Taking the guesswork out of maintenance
Methods exist to overcome costly under- and over-maintenance of assets in global ports and terminals, finds Alex Hughes.
When a consultant was recently appointed to carry out a review of how a major British ports group maintained its various assets, its findings were surprising. Fundamentally, it discovered that there were significant differences between the various ports, despite them being part of the same ‘family’.
While much information was logged by a computerised maintenance management software (CMMS) package, the system enabled different regions to operate in isolation from one another, with a notable lack of consistency in the data and system use. While pockets of excellence existed, there was not one central repository for quality information or document control.
Using a document management software system, consultant MCP Consulting Group was able to gather all data — such as drawings, asset details, parts and manuals — on to a single server, which then allowed engineers real time access support through the CMMS.
“The project objective was to rationalise and standardise the specific maintenance tasks for each type of equipment,” says MCP chief executive Peter Gagg. “That involved having the right business processes in place with the right maintenance plans designed to deliver the required reliability and performance of the assets.”
Although the client thought existing asset information on the CMMS system to be 80% correct, further analysis showed that it was far from complete. The data therefore had to be cleansed and sanitised prior to processing. This resulted in 9,412 assets being logged, which was 59% of the original figure. MCP then allocated an “importance factor” to each of the assets in terms of the amount of maintenance needed. Only 233 were categorised as “high maintenance” (2.5%) and 609 as “medium maintenance” (6.5%), leaving the remaining 8,574 (91%) as “low maintenance”.
This distribution clearly identified opportunities to reduce planned maintenance hours, since as had originally been suspected, many assets were being over-maintained, while others were potentially being under-maintained.
A risk evaluation and mitigation assessment was undertaken, which calculated it was possible to reduce planned maintenance to just 19,891 hours. One region reduced its by a potential 79%, while the others identified an average potential reduction of 30%.
According to Mr Gagg, “A review and revision of maintenance plans [at some ports] could typically result in a reduction of 10%-20% in the tasks and associated hours dedicated to these.”
He is convinced that many port groups lack a unified maintenance policy. Indeed, MCP has now worked with two port groups and found the same issues and opportunities in both. In both, availability levels of certain assets were determined and then the level of maintenance decided to achieve these.
“However, they needed our input to guide them in developing the real requirements in terms of areas such as reliability and life cycle costs, and then being realistic in terms of setting expectations and obtaining buy in,” says Mr Gagg.
“Were any port or similar organisation with dispersed assets to ask us to undertake a similar study, we believe an ROI would be made within a year to eighteen months, and this would be in the order of 10 to 15 times the cost of the investment, which would typically be in the £50,000–£100,000 range, depending on the size of the organisation,” he says.
However, he warns that some MCP studies for some clients have shown that the way they were organising assets and maintenance regimes was not fit for purpose, with the consultancy recommending that it start again from scratch.
“It is not unusual to find that an organisation can be improved through better-structured maintenance and by identifying things that can improve equipment reliability, which will ultimately reduce costs,” says Mr Gagg.
Portunus is another specialist spare parts supplier and handling equipment maintenance company, which currently maintains gantry cranes, rubber-tyred gantry cranes, reachstackers, empty container handlers and terminal tractors at a port terminal in Turkey on behalf of an international terminal group. In the past, it has provided similar services to PSA and local Turkish operators.
Sales manager Bülent Görücü explains it makes sense for terminal operators to outsource maintenance, since it allowed them to concentrate on their core business.
“It is faster and easier to implement an outsourced contract by choosing us, because we already had all the experience. Otherwise, terminals have to create a completely new in-house maintenance team, which takes time,” says Mr Görücü.
In such contracts, the most time-consuming element is preventative and predictive maintenance, although the Portunus teams also undertake basic fault finding and repairs.
In terms of IT, the company does have its own computerised maintenance management software package available to clients, although is happy to make use of existing systems as required.
Mr Görücü says that most ports try to adhere to manufacturers’ recommendations for maintenance, although some of them go beyond that and set even higher benchmarks on maintenance procedures.
“Around 90% of maintenance carried out across different terminals is exactly the same. It’s the other 10% that can vary between one customer and another,” he says.
Currently, it is contracted to look after gantry cranes, RTGs, reachstackers, empty container handlers and terminal tractors at APM Terminals’ facility in Izmir, Turkey.
Finding a niche
Asked to define where Portunus can best be used, he notes: “Our teams are much better deployed in small to medium-sized ports, where we can easily undertake all equipment maintenance. However, we can expand our teams to take on bigger projects, although more often than not our role in very large ports is to concentrate on certain aspects of maintenance or on one or two types of equipment, such as reachstackers or empty container handlers.”
However, Mr Görücü also believes that some terminal operators would benefit from contracting Portunus to look after selective components, such as those to be found in drive lines (engines, transmissions and axles) across a variety of equipment, leaving it up to in house teams to do the rest.
He observes that sometimes terminals will over or under maintain equipment, which often reflects their own particular policies in this area. Some are stricter on availability of certain units, so will go further in ensuring maintenance there is of a higher standard. Other terminals have different priorities and that may be reflected in how they carry out maintenance.
“Quality in decision-making on how they spend their money varies and it’s not question of being better or worse than others. They might spend more on maintenance and less on other aspects of the business. It depends on how limited their budget is,” says Mr Görücü.
By outsourcing maintenance, however, a terminal can often get more bang for its buck, since it can impose key performance indicators on the contractor, who will face financial penalties if these are not met. In contrast, in-house teams invariably don’t have such motivating factors.
“Using third party maintenance providers means an operator can be more rigorous and target much higher efficiency levels,” says Mr Görücü.
BARRIERS TO ENTRY
Trent Global is a comparatively new entrant into the outsourced maintenance market and has been offering its services for just two years, although has secured one medium-term maintenance management contract in a port terminal. But Eddie Atichian, vice president, global port services, notes: “This is a business segment we wish to grow significantly.”
Yet he is the first to acknowledge that a number of factors work against smaller, agile companies, such as Trent Global, from winning contracts.
“The main problem is the port industry believes it already has the expertise available in-house to deal with most maintenance provision. However, from what we have seen, about 90% of port operators either under-maintain or over-maintain assets; in either case, they are wasting money.”
Nevertheless, there remains a perception that those companies offering out-sourced maintenance have a bad track record. Mr Atichian concedes that there is an element of truth to this.
“Terminals typically are attracted towards large equipment manufacturers who want them to buy ‘total care’ solutions. Unfortunately, the reality has been that most of these packages have been completely underwhelming. From what we have seen, the ports industry makes the mistake of going with name brands, but not necessarily looking at smaller, more agile entities offering them a potentially much better outsourced approach,” he says.
Yet operators do look outside for help with maintenance, with Mr Atichian identifying a number of different reasons for this. These can vary from the application of better maintenance strategies to a need for a lower overall cost. Other companies simply want to concentrate on their core port operational business, while other operators lack the necessary skills, so have to look to specialists.
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