
  • Collect data. No matter which type of maintenance strategy you choose, you’ll need precise, up-to-date data to inform your decision. For example, with accurate information, you’ll know how much a compressor breakdown for x number of days is costing you. Asset tracking data analytics can help with identifying trends (if any) in equipment failure and provide an objective basis for your maintenance decisions.
  • Set up a maintenance schedule. Having a maintenance schedule allows you to prioritise your most important assets and allocate the necessary funds to ensure they are maintained optimally.

Computerised Maintenance Management Systems and Software

Computerised maintenance management systems (CMMS) and software are pivotal in managing what could be a complex web of maintenance tasks. They facilitate the planning, scheduling, execution, and tracking of maintenance activities across all assets.
CMMS can also:

  • give alerts when service is due;
  • manage the inventory of spare parts; and
  • provide historical data that can be used for further analysis and the improvement of maintenance strategies.

Choosing the right software depends on the specific needs and scale of your operations.

In Australia, solutions such as SAP Plant Maintenance, Maximo, JDE and Pronto are popular asset management and maintenance software because of their extensive capabilities. Some software types allow integration with IoT sensors for real-time monitoring and predictive maintenance, have robust reporting features, and offer mobile capabilities that enable field technicians to access data on the go.

Regulatory and Compliance Considerations

Asset maintenance is not just a functional business necessity; it’s also a regulatory requirement in many industries. Adherence to standards like AS 1210 (Pressure Vessels), AS 1228 (Pressure equipment – Boilers), AS 3788 (Pressure Equipment – In-service inspection), AS 1418 (Cranes, hoists, and winches – General Requirements), AS 2550 (Cranes, hoists, and winches – Safe use) AS  4041 (Pressure piping), AS 4024 (for machinery safety), AS 4037 (Pressure equipment – Examination and testing) and WHS Regulations 2022 from Safework  Australia is crucial.

In the mining industry, maintenance practices must comply with guidelines set out by relevant licensing authorities like the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety (DMIRS) and the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator (ONRSR).

These guidelines include regular safety checks and detailed reporting of maintenance activities. Non-compliance can lead to serious repercussions, including hefty fines, operational shutdowns, and even legal action.

It’s essential for organisations to keep abreast of any changes in industry regulations, ensuring their maintenance strategies align with these requirements to avoid non-compliance that can result in penalties and can compromise safety.  AME offers bespoke training courses to help operators understand current legislation and standards that their organisations must adhere to.  Please contact AME to learn more about these courses and how we can help you understand your compliance obligations.

Asset Maintenance Policy and Standards

An asset maintenance policy is a set of guidelines an organisation follows to manage and maintain its assets. It’s a formalised guide that outlines the procedures and protocols to be followed to ensure that all assets of the organisation are maintained appropriately and efficiently.

It sets out what is expected in terms of maintenance standards, procedures, responsibilities, and methods. A robust maintenance policy aligns with best practice standards like ISO 55000 and ISO 55001, the international standard for asset management.

These standards provide a framework for establishing, implementing, maintaining, and improving a company’s asset management system. By adhering to such standards, organisations can ensure their assets are managed and maintained optimally.

Your asset maintenance policy plays a significant role in prolonging the lifespan of assets, maximising their performance, and ensuring safety. Here are its core components:

  • Policy Objectives: This section outlines the purpose of the policy, what it aims to achieve, and why it is important. The objectives may include ensuring asset reliability, reducing downtime, compliance with legal and safety regulations, prolonging asset lifespan, and more.
  • Scope: The scope section defines the assets covered by the policy. This could range from physical assets like machinery, vehicles, and buildings, to intangible assets like software and intellectual property.
  • Roles and Responsibilities: The asset maintenance policy must clearly define who is responsible for maintaining each asset. This may include a breakdown of tasks for different departments, teams, or individuals. Clear roles and responsibilities ensure everyone understands their part in maintaining assets.
  • Standards: This refers to the specific maintenance procedures and practices that need to be followed. These could be industry standards, manufacturer recommendations, or best practices determined by the organisation. Standards ensure consistency in how assets are maintained and can help improve efficiency and effectiveness.
  • Maintenance Schedule: There needs to be a schedule outlining when and how often each asset should be maintained. It could include both preventive maintenance, which is regular, scheduled maintenance to prevent breakdowns, and corrective maintenance, which is reactive maintenance in response to an issue or failure.
  • Budget: The policy should define the budget available for maintenance activities. This can help ensure that resources are allocated appropriately, and that necessary maintenance isn’t delayed or skipped due to financial insufficiency or a lack of funds.
  • Training: This refers to the training that staff members need to carry out maintenance tasks effectively and safely. This section can also outline how often training should be refreshed.
  • Documentation and Record-Keeping: Good maintenance records are crucial for tracking the condition of assets, planning future maintenance, and demonstrating compliance with regulations. The policy should define what records need to be kept, how they should be stored, and who is responsible for them.
  • Review and Update Process: As a living document, the policy must be reviewed regularly and updated as necessary to ensure it remains effective and relevant, delivering value to your organisation and its stakeholders. The review process, frequency of reviews, and who is responsible for these tasks should be clearly defined.

Overall, an asset maintenance policy and standards document play a crucial role in ensuring the effective and efficient management of an organisation’s assets, thus protecting the company’s investments, and ensuring smooth operations.

It should not be treated as a static document. As your organisational goals evolve, your assets may also change, and new maintenance technologies may emerge, so your policy should be updated accordingly.

Asset Maintenance Services by AME

At AME, besides offering plant and equipment audits as part of our overall asset management consulting services, we also provide the following asset maintenance services:

  • Project Management
  • Reliability Centred Maintenance
  • Operational Readiness packs
  • Asset maintenance strategies
  • Asset maintenance and mining asset management

If you have an existing asset maintenance strategy that doesn’t seem to be working or needs updating or have yet to create one, AME is here to help.

With our extensive industry knowledge and expertise, we can help you:

  • identify key maintenance issues and their root causes
  • develop and implement a strategy for improvement
  • provide training and ongoing support

Get in touch with us today!